Woodard’s Zoning Case

This post is a couple of weeks late, but I’ve been working feverishly on the city budget.

Two weeks ago, the council voted on a request for a specific use permit by Woodards Automotive on Ross Avenue.

The Woodards zoning case was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make on the council. I met with nearby residents, met with the Woodards, read and re-read SUP requirements and the PD standards, lost sleep on it, and came to a decision. Not that any zoning decision is easy, but this one was particularly difficult.

On the one hand we have a family-owned business that’s been on Ross 80 years and employees 38 people. They are good people who, by all accounts, do good work. They had asked for a 20-year SUP that would allow that property to be used for automotive services (NOTE: the SUP runs with the LAND, not the BUSINESS, so if they moved tomorrow, that land could be used for automotive services by someone else for 20 years). They also asked to be exempt from most of the landscaping and streetscape requirements of the Planned Development District for Ross Avenue that was approved in 2005 (wider sidewalks, etc.).

The zoning that prohibits automotive uses on Ross Ave. was approved in 2005, before I was elected to the City Council. The streetscape and zoning standards were intended to entice new development along Ross. I wasn’t on the council then, but the conclusion was that among other issues, auto uses (all 32 of them) were holding back the street from redevelopment, so those uses were prohibitted.

In 2005, most of the auto businesses got three years to relocate. Woodards and several others got five years. On Monday, the Board of Adjustment denied two Ross property owners (whose time limit was up) an extension to continue to operate. A third property owner who had submitted an extension request withdrew his. A fourth (which I understand is owned by Mr. Rasansky) continued to pursue his request for an extension.

I then thought, yes, but Woodards has been in business for 80 years. Shouldn’t that be grounds for an exception?

I thought on that for a long, long time. But here’s the problem with that: the zoning change — the SUP — runs with the land, not the business. There’s no way around that, and there is absolutely no legal way to tie the SUP to the business. If that’s the case, why is this piece of land different from the 31 others that have auto uses? I was concerned that granting the SUP here would open the floodgates to all the other properties with auto businesses, and then what would be the purpose of the PD?

I had developers who had invested and were investing along Ross tell me that they were investing based on the new zoning that outlawed auto uses. Many nearby residents came down and pleaded for the council to stand behind the PD that the community had worked so hard on, and deny the request for an exception.

When I met with Woodards, I asked them if they were granted a 4-year SUP, if they would move at that point. They said they didn’t know; the market might not be right then. So there was no certainty that an extension would help them relocate. (However, if at the end of two years in 2010, they still have not found a place to relocate, they can seek an extension from the Board of Adjustment.)

What it came down to for me was: if we create a new zoning standard to transform an area, how do we carve out exceptions and still obtain the intended results? How do we fairly decide who meets the standard for an exception and who doesn’t?