Concern but no clear path on car lots and shops

There’s concern on the Arlington City Council about what a proliferation of auto-related businesses is doing to the appearance of the city’s business corridors. That’s clear.

It’s also clear that a council consensus has not yet formed on the question of what to do about it.

On Tuesday, the council postponed for the third time a scheduled vote on zoning amendments addressing the issue. The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved proposals from the city staff in September.

Hanging in the background, but not set to be changed by the proposed zoning ordinance amendments, are the long-established used-car lots on Division Street and other areas. A “grandfather clause” means they can’t be forced to spruce up, even if they are sold to new owners.

But the changes would give the council a say in where future auto-related businesses could be located, including tire and oil-change shops, repair garages, car washes and used-car lots. Dealerships for new cars would not be affected.

Concerns arose after 260 new auto-related businesses opened in Arlington in just two years.

Under current regulations, those businesses can open with comparative ease, most without City Council review. The proposed change would require them to get special-use permits, which would allow the council to study them on a case-by-case basis.

There are good points for and against change.

“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 has said. “If we have new ones, we would like to be part of the process.”

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Robert Shepard asked for more time. He said some proposals go too far, such as requiring specific use permits in light industrial zoning areas.

That’s the zoning category just below industrial manufacturing, where such permits would not be required.

“I’m uncomfortable making such a quantum leap from ‘You can’ to ‘You can’t,’” Shephard said.

The council doesn’t have to reach complete consensus, but the desired path must be clear enough that a majority of members are united and ready to act. Apparently, that’s not the case.