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Used car dealership hits snag in land-use request

Krzysztof Broszkiewicz operated a used car lot at 501 E. Sugar Creek Road for 23 years before getting caught up in a zoning dispute with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department.

Krzysztof Broszkiewicz says a zoning inspector cited his property for a zoning violation in January 2011.

Now, he’s had to move four blocks away.

As the Polish immigrant tries to rezone the 1.02 acres at the southeast corner of East Sugar Creek Road and Atmore Street, he’s fighting a stigma that too many used car dealers sit along the North Tryon Street corridor — and uncertainty over something as simple as the design of a decorative fence. Both issues have caused city leaders to hesitate when considering his rezoning application.

It began when a zoning inspector cited the property for a zoning violation in January 2011, Broszkiewicz said. His current business, Chris’ Auto Sales, is in an industrial zoned (I-2) district in Charlotte.

Used car dealerships have not been allowed in I-2 districts since 1992, but because Broszkiewicz’s business was located on the site prior to the zoning change, his company was considered a legal, nonconforming use, according to planning consultant Robert Brandon, who is representing Broszkiewicz in the rezoning.

Even though the zoning violation was later withdrawn, the property owner asked Broszkiewicz to move his business.

He and his wife, Dorata, found a corner lot at East Sugar Creek Road and Atmore Street that would work for them. The site is currently sliced among three zones: residential (R-5), business (B-2) and industrial (I-2). The couple is hoping to have the site rezoned so it is only B-2.

“This place on the corner, nobody cared about it,” Broszkiewicz said. “I bought it and did a lot of improvements.”

He said he wanted to stay in the same area because he knows the neighborhood and its residents.

The North Tryon Street corridor is also a good place to locate an automobile dealership; it has high traffic volumes and good visibility. And the attractiveness of the area for used car lots has caused some to speculate whether more dealerships should be included in the future development of the corridor.

The area from North Tryon Street to East Sugar Creek Road has a “proliferation of used car dealerships,” Charlotte City Councilman Michael Barnes said during the Dec. 12 public hearing before the council.

Whether that’s true or not — Broszkiewicz doesn’t believe so — it’s caused the City Council to pause when considering the rezoning application. The final vote on the rezoning will take place today.

Councilman John Autry said during the December meeting that he could not support the rezoning.

“The sort of operation we’ve been witness to is not conducive to a sustainable community,” he said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Director Debra Campbell said it’s common for similar uses to locate near one another, especially in areas that are attractive to those businesses.

“It’s similar to the economics of conglomeration, where things like to locate near one another,” Campbell said. “It’s almost the mall effect, where you have all similar retail uses and you’d think why are you all coming together. It’s because people like to comparison shop. You shop for the best bargain. So car dealerships are the same way. Fast-food restaurants are the same way. Service stations are the same way.”

Brandon said that similar to East Independence Boulevard, which used to be dotted with used car dealerships, he thinks North Tryon Street will react to the market.

“There may be quite a few dealerships, but I know that the light rail is coming through that area,” he said. “I think whenever that occurs, just like when any major improvements come through an area, the uses will change. Other uses will take its place. Let the market handle itself.”

Still, the planning department is supportive of the rezoning. It simply wants to require some site improvements as part of the conditional rezoning request, Campbell said.

Among those stipulations: a decorative fence surrounding the property. But current zoning does not provide any specifics for what is an acceptable decorative fence.

Broszkiewicz added details to his site plan that he would include a chain link fence, painted black, with decorative caps.

“What they showed was not a decorative fence,” said Tammie Keplinger, the planning department’s manager for rezoning services.

It was the only hold-up regarding the rezoning during a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission zoning committee meeting Jan. 4. The committee voted to recommend approval of the rezoning to the City Council on the stipulation that Broszkiewicz and planning staff come up with a solution regarding the fence.

Keplinger said city staff had not yet met with Broszkiewicz to discuss exactly what would be an acceptable fence but said that black iron-like steel fencing could be acceptable. Brick fencing would also be acceptable, but that’s expensive.

Broszkiewicz said he would meet the city’s requirement for a decorative fence.

Brandon said Broszkiewicz has gone too far in seeking the rezoning to give up over a fence. He said it’s almost as if the planning department is singling out his client.

“We have enough stipulations in place, but when there isn’t any guideline, and you do provide something, it’s still not enough,” Brandon said. “I don’t want to say that we are at their mercy, but you have to tread lightly.”

Even Brandon is not sure what type fence they will use.

“I may have to just ride around to car dealerships and see what they are using,” he said.

Fencing is just one example of the challenges surrounding a conditional rezoning process, which allows city staff to make requests of the applicants.

“We’re doing everything that the city asks us to do,” he said. “Even though he’s given up some rights on his property, if this is what he wants to do, we should work with the city.”

If the rezoning is denied, Brandon said Broszkiewicz would still locate his car dealership on the section of the property zoned B-2 where it is allowed by right. He would likely put a modular trailer on the site to act as his office.

“It’s not a problem so much for him,” Brandon said. “He wanted to maintain as much of the residential nature of the neighborhood. He wanted to improve the area and have a nice office.”

The city and the neighborhood would suffer if the rezoning failed, he said.

“It would really make things worse rather than make an improvement,” he said.

Ramsey can be reached at [email protected].

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