East Bethel getting creative to help sales business

by Eric Hagen
Staff Writer

Ryan DiMuzio and Jordan Valder want to operate a new motor vehicle sales business at 18803 Highway 65 N.E., but current East Bethel city code does not allow this type of business in the highway business district.

They began leasing the property from Tim Chies in August 2011. They remodeled the interior of the building. In September 2011, the city informed Chies of the zoning text amendment process, which City Attorney Mark Vierling said the council must approve for this business to operate at this site.

The council’s concern has been that accommodating this business would open the door for more vehicle sales lots in an area where the city council does not necessarily want to see this happen. This property is within the future sewer and water development area.

To meet the needs of the business over the short-term, the East Bethel City Council is willing to consider the zoning text amendment, but Vierling recommended a new “Internet Distribution Sales” definition within the city code in order to recognize that a company focused on Internet sales operates differently than a traditional business.

An “Internet Distribution Sales” business would need at least 95 percent of its sales to be initiated and secured through Internet communication between the buyer and seller with minimal or no need for negotiation at the business site. The business can have no pre-sale acquired inventory. All sales must be substantially completed before the product is delivered to the business site. There must be limited signage besides basic identification signage. There must be minimal storage of products on-site except for product awaiting customer pick-up.

According to Vierling, this new “Internet Distribution Sales” could address other businesses besides vehicle sales businesses.

A typical vehicle sales lot would still not be permitted in a B-3 Highway Commercial District, according to City Administrator Jack Davis.

At the Feb. 1 council meeting, DiMuzio said that this would not be a typical used car lot. There would be no big gorilla balloons, no huge banner signs or flags. The lot would not be open late. The sales would happen through the business website.

According to DiMuzio, they act as a broker. They work with customers on finding a used car they may be interested in and once a vehicle is found, it would be transported to the East Bethel location for the customer to look at it, DiMuzio said.

The zoning text amendment process DiMuzio and Valder are now going through will take four to six weeks, according to Davis. The issue will go back to the planning and zoning commission. There must be a public hearing with property owners near the site being notified. The council must approve the amendment.

Councilmember Robert DeRoche Jr. was concerned that the city would be “opening up a can of worms” by changing the text to allow this use.

Vierling said that the key is the business will need to demonstrate that business transactions happened through the Internet. Should the council approve a permit for this business after it goes through the zoning text amendment process, there would be a two-year limit on the permit, he said.

Should the zoning text amendment be approved in a month-and-a-half, Vierling listed a few conditions the council could consider as part of the permit approval, including limiting outside storage space to 5,000 square feet and allowing no more than 20 vehicles to be in the lot at one time in an area approved by the city.

Davis said at the Feb. 1 meeting that this project is in the sewer and water district, so the property will have greater value in the future. A condition of a permit would be that should the property be sold or transition to another use, the permit allowing the Internet open vehicle sales lot would go away, he said.

Before Vierling came up with the “Internet Distribution Sales” idea before the Feb. 15 meeting, members of the council Feb. 1 tried to think of less time consuming ways that the city could work with the business without opening the city up to used car lots.

Moegerle asked if the city could grant a variance instead of having a zoning text amendment done.

According to Vierling, the council cannot approve something that is not a permitted use just by approving a variance.

Variances can only be granted when dimensional requirements such as yard setbacks are being addressed, Vierling said.

Councilmember Steve Voss asked if the council could allow a dormant business use to be legal even if it was gone for more than a year. Ham Lake Motors used to be at the site that Valders Vehicles may be at. However, it closed three years ago.

East Bethel city code states that a use can be grandfathered in if it was in place before a new law passes. If the business is dormant for at least one year, the right for the property to go by the old rules goes away.

Vierling acknowledged that the council could stretch out this dormant time frame longer than a year, but said that the council could not retroactively apply new rules to this Valders Vehicles case.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]