2018-02-16 / Front Page

Service center needs zone change to comply

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


Cape Elizabeth Service Center has asked the town council to support a zoning use amendment that would allow the business to sell up to three used cars at a time, something that the business zone A doesn’t permit. The council has decided to pass the request on for planning board review. (File photo) Cape Elizabeth Service Center has asked the town council to support a zoning use amendment that would allow the business to sell up to three used cars at a time, something that the business zone A doesn’t permit. The council has decided to pass the request on for planning board review. (File photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – A zoning variance request to allow the sale of used cars at a site in Business Zone A yielded more questions than answers for town councilors earlier this week.

On Monday, Feb. 12, the town council reviewed a request for a zoning use amendment from Cape Elizabeth Service Center, a vehicle repair shop at 560 Shore Road, to allow for the sale of used cars in the zone. After debate, the group decided to send the request to the planning board before being brought back to the town council after planning board review. The change, if made, would allow repair garages in Business Zone A to have a maximum of three used car dealer plates. Signs would be limited to one 8.5-inch by 11-inch sign for each car.

“For many years, the Cape Elizabeth Service Center occasionally sold cars off the front of their lot,” said Town Manager Matt Sturgis. “They would fix cars up and on occasion sell one.”

Councilor Jamie Garvin asked Sturgis why the request was for three dealer plates.

“They didn’t really want to be a used car lot. If they had an opportunity to sell up to the three (used cars) at a time … it would help their business along,” Sturgis said.

In a correspondence to Sturgis, representatives from Cape Elizabeth Service Center indicated having the three used car dealer plates would allow the business to “better serve our customers.”

“Current state laws allow us to sell a maximum of five cars per year. This has not been enough to meet the needs of our customers. We removed our business’ eight gas pumps in 2014, which dramatically reduced our traffic flow. Used car dealer plates would help us increase our property’s value and serviceability while having no negative impact on our neighborhood,” according to correspondence from Cape Elizabeth Service Center.

Sturgis said while state law permits the business to sell up to five cars, the current zoning prohibits it, making it an illegal land use. That is why a zoning ordinance change is needed. Sturgis said requirements of Business Zone A don’t explicitly mention the sale of cars, but by virtue of the zoning ordinance, only things mentioned are permitted. He said Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal did not know the business was selling cars and was out of compliance with zoning regulations until recently. Business Zone A, according to the town’s zoning ordinance, “is comprised of neighborhood business districts in which businesses are geared to the needs of nearby residents rather than a large scale, regional destination center.” The zone does allow for things like a variety of housing banking and professional offices, retail shops, veterinarian offices, restaurants, gas station and repair shops, church/government/school use, day care centers, bed and breakfasts, wind energy system or short-term rentals. A number of accessory uses are also permitted and include a home businesses/occupation and telecommunication facilities.

That being the case, Councilor Sara Lennon said she would like the matter to go before the town council’s ordinance committee so “they can carve out the proper language for this” before sending it along to planning board review.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan said the aforementioned sign regulation would also need to be reviewed. She wondered if with the new revamping of the town’s sign ordinance that bans the regulation of signs based on content, whether the town had the power to limit the size of the signs to smaller than what is already allowed in the sign ordinance

“Here we are saying we are going to regulate it to 8.5 by 11. That is not going to hold up,” she said.

The sign ordinance regulations for Business Zone A do not mention the type of sign Cape Elizabeth Service Center is proposing, but does prohibit “signs on parked motor vehicles that in the judgment of the code enforcement officer violate the intent of this ordinance.”

Sturgis said that question is something that will have to be addressed by town staff.

Councilor Chris Straw, who lives down the road from the service center, said he was concerned not with signs, but with what this could mean for his neighborhood.

“Where does this lead?” he asked. “Would this potentially create a backdoor car lot by making the change? I am comfortable sending it to the planning board for review, but I do have concerns.”

Lennon said she would rather not allow the zoning use change for fear it “could open a lot of small car lots.” Jordan said that wouldn’t be the case because if the council made the change, selling of cars would only be allowed for repair garages in the zone.

“This is tied to that specific use,” she said.

Councilor Penny Jordan said she is all for the zoning adjustment that would allow the service station to legally sell cars per town rules.

“We, as a town, need to support small business,” she said. “This allows them to leverage the work they do in another way – to diversify. Is this going to be a huge car lot? If we craft it properly, that is not going to occur.”

The council agreed to pass it along to the planning board and then have Penny Jordan, Caitlin Jordan and councilor Valerie Randall review it at an upcoming ordinance committee meeting.

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