EDITORIAL: Driving out local automobile dealerships is bad business

(File Photo)

So let’s get this straight: In a year where officials are bemoaning a massive budget shortfall, warning of dire cuts to needed and beloved city services, and desperately searching for new sources of cash, city councilors want to evict two longstanding, tax-generating businesses from King Street?

Really?

Though overshadowed by the furious debate over bike lanes and redevelopment news along the waterfront, the story of A&B Auto Finance Co. and King’s Auto is yet another example of the perils of micromanaging the free market from city council chambers. Now two local businesses are poised to pay for City Hall’s past hubris.

Nearly a decade ago, city councilors embraced a new, retail-oriented vision for King Street. That vision did not include used car lots, regardless of how long they had called the thoroughfare home (one has been in business since 1941, the other since 1962). The two dealerships were given until last year to vacate, deemed a “nonconforming use” in the sterile words of bureaucrats.

But apparently finding new digs in a rapidly gentrifying city is easier said than done. The two dealerships have begged for clemency — and received a reprieve of sorts — until they locate new homes.

Of course, to hear it from Alexandria’s top elected officials, their hands are tied — just as they were when a sex shop opened in Old Town over the objections of many — and they’re doing the best they can to salvage a bad situation. The two dealerships were long ago deemed unacceptable on King Street, so what is a city councilor to do?

Here’s a thought: Why not crack open that retail strategy guide and make a few edits? That’s the sort of move city officials vowed to make after the “couples boutique” set up shop in 2009, remember?

And, as Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg noted, it’s not as if developers are knocking down these landowners’ doors, plans for new shops, restaurants and apartments clutched feverishly in hand.

King Street is booming. A seemingly endless wave of shops, from mom and pop boutiques to outposts of national chains, open every year along our main drag. Eventually — and likely not too far off in the future — developers will begin eyeing those lots on the 1300 block. The property owners can strike a deal and then City Hall can welcome new, more acceptable proprietors.

That, at least, is how it should work.

Instead, officials are pushing out two local businesses with deep roots in Alexandria, depriving landlords of rent and city coffers of much needed tax revenue. If there is a better example of the pitfalls of bureaucratic overreach in Alexandria, it’s not coming to mind.

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