Do Hamilton’s zoning bylaws require used car lots to sell all the cars from inside a salesroom?
That’s one of the important questions that member of the Hamilton Zoning Board of Appeals are grappling with as they consider an application from to sell used cars at the downtown Hamilton business.
“I do think it is going to be a key question,” said Bill Bowler, chairman of the ZBA as the board was hearing on Wednesday night about plans to sell used cars at Mike’s. It is the second time – a review that began last month.
“What constitutes a salesroom under Hamilton zoning bylaws?” Bowler asked, noting it is an auto salesroom that is allowed with a special permit in the downtown business district. It’s that special permit that Mike’s is seeking.
“Like many issues, it is not totally clear,” Bowler said.
The application to the ZBA came after town officials informed Mike’s . It is not allowed under zoning with the special permit and the Class 2 used car license issued by the Board of Selectmen . The board ordered that all used car sales stop and used cars be moved from the property or it could move to revoke the license. As of last week’s deadline, .
No decision was made by the ZBA on Wednesday. The board instead decided to conduct a site visit on Tuesday, July 24 at 2 p.m. It is an open, public meeting of the board, Bowler said.
Mike’s Auto owner Michael Holland looked on during the nearly hour-long hearing, which will continue when the board meets again in August.
“There isn’t a car dealership in the world that doesn’t have outdoor storage areas for cars that are for sale,” Jim Kroesser, a Hamilton attorney that represents Mike’s.
Based on “common parlance,” a used car salesroom would mean that cars are kept inside and a used car lot would mean that cars are kept outside, Bowler said.
But Kroesser said case law provided by Town Counsel Donna Brewer and an search of case law at the Salem Superior Court library has not yielded any cases that define auto salesroom. There is no definition in Hamilton zoning bylaw, even though it is an allowed use – with a special permit – in the downtown area.
"There isn’t a car dealer anywhere that has all the cars for sale inside a salesroom,” Kroesser said. “It just doesn’t make any sense; It flies in the face of logic.”
And the latest discussion is not the first time the issue of used car sales in the downtown has been discussed.
In fact, in March 1987, the Board of Selectmen asked the Planning Board to draft zoning bylaws to regulate outdoor used car sales. At that time, there was concern that outdoor used car sales were violating zoning.
The then-Town Administrator Candace Wheeler wrote that a salesroom meant car were sold indoors.
That year, a zoning amendment went to Town Meeting that would have allowed outdoor used car lots and it did not pass.
“At least in 1997 some people in town thought there was a clear distinction between an inside salesroom and an outdoor sales lot,” Bowler said.
Also at issue for the ZBA, previously, was a plan presented to the board showing the proposed layout of used cars on the site. The board said it wanted plans drawn by a professional engineer.
The board said a plan drawn by hand by Kroesser was not good enough. On Wednesday, Kroesser brought a plan drawn by Peter Kane.
The plan showed seven spaces along the front – one fewer than the previous plan – and three spaces along the side of the building, one fewer than the previous plan.
“There’s a lot of detail on this – it’s great,” said board member John Rodenhizer.
After the survey, planters along the front of the property were moved by a few inches of and out of the road right-of-way, Kroesser said.
“The plan is pretty much the same, otherwise,” he said.
Customers can park behind the building or along Route 1A, Kroesser said. Parking for the two or three employees was not outlined on the plan.
“It looks a little tight,” said Jane Lyman, one of three board members.