The New Rochelle City Council will hold a public hearing tonight on proposed changes to Zoning for Car Dealerships in New Rochelle. New Rochelle residents need to pay attention.
Behind the scenes, the car dealership owners such as Don Lia and the Pepe family, are fighting these changes tooth and nail, bringing in the state Automobile Dealers Association and marshaling resources against the proposed resolution (full text below) brought forward by Council Member Albert Tarantino whose district is home to the car dealerships.
The car dealers have no one to blame but themselves for the coming clampdown.
For years, local car dealerships have been problematic members of the community, especially in the East End where most of them are located, along East Main Street/Route 1. Despite local laws and years of complaints, car dealers in New Rochelle have violated existing zoning laws with impunity.
For example, there are supposed to be three- and four- foot high hedges around every dealership so that East Main Street does not look like one big parking lot. The City Code refers to "Landscaping, screening and buffer areas". Dealers want to clear the view to show their cars and so do not want the hedges blocking the view of their cars. The result is depicted above at the Honda dealership on East Main Street; no hedges.
Matters have gotten worse due to changes in the auto industry where manufacturers want dealers to take larger inventories of vehicles so that customers can purchase a car and take delivery within 24 hours. This has dramatically increased both the number of vehicles being delivered to New Rochelle and the demands for space to park those vehicles.
Compounding this has been Pepe Motors moving to New Rochelle and opening a much larger facility than they had in Larchmont.
Enabling the car dealers has been Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll who happily puts car dealers like Pepe on the New Rochelle Police Foundation so he can collect fat checks for his supposed not-profit that has refused to turn over its records despite repeated requests from Talk of the Sound.
This sort of cozy financial relationship between the chief law enforcement official in a municipality and those subject to the laws of the municipality goes beyond creating the appearance of impropriety but is the actual definition of public corruption. You want to convert public property into a private use, send the Commish a few grand a year and he will sell you a bridge -- literally!
East End residents are forced to contend with daily lane closures on Route 1, Potter Avenue and Sunhaven as car carriers take up residence for hours, staging to deliver vehicles and then unloading in front of the dealerships or even the middle of Potter Avenue bridge (as depicted above). The random and illegal lane closures on Potter Avenue bridge are particularly dangerous as the car carrier is not always visible until drivers come over the rise in the road, especially in bad weather or at night (or both).
If Con Ed or some construction crew was blocking a lane like that they would be required to have a flag person, traffic cones and lights and a police officer on the scene directing traffic as needed and otherwise keeping an eye on things. Car dealers do this all day, every day without the slightest effort to warn motorists that a lane ahead is blocks by their trucks -- and these trucks are wide, taking up an entire lane and often more.
Throughout the area, the car dealerships are parking vehicles in locations not zoned for that purpose such as on the sidewalk in front of Don Coqui restaurant or in driveways and garages zoned as residential.
Besides the failure to install hedges, city trees are being mysteriously being chopped down in front of or near car dealerships. You would think that at the very least, Mayor GreeNR would be concerned about this as he has been the leading (i.e. only) proponent on Council of urban forestry issues in New Rochelle. When they Mayor said he wanted to plant 10,000 trees in New Rochelle maybe he meant 10 trees in front of Honda and Mercedes, chopped down and re-planted 1,000 times.
Buildings in the area are being torn down and turned into parking lots which not only compounds the tree and hedge issues -- those new lots do not have hedges or trees either -- but takes the building off the tax roll. Since, the taxable value of a property is primarily the building on which it sits, the effect has been to significantly reduce the amount of property taxes generated from those properties.
Many residents do not realize that sales tax on car sales is collected by the dealer, sent to New York State and redistributed to municipalities based on where the buyer lives not where the car was sold. So, New Rochelle gets the same sales tax benefit on a car sale as it would if the car was sold in Yonkers or White Plains. The only sales tax generated by the dealerships that remain local is on parts and services.
Car dealerships do pay some property taxes and deliver some sale taxes but on a per-dollar basis, they generate a fraction of the amount of taxes that a retailer like the Gap or Pier One Imports or a Chipolte restaurant would bring.
Not only are they the worst sort of retail business to have in New Rochelle but their presence blocks and discourages other good retail from coming to New Rochelle to get access to customers in New Rochelle and towns up Route 1. The sort of retail that would be part of any coherent development plan.
Car dealers are not allowed to give test drives in neighborhoods but likewise do so routinely.
They stay open later than allowed, they blare loudspeakers, etc.
Employees are not allowed to use local neighborhood streets to park their personal vehicles but do so routinely.
This Pepe Motors employee is a repeat offender; despite complaints Pepe takes no action. When the dealership was being proposed and built, Pepe Motors (i.e., Vinny Ripa) promised over and over again that employees would not park in the neighborhoods.
Then there is the crime associated with the car dealers -- routine car thefts, credit card fraud and even shots fired into the Honda User Car dealer across from Huguenot Hills.
Car dealers are, for good reason, the least trusted types of people in America, according to poll after poll. They are the only people trusted less than members of Congress which is saying something!
The simple fact is that no coherent long-term development plan for a municipality would include actively seeking to attract car dealerships. They are parasites to be shunned.
Mayor Bramson, touting his failed Echo Bay development plan, hailed East Main Street as the "gateway" to New Rochelle. He is right. It is a primary retail corridor which should easily draw in business from Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Rye. It doesn't because the first thing shoppers experience at our "gateway" is a gauntlet of car dealerships, blocking streets and uglifying the neighborhood.
The costs to the community from car dealerships far out way the benefits. Almost any retail use of the properties along East Main Street would be more productive, generate more taxes and be more welcome by residents. There is a reason that Pepe Motors moved to New Rochelle - Larchmont did not want them.
Below is the resolution as proposed last month.
Residents are urged to read the resolution and come prepared to combat whatever mouthpieces the car dealers send to City Hall tonight to whine how they cannot make any money unless they are allowed to violate existing zoning laws, convert public roads into private assets and otherwise make a costly nuisance of themselves.
Rest assured that besides paid hacks like Vinnie Ripa and whatever "beards" Greg Merchant and Noam Bramson can trot out, no disinterested New Rochelle residents will come forward to support the car dealerships.
What we will hear from the car dealers and their flacks is that their business will suffer if they cannot run roughshod over the quality of life of New Rochelle residents.
My question for them is simple. You have space. Why don't you use that space to provide parking for your employees and establish areas for car carriers and flat bad tow trucks and service vehicles to operate on your property?
They do not want to do that because they want to store their inventory on their property and operate their business on our property. Of course, it is much easier to make a profit if you can have the public subsidize your business.
New Rochelle needs a development plan that includes driving (no pun intended) car dealerships out of New Rochelle not making them feel more welcome. That this resolution is anxiously opposed by the car dealers is enough to confirm that it is a good first step in what should be a long-term strategy to get the car dealers out of New Rochelle.
Tesla Motors' model is raising questions as to whether consumers even need car dealerships anymore. Shoppers are researching automotive purchases online and can order online. How long until car dealerships go the way of Blockbuster video? For New Rochelle to continue to "invest" in car dealerships is not only bad for the community in which they operate but short-sighted and discourages healthier retail development. In other words, the proliferation of car dealerships and their expansion is illustrative of the way development planning is done in New Rochelle. That is to say, it is not. Instead it is driven by who knows who and who pays who. And meanwhile the residents suffers for this self-dealing and self-interest.
That raises a related issue. Getting this resolution on the books is an important, necessary first step. But some of these requirements have already been on the books or were agreed to during the planning process and then ignored. If the New Rochelle Police Department and Building Department are going to be restrained, in any way, from actively enforcing City Code, no change will occur.
We need this resolution. We need a new Police Commissioner. We need to stop protecting violators under the guise of being "business friendly". Let's be business friendly to businesses that are friendly to the future of New Rochelle. And buddy, that sure ain't car dealers.
Draft Resolution Follows:
Issue: Staff has identified the need to regulate the expansion of motor vehicle dealerships particularly with respect to vehicle storage, building orientation and employee parking. Many of the auto dealerships are located along Main Street/Post Road in a C-1M zoned district and it is important to the City that a design standard is created and maintained which respects the businesses and the neighboring residential uses.
• §331–4—Definitions—MOTOR VEHICLE DEALERSHIP
An establishment primarily engaged in enclosed and accessory outdoor retail sale of new automobiles, and which may include as accessory uses one or more of the following: the sale of parts and accessories for said new automobiles; the sale of used automobiles; and minor service, vehicle preparation and repair work (excluding primary uses allowed for a motor vehicle body repair shop). . The primary use shall include the showroom, interior display and storage of vehicles, offices, interior service and repair, vehicle preparation and repair work the sale of parts and accessories for said new automobiles and the required parking for any primary use, which at a minimum shall include parking for employees, customers, sales, offices and repair services. Accessory uses shall include one or more of the following: the sale of used automobiles; the exterior storage of vehicles, and the required parking for any accessory use (excluding primary uses allowed for a motor vehicle body repair shop).
• §331-102 Motor Vehicle Dealership—
The Planning Board shall approve a special permit for a motor vehicle dealership, provided the following conditions are met:
• The minimum lot frontage along a public street shall be 150 feet with a lot depth of no less than 100 feet, and the minimum lot area shall be ½ acre.
• Landscaping, screening and buffer areas shall be provided in accordance with the more stringent of the two following sections;§331-119.1B and 331-130 of this chapter.
• Parking shall be provided in accordance with Article XIV of this chapter.
• All exterior lighting shall be designed and oriented so as to minimize the visual impact upon adjacent and nearby residential properties. A photometric plan shall be submitted for review by the Building Official.
• The hours of operation shall be limited to 6:00AM to 9:00PM.
• No exterior public address system shall be permitted.
• No exterior display of banners, pennants, ribbons, or other similar temporary advertising materials shall be permitted in any outdoor sales area.
• Employee parking provided on site as required by Article XIV of this Chapter shall be designated by signage indicating “this space is reserved for employees.” Parking areas designated for employees shall not be used for vehicle storage, repair or finishing work or display or customer parking.
• The required customer parking shall be designated by signage indicating “this space is reserved for customers.” Parking areas designated for customers shall not be used for vehicle storage, repair or finishing work, display or employee parking.
• For new construction all vehicle storage and the bulk of the required parking, save for any required customer parking, shall be located in the rear of the building and be screened from abutting properties and the street, as allowable by the Code. Customer parking shall be located as close to the front entrance as permitted by the site restrictions and this Code.
• All parking and vehicle storage shall be screened from the street and from the abutting properties. All site and perimeter landscaping required by 331-119.1 and/or 331-130 shall be native, non invasive species, drought resistant and shall be planted to a minimum height of 36 inches In addition to any required landscaping pursuant to 331-119.1 and/or 331-130 the dealership shall design and construct a second landscape buffer strip set back a maximum of 40 feet from the interior edge of the required perimeter landscaping. This second landscape buffer strip shall be a minimum of 8 feet in width and shall be planted with densely spaced evergreen plantings a minimum of 48 inches tall. The area between the two (2) landscape buffer strips shall be able to park only one (1) row of cars. The intent of the two (2) buffer strips is to provide an outdoor showroom to display vehicles for sale. This landscaping requirement is in addition to any interior landscaping that may be required by 331-119.1 and/or 331-130. If the lot shall have two (2) frontages the aforementioned shall apply to only one frontage and the Building Official shall determine which frontage shall comply with this section.
• The building design shall address and relate to the scale, massing, setbacks and materials in relationship to neighboring properties and the neighborhood in general. The proposal shall be reviewed by the Peer Architectural Review Committee.
• The hours of loading and unloading of vehicles shall be determined by the Planning Board. All loading and unloading shall occur on the subject site and not in or on the public right-of-way. If the site is unable to accommodate the loading and unloading on site due to site constraints and the applicant owns/leases property within the C1-M zone or any other zone where parking and storage is permitted the applicant shall be able to utilize the second site for loading and unloading of vehicles. The second site shall comply with all Code requirements.
• Vehicles to be repaired or serviced shall not be parked or stored on any street, alley or public right-of-way.
• Service bay doors shall not face residentially zoned districts and/or uses.
• All motor vehicle dealerships shall be subject to an annual inspection by the Building Official or his designee.
• 331—126 Schedule of Off Street Parking and Loading Space Requirements
Motor Vehicle Dealerships Sales: 1 per 300 square feet of GFA
Service; 5 for the first service bay and 2 per every service bay thereafter; 1 per 2 employees.; 1 loading space a minimum of 50 feet in length is required