Stow -- Marhofer Chevrolet will be able to pursue a new zoning designation now that car dealerships are permitted uses in additional commercial zones.

Legislation permitting car sales/rentals as conditional uses in C-3 Community Retail and C-4 General Business zoning districts was approved by City Council on Jan. 10 by a vote of 5-0-2. Ward 1 Councilman Matt Riehl and Ward 3 Councilman Brian Lowdermilk abstained. No reason was given for their abstentions.

Council members offered little discussion on the ordinance at the regular Council meeting Jan. 10 other than voting to include a wording update to legislation's title that didn't change the law's content.

The ordinance was originally introduced to Council by real estate attorney John Slagter, who represents the Marhofer Chevrolet dealership located at the intersection of Darrow and Kent roads.

The business has said it wants to expand at its current location. Planning Director Rob Kurtz noted the business had submitted a request to the Planning Commission last May to rezone three properties on Thorndale Avenue -- a street in the adjacent neighborhood -- from residential to commercial. That request has been tabled ever since.

According to discussions from meetings last summer, the dealership is considering razing a couple properties on Thorndale to accommodate an expansion.

According to Summit County property records, the Marhofer dealership is owned by RLM Darrow Road LLC, which also owns several parcels on Yukon Road -- the street that connects Thorndale Avenue to Darrow Road -- among others.

Marhofer, which is currently a legal non-conforming use, is expected to seek a change to its zoning designation in the near future now that car dealerships are permitted conditional uses in not only C-5 Highway Services zones-- which are all situated around Route 8 -- but also C-4 and C-3 districts.

The business is still required to come back before Council to have the actual rezoning approved.

"Any request to expand or build an auto sales business on this lot or any other lot in the C-3, C-4, or C-5 would require a recommendation from Planning Commission and approval by Council," Kurtz emphasized. "Also, any request to rezone additional property would still require Planning Commission and Council review and approval."

Kurtz said the Planning Commission originally recommended the ordinance's approval to Council because it helps address the nonconforming use of a large business (i.e. Marhofer Chevrolet) and permits similar businesses in C-3 and C-4 areas (which the Commission determined is an appropriate change considering similar permitted uses in those areas).

The ordinance also adds supplemental conditions to "encourage a quality development with adequate property where potential negative impacts to surrounding land uses could be mitigated" because the areas where dealerships would be permitted afterward would increase. Those conditions include prohibiting loud outdoor speakers and requiring all portions of a dealer's property used for sales or storage of vehicles to be paved, among other regulations.

Residents voice support, disapproval during PUBLIC HEARING

During the Jan. 7 public hearing, Slagter restated that remaining a nonconforming use is detrimental to the business because of the restrictions attached to that designation, which prevent the dealership from reopening if it goes out of commission for six months in the event of some unforeseen circumstance like a fire or union strike. It also places a cap on how much the business can spend on renovations, which can't exceed the property's tax-assessed value.

"We're asking you under good zoning practice to recognize a business that has existed in the community and recognize it as a legal use," he said.

Thorndale Avenue residents Allyson and Doug Burley, who have spoken themselves but have also been represented in Council meetings by attorney Michael Gordon, said they understand Marhofer wants to expand down their street by potentially purchasing and tearing down three homes.

The Burleys have said they aren't against the business expanding into nearby vacant areas, but are against the zoning amendment and the business' expansion into Thorndale because they believe it may adversely affect the neighborhood's aesthetics and property values.

Gordon referred to the ordinance as an attempt at "spot zoning" that is counterintuitive to the purpose of municipal zoning codes. He also challenged Council to consider the other C-3 and C-4 areas in Stow that might be impacted by zoning amendment in the future.

At the Jan. 7 public hearing, Margaret Avenue resident Terry May voiced concerns with how the ordinance could give way to the business expansion that could impact the adjacent neighborhood.

"What do you want this major thoroughfare to look like?" May asked. "Do we really want a mega-mall auto complex?"

Thorndale Avenue resident Mark Ryland said he thinks the ordinance would actually "loosen" zoning regulations, going against the city's comprehensive plan.

Hawthorne Avenue resident Laura Brandon, a resident in the nearby neighborhood for 45 years, said she supports an ordinance permitting the business' future expansion because. She referenced three foreclosed homes in the area that could stand to be eliminated.

"The low cost of homes is what's going to devalue our properties, not what Mr. Marhofer is doing," she said.

Thorndale Avenue resident Steve Mazziotta said he, too, supports a future Marhofer expansion. He said his family knowingly purchased their house next to a dealership "with a century of success."

"During the entire time we've lived in our home, we've not had one complaint about Marhofer Chevrolet, and we've lived right beside it," he said.

"No resident's rights have been taken or infringed upon except Mr. Marhofer's," he added.