Auto Repair Shop Ordinance Hammers Out Differences

By Jorge Casuso

Most of the dents have been hammered out of a controversial auto repair shop ordinance that has traveled a bumpy road before reaching the City Council for a final vote tonight.

After a series of often-contentious meetings pitting shop owners and nearby residents, the council is set to approve an ordinance that attempts to protect neighbors against noise and congestion, without driving the shop owners out of town.

The proposed ordinance eases an existing law that has rarely been enforced since it was passed in 1988, while maintaining its key requirements. The law requires that repair shop owners comply with the following conditions:

1. Pave the building site, except in areas of building and landscaping.
2. Landscape the perimeter of the site and the vehicle parking and driveway areas.
3. Screen vehicles awaiting body and fender repair.
4. Enclose or remove outdoor hoists.
5. Enclose and cease outdoor repair activities.

After dozens of shop owners argued the law would drive them out of business, city officials worked out a compromise that scales back some of the conditions.

Under the proposed ordinance, outdoor hoists built before the original ordinance was passed in September 1988 would have to be enclosed, but owners would not be required to provide additional off-street parking. The additional parking is required when the site floor area is increased.

If a building extends to or near the parcel line of the site, owners will not be required to demolish existing structures in order to comply with landscaping requirements. Instead, shop owners could present an alternate landscaping plan to the Architectural Review Board.

The proposed ordinance also limits the size of storage containers for used or re-cycled auto parts to six feet in width by nine feet in length by six feet in height. The containers are subject to the review and approval of the Architectural Review Board.

In addition, the ordinance would require shop owners to provide road testing routes, approved by the Transportation Management Division, which prohibits repair shops from driving vehicles on residential streets. The standards also would require the closing of hoods while work is not being performed and the covering of vehicles that have been disassembled.

The proposed ordinance also makes some compromises when it comes to outdoor work, but doesn't bend enough to satisfy many shop owners.

The law would allow diagnostic services that do not involve replacing parts or fluids. It also would allow battery charging and replacement or tire removal and replacement. The later services, however, are prohibited if the facility is located directly adjacent to or across an alley from a residential use or district.

Under the proposed ordinance, the work would have to be performed 20 feet from an existing building on the premises (shop owners wanted 18 feet) and within a clearly marked area not to exceed 400 square feet (shop owners contend the limit is to restrictive, allowing for only two cars).

The work must be performed between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.

The proposed ordinance prohibits the use of pneumatic tools regardless of a facility's location.

The council will meet Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 1685 Main St.