Ellen Wahlstrom, St. Joseph
A special-use permit for a fourth used-auto sales establishment was approved by the St. Joseph Planning Commission over strong objections from the abutting neighbors. The site for the car lot is located on the east side of 8th Ave N.E.
Yes, we understand a used-car-lot use was grandfathered in when the site was annexed to the city. However, the problems of that poorly run car lot were also grandfathered in.
Yes, we understand an auto dealership is allowed under Section 52.32, B-2 Hwy 75 Business District, subd.4. Those auto dealerships need special-use permits with “conditions applicable” for the approval of their operations but experience has shown car lots seem to be unable to be in compliance with these conditions.
No, we do not understand why only a few of these conditions have been enforced by the city and the violations are not a meaningful part of the considerations at the planning commission public hearings.
No, we do not understand why there has been scant compliance required by the city and no concern on the part of the property owners, Four Square Investments, to oversee the car lots to operate in a manner that provides for the safety and privacy rights of the abutting residential neighborhood.
And, no, we do not understand why property owners, with planning commission assistance and again easing of required conditions, continue to put in a business that clearly does not fit the site. Experience throughout the years has shown the limitations of the site make management of a used car lot difficult thus resulting in the lack of compliance and that, in turn, causes problems with abutting neighbors. Adding there has been precious little enforcement by the city, it begs question whether the city has the resources to monitor and enforce a used car lot that draws interested parties day and night, as has been in the past? The security systems have been unworkable in keeping the night parties from walking in with flashlights to examine vehicles.
Because the property owners had no vendor at the time of the public hearing, there was concern about the business that would be put on the site. The city administrator stated any road-worthy vehicle could be sold on a used car lot. This was alarming to the residents because of the potential for lack of control for what can be sold and the possibility of what could be sold.
Compliance issues such as lights shining in houses, disruptive noises, people trespassing on neighbors’ yards and an added concern for preschoolers regularly staying at a home in very close vicinity to the sales activity are neighborhood issues. However, the type of road-worthy vehicles that can be for sale on a used car lot, and, in general, the city’s ability and will to do surveillance plus the planning commission’s apparent selectivity regarding compliance should be concerns for all residents of St. Joseph.
In the ordinance, there are 20 to 25 businesses that would fit well into that location and into the neighborhood. We encourage the property owners to seek out one of those types of businesses for that site. The original plan for the site was very suitable to abut a long established R-1 District.
The whole process of the public hearing was unclear and actually confusing to the public attending. As a result, a party very directly affected by many years of business infractions felt intimidated by the manner in which the chair denied her attempts to reiterate her grievances.
This kind of treatment should not happen to any citizen attending any public hearing or public meeting.
If the city council approves the planning commission’s recommendation to allow a special-use permit for the used car lot, which the commission feels Four Corners Investments is entitled to, then they need to take responsibility to enforce compliance so the neighborhood can expect the safety and privacy rights to which they are entitled as residents of St. Joseph.