Rock Hill city council drops new standards for used car lots

DrivewayCars.com is one of several used car lots in Rock Hill that would have been affected by new regulations.
DrivewayCars.com is one of several used car lots in Rock Hill that would have been affected by new regulations.

Used car salesmen can breathe a sigh of relief.

On Tuesday, Rock Hill City Council declined to impose any new requirements on existing dealerships to make potentially expensive upgrades to their businesses.

Tuesday’s vote ends months of back and forth on the issue, with city planning staff hoping to impose new requirements on businesses they worried were becoming an eyesore, and that existing rules don’t allow them to do anything about.

The council did approve new standards and zoning rules that any new car lots opening in the city will have to meet, but “grandfathered” lots can go on as always.

Dealers had expressed concerns about what new rules might impose on them.

Under the final rules proposed this week, existing lots would be required to meet new parking standards by July 1, and would have to upgrade to comply with newer standards if they were ever sold to a new owner.

City planners worried that unlike existing businesses that can go through major upgrades when they change hands – and therefore trigger the enforcement of new standards – used car lots will rarely if ever upgrade properties on their own. Planning Director Bill Meyer said dealers “just need a desk and a place to park cars.”

“These businesses aren’t spending the kind of money on their buildings that would be needed to trigger the requirements,” planner Leah Youngblood told city council.

Possible exceptions from the rules considered by planners include selling to a family member or a long-time tenant/manager.

The city Planning Commission reviewed the proposal and twice declined to impose any new requirements on existing dealers – at a meeting in December and again March 1. Both meetings drew opposition to the proposals from the city’s 45 existing dealerships.

City council earlier expressed its reluctance to impose new rules without the planning commission’s endorsement, and reiterate that feeling on Monday.

“Could it be as simple as, if it goes out of business for six months, it has to come up to use (standards), rather than forcing a drastic change on a business that’s been there for years and years?” said Councilman John Black.

“That’s where I get heartburn,” he said, and referred to the new-car dealerships planners use as their model. “A smaller dealer won’t have the resources to put in a new, million-dollar facility.”

Councilwoman Ann Williamson worried even the change-of-ownership requirements could hurt business.

“A person who wants to buy a dealership might change his mind if he’s got to put in all these upgrades,” she said.

Council ultimately declined to approve the recommendation by a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Doug Echols casting the only vote in favor of the proposal. He argued the city would have to do something to improve businesses “if they don’t want to do it voluntarily.”

Council did approve standards for new dealerships. In the future, new dealers will have to meet new standards for striped parking spaces – which planners hope will limit “packing” cars into smaller lots – and limiting the areas new lots can open.

New zoning rules allow lots to open “by right” only in certain districts, primarily the Dave Lyle Boulevard corridor along Interstate 77, where many new car franchises already operate. New dealers can also apply for a “special exception” to open on sections of Cherry and Anderson roads, or on Saluda Street and Albright Road on the south side of town.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome