OREM The Orem City Council tried to find a happy medium Tuesday night between unhappy neighbors and anxious developers wanting a car lot on 800 North.
But by the end of the night, the council couldn't agree among themselves and denied a zoning request five votes to two that would have allowed the southwest corner of the Northgate complex to become a five-acre Murdock Hyundai dealership.
"I feel horrible," said Mayor Jerry Washburn after his "nay" vote which he called the toughest vote he's had on the council.
But Councilwoman Margaret Black said she felt it was the right decision, based on the concerns of residents in the nearby Tuscan Villas, who opposed a dealership. They said it would ruin the "Italian village" they felt they were promised.
"I recognize what a value a car dealership is to the city (for a) tax benefit," Black said. "But I also recognize keeping our word and when we give people an idea of what to expect, to invest their life in something, I just feel it's important to maintain that integrity, even at the expense of tax dollars."
Tuesday was the second time developers Paul Washburn and Bill Fairbanks had been before the Orem City Council, requesting a decision on their zoning change that would affect 800 North in Orem from 900 West to 1200 West, near the I-15 interchange.
The council decided not to vote last week, but get more answers about the ramifications of a zone change.
Despite additional answers, Tuesday's lengthy meeting still generated plenty of questions plus new concerns, like the ones Tuscan Villa townhome owner Dareth Goulding expressed.
"Let's say this dealership (came) in," she said. "I would not look at this area to purchase for that reason, it's not attractive. Just home-value wise, it doesn't help increase (values)."
The Northgate area was always planned to be a mixed-use development with a strong focus on retail and commercial to generate sales tax revenues, then the high-density residential, Washburn said. Current zoning also allows for a car dealership in the south west corner, so long as it faces 1200 West not the prime real estate of 800 North.
Blake Murdock, owner/operator of Murdock Hyundai, told the council they've outgrown their acre site at 273 S. State but hoped they could stay in Orem.
The dealership had $25 million in sales for 2007, up from $8 million in sales in 2005. They were hoping to double those 2007 sales with the new five-acre site.
All of the City Council members expressed their mixed feelings and asked what compromises could be made to keep the "livable, walkable community" feel.
"It would be great if everyone ... could come to a conclusion about what would really work well for everyone," said council member Mark Seastrand, who drove around Orem recently and saw that many car dealerships are surrounded by retail and flourishing restaurants.
"I don't think (a car dealership) precludes the location of restaurants and other retail," Seastrand said. "The biggest concern is right now all we know is the car dealership. We don't see the other establishments."
Washburn told the council they would have extensive landscaping, avoid light pollution and not have an outdoor loudspeaker, so as to eliminate noise concerns.
And the dealership won't stop retail. The developers have been asking people to come for nearly a decade. It's just been tough to entice them, Washburn said.
Neighbor Al Spencer agreed with that, saying that no retail shops have been interested in the current "wasteland," but developments other than a car lot would change that, he said.
"Since that Marriott Hotel is coming in, the restaurants are going to look at those pads now," said Spencer, who lives in the residential area north of the development. "It's not like you're building a Motel 6."
Brad Whittaker, executive director for the Commission for Economic Development in Orem, spoke in favor of the development and its accompanying sales tax revenues."We do have a great tax base, it helps us not (have) to pay higher fees for what (we) receive," he said. "We really would hate to see a car dealership leave our community. I recognize that there is always something that could be done better, but perhaps this could be a win-win for the city in the long run for the citizens as they pay lower fees for the services they receive."
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