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York thwarts car lot with historic district sales ban

The York City Council continued to thwart a proposed used car lot in the historic district, approving a measure that would ban exterior storage and sales in that area.

The council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a measure that prohibits “the exterior storage, sales or display of materials” in the historic district. A second and final vote is required.

The council also took the first of two votes to approve a measure that would return the zoning of the 13 Cemetery St. property to general industrial from multi-family residential.

The council early last year had approved a temporary measure to change the zoning of the 3.5-acre property from general industrial to multi-family residential so the zoning could be evaluated by the city’s planning commission.

Mayor Eddie Lee said both the proposed zoning change and the ban on exterior storage, sales and displays were recommendations of the planning commission.

The two votes followed a public hearing during which a half dozen residents spoke, including Jerry Benfield, a York native and owner of the Cemetery Street property.

The issue arose in October 2013, when Benfield sought permission for a used car lot from the city’s historical commission. The commission later denied his request, saying he did not provide sufficient site plan details.

Since then, numerous residents of the historic district have spoken in opposition of Benfield’s proposal at several City Council meetings. They have argued it would not be in keeping with the character of the historic district, and presented a petition signed by hundreds of residents.

Suzanne Hill, who with her husband, Mark Hill, owns a home on East Liberty Street, across from Benfield’s Cemetery Street property, urged the council to stop the used car lot.

“If we open up the historic district to businesses like this, I think it’s going to stop people from buying into this area,” said Hill.

Charles Boyd, a 79-year-old York native who also lives in the historic district, near the Cemetery Street property, said he has seen countless historic homes destroyed to make way for businesses that no longer exist.

“Which is more important to this city?” he asked.

Vern Eakin, an East Liberty Street resident and past president of the Yorkville Historical Society, said he would leave York if such a business is allowed in the historic district.

“We as a society have spent a lot of money in this town trying to keep it historic,” Eakin said.

He said people come to visit York from many other places. “They’re coming here for one reason: To see the historic district,” he said.

Benfield told the council he deserves to use his property for a business. Car lots are allowed under general industrial zoning.

“I’m asking to use my property as it was zoned and as I bought it for,” he said. He said he invested about $20,000 in a new roof, electrical upgrades and other improvements to the building.

“I put my heart into it, no different than you homeowners,” Benfield said.

He added: “I’m about trying to make a living for my family,” he said. “You’re trying to take that away from me.”

Benfield said after the meeting that he received what he called “a tax value offer” of $95,000 to purchase the property last year. The offer was made through a local law office, and Benfield said he didn’t know the buyer.

However, Benfield said he turned down the offer because it would not cover the investments he has made in the property.

Council member John Shiflet asked if people who already have some outside storage would be able to keep it, and city attorney Mac Brice said that they would.

Shiflet asked that the measure clarify that those who already have storage would not be affected by the new measure.

Benfield has employed a local attorney, Martin Foster, who last year threatened legal action against the city on Benfield’s behalf if the city changed the zoning to prevent the car lot.

Benfield said after the meeting that he plans to discuss legal action with Foster.