By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)
Alexandria City Council has granted two King Street used car dealers a reprieve, giving them until October to vacate Old Town in the hopes that they can find new lots elsewhere in the Port City.
In 2005, Alexandria’s top elected officials voted to phase out car dealerships in the Old Town retail district by the end of 2013 as part of a vision for a more retail-centric King Street. Despite the deadline, A&B Auto Finance Co. and King’s Auto were still trading used vehicles on the 1300 block of King St. when the businesses’ local permits came up for review earlier this year.
In search of a solution that would keep the dealerships open until they eventually relocate within the city, councilors unanimously voted to push their eviction date off until October, coinciding with the expiration of the companies’ state business licenses.
David Chamowitz, an attorney representing one of the dealerships, said his client requested the eight-month delay, noting that both businesses are working with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership to find new homes.
“We feel like this would be a reasonable compromise between the city’s interest and his owning a business here,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are not many locations that allow for uses like this.”
Mayor Bill Euille said it is important that officials work to find a way to keep the businesses on the city’s tax rolls.
“The practical solution here is to be flexible, with everyone helping them to find another site,” he said.
Despite the stay winning support from the business owners, a few residents decried city council’s decision, questioning why car dealerships were considered undesirable when two sex shops opened up along the thoroughfare in recent years.
“The message may be that … our city considers the two adult entertainment device stores approved on King Street to be neighborhood-serving retailers consistent with the vision for King Street, while these two automobile retailers are not,” said Michael Hobbes, former president of the Old Town Civic Association.
City attorney Jim Banks said that those shops complied with all rules for retail establishments, while car dealers are specifically mentioned as nonconforming uses in the 2005 King Street retail strategy document. And City Councilor Paul Smedberg noted that officials fought the sex shop proposals fruitlessly.
“I agree with [resident Townsend “Van” Van Fleet] and Michael that having that kind of establishment — the sex shops — is not ideal, but it was just unfortunate,” Smedberg said. “The owner of that building wanted to put that in the city’s face.”
Resident Sharon Annear urged council to avoid a hard deadline for eviction, giving the businesses as much time as needed to relocate.
“You can’t just give them a list of what might be viable,” Annear said. “There’s far more than locations involved in having a viable site for a business. It has to work for them economically as well, and those don’t turn up every day.”
Before voting in favor of the October deadline, Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg said she was concerned about the prospect of forcing businesses out of their locations when there are no plans in the works to redevelop those properties.
“Really there’s nothing coming to the floor for development immediately,” Silberberg said. “[If they aren’t removed], at least we would still have a business there.”
Euille pledged that city staff and local economic development experts would continue working with the dealerships to ensure they are not forced out of the city — or business.
“This gets to what we’re hearing, that we need to take our time to come up with a win-win,” he said. “We need to help find another location for these two businesses.”