Arlington proposes tougher regulations for future used car lots

City leaders are considering making it tougher for used-car lots to open throughout Arlington, but the rules would bring little change to Division Street and other business corridors lined with acres of tote-the-note dealerships, officials said.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote tonight on a handful of zoning changes targeting vehicle-related land uses. The council, however, has postponed hearings on the topic twice already and could do so again.

The zoning changes, if approved, would primarily give the council discretion over where auto-related businesses, such as oil change and tire shops, minor and major repair garages and used-car lots, can open. Currently, auto-related businesses can open in most zoning districts through a simple permitting process that doesn’t require council review and approval.

The new requirements would not affect existing dealerships or other auto-related businesses, even if they change ownership.

“The rules are not retroactive. Those existing businesses fall under what most people call the grandfather clause,” planning project manager Clayton Husband said. “The existing uses are allowed to continue at that location without being required to do anything at their site.”

Explosive growth

The city decided to begin strengthening its zoning regulations this year after 260 new auto-related businesses opened in two years. Obtaining just a certificate of occupancy rarely triggers a requirement that the new property owner make improvements, such as landscaping, and city officials were concerned about how that could affect the look of Arlington’s business corridors and nearby residential areas, Clayton said.

Some used-car dealerships, for example, have done little when taking over former gas stations or convenience stores other than filling the parking lots with cars for sale.

“There is a growing concern about the number of uses that are within the community and the effect those might have on the business corridors and adjacent neighborhoods,” Husband told the council at an Aug. 6 meeting.

The amendments would now require certain auto-related businesses seeking to expand or to open in a new location to obtain specific-use permits based on the property’s zoning category and whether an auto-related use was previously operating there.

“It’s not only on Division Street that we have a problem. The north-south corridors of Collins and Cooper are also riddled with automotive businesses,” Councilman Charlie Parker said. “If we have new ones, we would like to be part of the process.”

The proposed amendments would require all future used-car lots to obtain a specific-use permit no matter how their property is zoned. That process, which includes a review by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the council, can take nine to 10 weeks compared with the typical 24-hour to three-week review by city staff.

“By requiring a specific-use permit for those individual uses, it gives the council the ability to consider those case by case for those locations and the ability to place some modest standards on the property to have some incremental improvements over time,” Husband said.

New car dealerships would not be required to obtain specific-use permits.

New prohibitions

Other changes include prohibiting carwashes and auto service locations, such as tire and oil change shops, from opening in areas zoned for community services, which are primarily retail-oriented, Husband said.

Minor-repair garages and carwashes would need permits to open in the city’s business zoning districts, and auto services and minor- and major-repair garages would need special permits to open in light industrial zoning areas.

Most auto-related businesses would still be allowed to operate in areas zoned for industrial manufacturing by regular permit.

The amendments don’t prevent new automotive businesses to open in the city but they do give the council the chance to request site improvements, Parker said.

“They can go out and do whatever they want to do right now. We are saying: ‘No, you can’t do that. We are saying you have to present us with a plan,’” Parker said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the amendments in September.

These standards would also apply to the city’s special overlay zoning districts, including downtown, the entertainment district and the Lamar-Collins area, Husband said.