Mike Holland told the Hamilton Planning Board on Tuesday that he needs to sell used cars to stay in business.
The owner of Mike’s Auto Repair in downtown Hamilton told the board that “we’d be toast” if he didn’t sell used cars in addition to repairing vehicles.
Things all changed for Holland a few years ago when Volvo started selling new cars with full maintenance coverage – except tires - for five years or 50,000 miles.
“You know what that did to me? It killed me,” Holland said, adding that 85 percent of his repair business in from Volvos – Mike’s is known as specializing in Volvo repair.
By the admission of both Holland and his attorney, Jim Kroesser of Hamilton, Holland has been storing and selling used cars on the property since 2008. But it was not until about a month ago that the cars caught the attention of passers-by as balloons and flags were used to decorate the used cars that were lined up for sale along Route 1A, just north of the Wenham town line.
Previously, “there were no flags, no flower pots and no lining up of used cars,” said Planning Board Chairman Peter Clark, who said he fielded several question about it as he worked out at the neighboring Hamilton Athletic Club.
The board spent about an hour and a half reviewing permits from Holland to allow the sale of used cars on Tuesday night.
Almost exactly 24 hours earlier in the same room at Hamilton Town Hall, the Hamilton Board of Selectmen voted to give Mike’s 30 days to remove the used cars for sale that he is storing on the property at 17 Bay Road.
While Mike’s has been issued a Class II car dealers license each year since 2008 that allows him to sell used cars, he is not allowed to store them on his property under the terms of the permit. The Selectmen said it could revoke his permit or vote to not renew it if the vehicles are not removed. Under zoning, he is also not permitted to sell used cars from the property.
“Under his Class II license he can sell cars, he just can’t keep them at that location,” said Planning Board member Rick Mitchell.
He is seeking a permit from the zoning board to allow the sale of 12 used cars from the property and will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Hamilton Town Hall to begin that permitting process.
On Tuesday, the Hamilton Planning Board was asked to review the site plan for the used car sales and offer its opinion on the application to the zoning board.
One of the board’s chief criticisms was that it could not answer all of its questions based on the hand drawn site plan that Kroesser submitted to the board. It is part of a series of application documents that have been submitted to town officials and are attached to this story as a PDF.
Kroesser said that while the site plan is hand drawn, it was to scale and based on a survey by Frank Hancock. Kroesser noted that site plan review usually consist of the review of new building, parking lots, driveways and lights, among other things. But in this case, he said, no changes were proposed to the site – only to store and sell used cars from the property.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on this board that wants to put Mike’s out of business,” said Ed Howard, a Planning Board member who later added he is in a conundrum “because Mike has a good reputation in town.”
For example, in March, Mike’s was named one of the best car repair garages in the two towns in the Best of Patch Readers’ Choice contest.
And one of Mike’s customers, Richard Malabre, said he saw coverage of the issue on Hamilton-Wenham Patch and came in front of the board to express support for Holland asked the board to treat him fairly.
The worst outcome would be to drive Mike’s out of business, he said. That is what has happened in some cases in Marblehead, where he used to live.
“There are numerous vacant storefronts and it looks very bad,” Malabre said.
As he did in an earlier letter to the editor on Patch, Bob Gray of Bay Road told the board that the used cars for sale lined up along Route 1A “is really not what I would like to see in the downtown.”
Howard, and later Planning Coordinator Kristine Cheetham, suggested that an offer from Mike to continue the existing sidewalk south from Talbots and past Mike’s property as a “form of mitigation” if he were granted zoning permission to sell used cars from the property.
Planning Board members also expressed concerns about how the used car sales may impact an informal agreement Holland reached with Joe Leone, who owns the Black Cow restaurant across the street, for restaurant patrons to park on Mike’s property during the evening.
Clark said the board would want to find out whether the agreement to have Black Cow patrons park at Mike’s in part of the conditions for any of the Black Cow permits. Black Cow is currently closed for renovations and is expected to reopen this fall.