News

Car dealers won't have to abandon their lots

While it seems likely that car lots will remain at Oak Harbor’s most prominent intersection, it might get prettier someday.

City staff recommends, and members of the planning commissioner agree, that selling vehicles should be an allowed use in the neighborhood of Highway 20, Beeksma Drive and Pioneer Way, as well as anywhere else that is zoned C-3 community commercial.

At the same time, staff and planning commissioner members suggest that the city retain a consultant to come up with “urban design solutions,” including landscaping, to make the intersection look better and another consultant to help devise a plan to redevelop what Community Development Director Steve Powers calls “a pivotal area of the city.”

The Oak Harbor City Council is set to make a final decision on these recommendations at their regular meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, at City Hall.

Tuesday, July 27, the city’s planning commission members discussed the proposed amendment to the zoning code that would re-establish automobile sales and services as a permitted use in the C-3 zone, which covers the three car dealerships in the area.

In 2000, car sales and services were deleted from the city’s zoning code as a permitted use in C-3 during a major review of the code. The effect is that the dealerships cannot expand their facilities because they are no longer conforming uses. The owners and managers of the car lots, however, didn’t find out about the change until just recently. They went to the City Council and complained.

As a result, the council members agreed to initiate an amendment to the zoning code by simply adding car sales back into the list of C-3 allowed uses. They sent the matter to the planning commission for review.

Steve Powers, community development director, said car sales and services were originally removed from the list of allowed uses in C-3 in hopes of jump-starting an aesthetically pleasing revitalization of the area. If the dealerships leave, then new businesses or community buildings could be built there and the city could have a hand in designing the look of the area, he said.

The problem was the city didn’t do anything else beside change the zoning to further the vision.

“I think with hindsight when zoning was changed, it should have been just one step in a larger effort,” Powers said.

Powers said this “dream” shouldn’t be abandoned, just pursued in a different way. He took the unusual step of proposing that the city work in cooperation with the car dealerships “to see that this redevelopment occurs.”

Specifically, Powers presented two conditions or directions, a short-range and long-range solution, to go along with the zoning amendment. The conditions are for the City Council to follow.

The proposed short-range solution states that the city “shall take the lead in identifying and implementing urban design improvements (including landscaping)” to the area around the intersection. It goes on to say that the city shall retain a consultant to assist with the project and work with the property owners.

The long-range solution is to create a strategy for redevelopment of the specific area. This condition also calls for a consultant to help with the plan and that the city work with affected property owners.

While there are C-3 zones in different areas of the city, Powers emphasized that the Highway 20 / Beeksma Drive / Pioneer Way intersection is extremely important, as “the gateway” to the city, in conveying an image for the community.

“I think we’d all agree that the intersection is the most prominent in town,” he said.

Kevin Helwick, general manager of Whidbey Island Ford, said he would be open to measured aesthetic improvements on the lot.

“We’re not looking to blow the corner up and say, ‘Hey, it’s a mega dealership...’ ” he said. “As far as beautifying the corner, I’m open to any idea to make it look better other than blocking the view (of cars.)”

Helwick did take some heat from Commissioner Robert Craig, who scolded him for allegedly violating the current zoning code.

“You created a public image that you control the city,” Craig said.

Commissioner Rick Almberg said excluding car sales from the list of allowed uses seemed unfair. Shopping malls and supermarkets are still allowed within the C-3 zone

“I don’t know how we can exclude one business when we don’t exclude another similar type of business,” he said.

In the end, commission members agreed with staff’s proposal and forwarded their recommendation to the City Council.

Community Events, April 2014

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