York council thwarts plans for used car lot in historic district

jbecknell@enquirerherald.comNovember 6, 2013 

— In a room packed with opponents to a proposed used car lot in the heart of York’s historic district, the York City Council Tuesday voted to change the zoning of the land.

“There’s no way of dressing up a used car lot to make it appropriate in an historic district,” said Gary Gross, a Yorkville Historical Society member who lives in an historic home on East Liberty Street.

After listening to Gross, several other opponents and the property owner, York native Jerry Benfield, council members unanimously approved a 180-day rezoning of the East Liberty Street property from general industrial to residential. The 3.5-acre property at 14 Cemetery St. is between Wright Funeral Home and historic Rose Hill Cemetery.

“We’re going to protect our historic district,” York Mayor Eddie Lee told Benfield. “The council has an obligation to protect its citizens and its people.”

The car lot would be a permitted use for property with a general industrial zoning, but it would not be allowed under residential zoning. The zoning change will go to the city’s planning commission for review before returning to the council for a second vote, Lee said.

Several council members said they sympathized with Benfield’s plan to open a business on property he purchased two years ago, where he already runs a bail bond business and a construction company.

But they said the general industrial zoning assigned to the property many years ago has become obsolete as the historic district has developed.

“I don’t think that is a legitimate spot for that kind of endeavor,” councilman Mark Boley said of the proposed used car lot.

He also said the Liberty Street gateway lined with historic homes “separates us from a lot of towns that have made mistakes in the kinds of businesses they have allowed.”

Gross gave the council a petition that he said had more than 450 signatures of people opposed to a car lot in the historic district.

Gross said Benfield has done a nice job of maintaining the property and of working with the neighboring funeral home to allow overflow parking on his property during funerals. He suggested Benfield might benefit from tax incentives by donating the property to the city to be used as a park.

Maurice Sanders, president of the Western York County chapter of the NAACP, also urged the council to protect the historic district.

“I have a great concern with a used car lot at the gateway to the city of York,” Sanders said. “It’s just not appropriate to present York in that manner. Please, please listen to the signatures on this petition.”

Benfield told the council he won’t discuss the matter further with Lee, who was quoted in the Enquirer-Herald as saying during an Oct. 26 Rose Hill Cemetery dedication event that the used car lot won’t happen.

“He’s telling me up front there’s no negotiation,” said Benfield, who referred to Lee’s published comments. He declined to comment after the meeting.

Several other council members urged Benfield to talk with the city. “I hope we can come to an amicable resolution,” said council member Denise Lowry.

Lee said he was worried about the green building on Benfield’s property, and spoke with Fire Chief Dominic Manera about it. “I’m worried about that green building being a fire hazard,” Lee said.

Lee also said grass in one area was “3 feet tall.”

Benfield said the overgrown area was not his property

Benfield told the council he should be able to do what he wants to with his property. “I don’t appreciate being bullied,” Benfield told the council. “I won’t be bullied on a piece of property I own.”

Lee responded: “I’m not trying to bully you, I’m trying to explain my position.”

On Monday, Benfield’s plans for the car lot were considered by the city’s historical commission for a second time. The commission asked for site plan details such as lighting, landscaping, gravel and parking.

Commission chairman Ed Wood said the commission denied Benfield’s request because he was not able to provide sufficient site plan details. He said it also referred the zoning issue to the city’s planning commission.

Jennifer Becknell •  803-329-4077

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