Auto restoration shop owner threatens lawsuits if Spencer shuts it down – Reuters
SPENCER – The future of a Spencer auto restoration shop is in jeopardy as the city considers its special zoning case.
The Board of Aldermen approved keeping the store open in December by approving a conditional rezoning on the property.
The property’s regular zoning was US Commercial Classification 29, which allows retail stores, indoor batting cages, and “coin-operated amusements”, among a long list of other approved uses, but also prohibits many uses, including auto repair shops.
The Board of Directors approved the continuation of operations of the business at 200 S. Salisbury Ave. with certain stipulations, including opening hour constraints and a limit on the number of vehicles in the front parking lot outside of opening hours for a single show car.
“He is having a very hard time living under the conditional zoning conditions that have been applied to him,” Steve Blount, Spencer’s planning and zoning administrator, told the city council of aldermen on Tuesday.
Blount said he agreed that some of the conditions such as limits on opening hours may be reasonable but are difficult to enforce and the issue was first raised in reference to cars parked out front.
Company owner Michael King, who leases the facility, had requested permission to build a fence to cover vehicles at the front of the property, but Blount said that given the size of the right-of-way the road on Second Street, it is debatable. if this step would be functional.
Blount told the board that King showed him invoices for the gravelling of the land before and in reference to the damaged sidewalk and property limitation that is the responsibility of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
“I have to come up with some revisions and bring them back to you and get you to agree that these are reasonable changes,” Blount said, adding that the problem comes down to finding less restrictive terms that the city can live with or strictly enforce the existing terms and bankrupt King.
Alderman Sam Morgan pointed out that King agreed to the terms in December. Mayor Jonathan Williams said the city has spent “a lot of time” working out the conditions and that not being able to live with those conditions tells him the property is not fit for current use.
“If that’s the case, we shouldn’t change our ordinances to make a property fit for something it wasn’t originally intended for,” Williams said.
He said part of the reason for the stipulation was the contribution of neighbors and he thinks the city owes them to enforce the rules.
Blount said planners must distinguish between helping a business exist and protecting the community from improper use of property. Blount pointed out that King invested tens of thousands of dollars in the business before discovering that the property was not zoned for its current use, and that the money would have been wasted if he was evicted.
“In his mind, his hands were tied as to whether or not he could agree to the terms of the proposal,” Blount said. “The question this council should have asked during this process is whether they want an auto repair shop on this property.”
The current agreement allows an unlimited number of employee and customer cars within the company during business hours. Blount said he agreed he drove past the business and saw cars parked in the parking lot and the fenced area was full.
Alderman Steve Miller insisted on working with King, noting the difficulty of obtaining parts. Miller also defended the company and the quality of work in December.
Blount noted that if another business was used acceptably, they could have as many cars as they wanted parked out front.
“Be careful what you ask for,” Blount said.
Alderman Andrew Howe said he had no problem enforcing city ordinances, but the company is there and he would be interested to see what deal can be reached.
“But the car thing is a problem,” Howe said, noting that neighbors had specifically mentioned the cars in the parking lot and that King would have to give in on that issue to gain his support.
The board eventually agreed to let Blount return with options at the August meeting.
On Wednesday, Blount hand-delivered a letter telling King he had to move the cars by next week.
Williams said at the meeting that other properties in town are suitable for the business, and King said he would happily move, but was unable to find another location. He said he doesn’t think the city government wants him there.
“I’ve been looking for seven months,” King said, adding that he tries to do his due diligence so if he has to move he won’t have the same problems.
“There’s just nothing available in Rowan County right now that’s pre-existing, ready to go where I can step in and not spend $10,000 a month on rent,” King said.
King said he wants to stay open and is even considering adding bays to the back of the building, but he doesn’t want to invest more money in the building if it has to be closed.
King said the city would not let him park vehicles in the front parking lot overnight and said the agreement specified that cars awaiting service would not be stored in the front, but he says vehicles at the front have been serviced and await customer pickup. He said he tried to move cars to other places.
“It’s the only means of income I have for my family,” King said.
He went to the city authorities to sort out the paperwork when he first wanted to open the store and was told he didn’t need an occupancy permit. He said his contact information had been removed and shortly after opening the city told him there was a problem.
“If I’m shut down, I’m going to sue,” King said.
The issue predates Blount’s time with the city, but he said he was confident in the conditional rezoning process.
“In my opinion as a planner this is a solid order, has no issues, the process was followed very carefully over a period of months which included public hearings and things of that nature,” said Blount. “The city bent over backwards to help him keep his business there.”
Blount said he was trying to work with King and the letter asked him to stick to the deal.
“Cars in the front parking lot that are stored there need to be resolved,” Blount said.
King said he thought the city government didn’t want him there, adding that he got calls from them twice a month. He said he had no problem finding work and got calls every day from people living in Spencer bringing their vehicles to him, mostly for restoration work on older models.
“The cars that are here are from the community, it’s not like they’re from Charlotte or Concord,” King said.
He told the Post that under zoning rules, his only show vehicle may be a mangled car he buys from a junkyard.
“They didn’t tell me it had to be a nice car, they didn’t tell me it had to be a nice car,” King said.
He pointed out that he could legally turn the business into something less desirable than an auto repair shop and would meet zoning requirements.