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Council members raise concerns about planned auto mall

Several Charlotte City Council members expressed concerns Monday over a plan to put an auto mall near the planned $1.16 billion northern extension of the Lynx light rail line.

At-large representative David Howard and Michael Barnes, who represents the council district where the property is located, both echoed concerns raised by critics who say car dealerships stand in opposition to the kind of dense, pedestrian-friendly development light rail corridors typically create.

The owners of Parks Chevrolet are seeking approval to rezone 39 acres across University City Boulevard from IKEA to accommodate 275,000 square feet of dealership space. Up to four dealers would set up shop there.

Sustain Charlotte director Shannon Binns and architect Martin Zimmerman told council members the tract is about a quarter-mile away from a planned light rail station and would interfere with the kind of dense development that has bloomed along the rail line in South End.

Stuart Parks, whose family owns the Parks Chevrolet locations on North Tryon Street and in Huntersville, told the council the 39-acre tract isn’t directly on the light rail corridor and is close to Interstate 85.

He stressed that his firm supports the rail-oriented redevelopment planned for North Tryon. He made reference to the fact that Parks Chevrolet is offering to let the city put transit-friendly zoning on its current 14-acre property on North Tryon if the zoning change goes through on the auto mall site.

His sister, Sissy Parks, said that North Tryon location will be disrupted by construction and by the changing retail environment in that area. One light rail station, she said, will be 50 feet from the dealership.

“We’re actually trying to move further away” from the light rail line by moving to the new location, she said.

Charlotte attorney John Northey, representing the owners of the proposed auto mall property, said the tract is already more suburban than urban because of IKEA and I-85 nearby.

“This is I-85 and the Pineville CATS stop all over again,” he said, referring to the suburban-style stop at the southern end of the Lynx line. “It’s big box... . It’s pulling people into a large garage and sending them uptown” on the light rail trains.

But Howard asked for more information on the other dealerships that would locate in the auto mall. Stuart Parks said the other potential clients are also located along the North Tryon corridor.

“What you really just told me is there’s a potential for four big (empty) boxes along North Tryon Street,” he told Parks. The councilman added that he’s concerned about what that would mean for struggling neighborhoods such as Hidden Valley.

Barnes echoed those concerns, saying he has long fought the proliferation of car dealerships along North Tryon.

“There’s no doubt in my mind (the Parkses) are good corporate citizens,” he said. “The challenge I have is the vision I had for that area.”

Perhaps further complicating matters, a lawyer representing an unspecified car dealership said that firm has 30 acres under contract on the opposite side of the planned University City Boulevard station.

The lawyer, Zach Moretz, said that dealer wants to join the auto mall, but the land it currently has under contract is already zoned for a car dealership.

Council member Warren Cooksey asked how the city could know it won’t wind up with an auto mall on the east side of the line and a car dealership on the west side.

Moretz said the owner is “99 percent certain” to allow transit-friendly zoning on the 30 acres if the auto mall goes through.

The council took no vote Monday night. The proposal will next be heard by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission’s zoning committee on Sept. 25.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; @ericfraz on Twitter
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