tampabay.com

City Council denies zoning for used cars

The dealership's lawyer argues that due process rights were violated.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published November 24, 2006


Neighbors who feared test drivers would zoom through their streets rejoiced last week when the City Council voted 6-1 to deny an application to tear down a 60-year-old strip mall on W Kennedy Boulevard and replace it with a Kuhn used-car dealership.

Council member John Dingfelder at first supported the proposal. He believed that 4001 W Kennedy Blvd. would be better served with the planned development zoning for the upscale car lot instead of its existing commercial general use. That zoning allows a variety of ventures, including fast-food joints.

Dingfelder held that view at the first hearing, when Mark Bentley, Kuhn's lawyer, originally presented the plan. And Dingfelder stuck to it at the second hearing, when Bentley came back with amendments to assure neighbors that test drivers wouldn't cut through residential streets.

But at this third hearing, called after there weren't enough council members to vote at the last one, Dingfelder said he had changed his mind. After reviewing e-mails sent by residents, he decided to drive by the site after work to take a second look.

He pictured the 1.25-acre property without the large building and grew concerned about all the light and noise pollution from the street that would go unbuffered into the neighborhood. The lot would be a "missing tooth" on Kennedy Boulevard, he decided.

Bentley said Dingfelder's research went too far.

"From a due process standpoint, there have been blatant violations of my client's rights," Bentley said.

Bentley said Dingfelder had been influenced outside the scope of the public hearing, and council member Shawn Harrison said Dingfelder should have ignored the e-mails that prompted his impromptu drive-by.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena disagreed.

"It's Kennedy Boulevard," one of the most visible streets in Tampa, she said.

Council member Rose Ferlita agreed with Saul-Sena, saying nobody sat in Dingfelder's car when he changed his mind.

Before council voted, Bentley gave a final statement: "Our property is zoned CG and that building is coming down one way or another. We don't need permission to do build a Taco Bell."

Every member except Kevin White voted against the rezoning.

North Bon Air resident Richard Reavis rejoiced. "They listened to the neighbors and voted the right way," Reavis said.

But was he afraid of the bean burritos and double-decker tacos looming ahead?

"We used to have a Taco Bell. We had a Checkers drive-through," Reavis said. "We miss those."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com