The automobile dealers along the southern stretch of Glendale's Brand Boulevard are tuning up their lobbying engines for possible expansion into residentially zoned neighborhoods.
That worries some nearby homeowners who complain about noise and congestion from milelong Auto Row. It could also squeeze city officials between the protests of a neighborhood organization and the needs of what is the second largest generator of sales tax revenues in Glendale.
"It's going to be a real dogfight," said Jarrett S. Anderson, attorney and executive secretary of the Glendale Motor Car Dealers Assn., which represents 15 dealers selling 34 brands of cars.
That association recently gave the City Council a report claiming that the dealers altogether need about 700,000 square feet in extra space--about 40% more than their current showrooms, service bays and storage lots. The report warns that a new dealer may have trouble getting allocations of cars from manufacturers because of that shortage of room.
Costly and Time-Consuming Process
As a result, Anderson said, the association is calling on the city to rezone for commercial use many of the remaining residentially zoned lots from Colorado Street to Los Feliz Boulevard and from Central Avenue to Maryland Avenue and Louise Street. Otherwise, any expansion by car dealers will require a lot-by-lot battle for variances, a costly and time-consuming process, according to Anderson.
A proposal by city planners to create a so-called CAR (Commercial, Auto-Related) Zone for auto sales and repairs in the same area was killed by the council about two years ago. The idea sparked much controversy in the neighborhood, and even some car dealers came to oppose it, saying it was too restrictive.
The car dealers now want a more general designation of the area for commercial use. "What we are now hoping is that the city will put this problem back on the agenda. It is unfinished business," Anderson said.
To the South Glendale Citizens Assn., it is business better left unfinished. The neighborhood organization was formed because of what its leaders say are the intrusions of parking, repair noise, loudspeaker announcements, bright lights and test-driving from the car dealers. The group promises to oppose any rezoning of the area.
Multilevel Garages Suggested
Its president, Cleo Hunter, said the dealers should build multilevel garages as a way to make better use of their existing property instead of seeking to buy more land. "Obviously that would cost a little more than picking off houses from older residents who can't afford to do anything about it," she said.
Hunter added that she thinks the car dealers are again pushing for rezoning because they were emboldened by a recent 3-1 council vote that, in effect, allowed Star Lincoln Mercury on West Acacia Avenue to continue its auto repair service. The council voted against hearing an appeal by residents who opposed giving the dealer a variance. The variance included a series of conditions aimed at improving the appearance of the dealership and reducing noise.
"My best guess is that the car dealers, having won that round, now feel they have three votes in their pocket and have carte blanche to do what they want. That really makes me sad," said Hunter.
However, council members said that they are in no hurry to rezone the area.
For example, Councilman Carl Raggio, who voted against the South Glendale Citizens Assn. on the Star Lincoln Mercury issue, said he did not think the report from the car dealers association was adequate evidence of a need for rezoning. He said dealers should investigate building multilevel garages equipped with computerized systems of storage and movement.
"They can continue to do traditional things and spread out. Or they can spread up instead of using all that ground to store cars on," said Raggio, who is an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab. "The cost is probably similar."
Some Called Bad Neighbors
Mayor Ginger Bremberg, who cast the sole vote to grant a hearing on the Lincoln Mercury case, said she was willing to hear what the car dealers want. But, she said, some dealers have been bad neighbors and that "the impact on the rest of the city is quite important."
Altogether, the car dealers in the South Brand corridor sold about $208 million worth of cars last year, generating about $2.08 million in taxes for the city, according to Brian Butler, Glendale's director of finance. That was topped only by the stores in the Galleria shopping mall, where $266 million in sales produced $2.66 million for the city in sales taxes, Butler said.
In their group advertising on radio and in newspapers, Glendale car dealers on South Brand stress the convenience to shoppers of having so many makes of cars for sale within so small an area.