Before the public hearing on a proposed ordinance to force compliance or removal of certain auto repair facilities at last night’s Henderson City Council meeting, Planning Director Erris Dunston provided a brief overview of the ordinance for council members.
Under the ordinance, nonpermitted auto repair facilities would have 120 days to apply for a permit. They would then have one year to come into compliance with the city’s zoning rules. Those facilities that are permitted would have operating hours curtailed to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and could not operate on Sundays. Automobiles would have to be stored in a screened-in area on gravel or pavement. No more than 10 cars would be allowed in the permitted area.
Charles Bowman of B&W Auto Repair was the first to speak at the public hearing. He indicated that his business was one of the nonconforming businesses. It is outside the city but within the Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction, where the city has zoning authority and where the ordinance would be in effect. Bowman has been one of the leading opponents of the amortization ordinance throughout a process that began with the Planning Board early in the year.
He said he works on old cars and occasionally must store cars until he is paid for his services. Bowman also informed the council that he must always have cars on his lot so there will be something to do once work on a particular vehicle is completed.
“A storage facility is an expense,” he told the council.
Henderson City Attorney John Zollicoffer indicated to Bowman that under the ordinance he could store cars for 180 days with a legitimate mechanic’s lien, as long as he was in the continuing process of servicing such vehicles. Bowman responded that he has had vehicles on his lot waiting for paperwork from the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles since the first month of 2005, exceeding the 180-day provision.
Zollicoffer suggested that Bowman take those vehicles to a lot outside the Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction, otherwise known as the ETJ. Bowman did not feel that the expense of purchasing an additional lot for such a purpose was fair.
Bowman also said the screen or privacy fence required by the ordinance would create an issue with theft and vandalism.
Lorraine Goode of Hope’s Automotive was the next to speak. Citing the provision in the ordinance making it illegal to have an automobile with an out-of-date inspection sticker on the lot, she said: “We work with low-income people who save up for the work. If I can’t have it on the lot without a sticker, how can I fix it?”
Mayor Clem Seifert asked Zollicoffer what would happen to a vehicle if the tags, insurance and inspection lapsed.
“Then it can’t be fixed,” the city attorney replied.
Dr. Robert Allen, a longtime resident of Oxford Road, addressed the council to represent what he termed “the car guys”. For some, he told the council, a junkyard is a bad thing, but to him, “a junkyard is a treasure-trove.”
“There is a group in this community that cares about cars,” he told the council.
Deryl Von Williams, a write-in candidate for the City Council ward seat in Ward 3, addressed the council next, asking: “What are people going to do to make a living?”
She said she was concerned about the financial impact of the inevitable shutdown of auto repair facilities under the proposed ordinance. She wondered if there was any grant money to segue people into other businesses.
When Dunston presented the revised proposed ordinance to the City Council’s Land Planning and Development Committee during the summer, she said the measure had been reworked specifically to give every existing auto repair business, even those in residential areas, a chance to stay open. She said the goal of the ordinance was not to drive anyone out of business, but to push businesses to be better neighbors.
WIZS-AM (1450) owner and on-air personality John Rose told the council that he did not agree with the intent of the proposed ordinance.
“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said.
Near the end of the public hearing, Von Williams asked from the audience how it was possible that the ordinance could be applied retroactively — affecting existing businesses. Zollicoffer said that technically those businesses are operating without a permit within the city.
He said that principle has been upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Count and that the ordinance represents an effort to bring businesses that existed before the zoning ordinance into compliance.
The council unanimously passed a motion to table the amortization ordinance. It will go back to committee for further refinement.