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Rezoning request for auto sales gets redlight from city council

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Burlington’s city council has put the brakes on a rezoning request that would’ve allowed a small car dealership to set up shop next door to a convenience store at the intersection of South Mebane Street and Avon Avenue.

The council unanimously voted down this request on Tuesday, effectively dashing the hopes of Iyad Qutaisha of Burlington to establish this business on the west side of a .35-acre lot that he owns at 806 South Mebane Street.

In order to facilitate his plans, Qutaisha had asked the city to rezone this small corner parcel from its current neighborhood business designation to a “limited” form of general business use that deliberately excluded many of the activities ordinarily allowed in a commercial district. Had the council signed off on this change, Qutaisha would’ve been able to operate a small, auto dealership from an existing, but vacant, building that shares this small tract with a convenience store, which would’ve continued to operate on the property’s east side.

According to Burlington’s planning director, Jamie Lawson, Qutaisha’s proposal featured just two significant deviations from the property’s current zoning. One of these changes is a potential increase in the property’s capacity for multifamily residences, which is already an allowable use in a neighborhood business district. The other difference was the property’s aforementioned use for auto sales and rentals.

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Lawson told the city council that, on both of these scores, the city’s planning staff had strong reservations about Qutaisha’s request.

“If the zoning changes from neighborhood business to general business, then the density for multi-family development increases,” Lawson said before a state-mandated public hearing on Tuesday. “We [also] didn’t’ feel that adding auto sales or rentals would be a benefit to the community…As a result the staff did not recommend the rezoning request. We feel that the current zoning is appropriate for the property.”

Lawson informed the council that Qutaisha’s request also fell flat with the city’s planning and zoning commission, which voted 6-to-0 not to endorse the proposal in January.

In the meantime, the council heard some additional objections from two residents of the Morrowtown neighborhood, which is situated near the site of the requested rezoning.  Lisa Stewart, a member of the Morrowtown Community Group, insisted that Qutaisha’s plans for a car dealership would be a detriment to the longstanding, yet rather distressed, neighborhood that the group represents.

“The lot that he’s suggesting is just to sell five cars,” Stewart told the city’s elected leaders. “It doesn’t bring no jobs to the community… Morrowtown Community Group is working hard to benefit that community, and this doesn’t bring any benefit to the Morrowtown area at all.”

Stewart’s concerns were echoed by Lydia Jones, a fellow member of the Morrowtown Community Group.

“I’ve lived in that area for 30 years,” Jones told the council. “We don’t have a grocery store close by. We don’t have a drug store; we don’t have a Laundromat close by…But I don’t see a need for another car lot in that neighborhood.”

These remonstrations against the proposed car dealership came as something of a surprise to Rashid Abdallah, a local realtor who addressed the council on behalf of Qutaisha on Tuesday. Abdallah recalled that he had previously discussed the neighborhood’s concerns with Stewart after his client’s ill-omened appearance before the city’s planning and zoning commission.

“I thought we came up with a plan,” he informed the council. “We talked with Lisa Stewart [and agreed] that after the zoning is approved, he’ll work with the Morrowtown Group to turn that neighborhood around.”

Abdallah went on to emphasize that his client’s plans call for a modest, “mom ‘n pop shop” that would inhabit the now-vacant structure next to the existing convenience store.

“It’s pretty small,” he added, “and it’s the only business model that he believes will be successful in that environment.”

Small as this proposed business may’ve seemed to the property owner, it struck the city council as a rather significant imposition on this part of the city.

Harold Owen, Burlington’s mayor pro tem, observed that the potential increase in the density of multifamily housing would be a “really dramatic change” from what’s currently allowed on the property. Meanwhile, mayor Jim Butler noted that the site of this proposed dealership is located cheek to jowl with the Morrowtown neighborhood.

“When you look at the aerial,” he added, “[you see that] east of Sixth Street, it becomes very quickly a neighborhood.”

The council went on to vote 4-to-0 against the request.

Councilman Ronnie Wall was absent from Tuesday’s meeting; nor did he participate remotely.


Read about earlier deliberations by planning board members; they recommended against the rezoning: https://alamancenews.com/burlington-planning-board-recommends-against-rezoning-for-two-car-lots-oks-conversion-of-third-area-from-heavy-to-light-industrial/ 

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