ALPENA - Last month the Alpena Planning Commission granted a special use permit to Freedom Motors, currently located on the corner of Washington Avenue and Ripley Boulevard. As one of the conditions of the permit, as recommended by city staff, the dealership was to display no more than 20 vehicles, but the number could be increased if Building Inspector Don Gilmet deemed it was safe and efficient to do so.
On Wednesday Freedom Motors's Manager David Croll said Gilmet visited the shop and approved a layout that allows the dealership to display 27 cars.
The problems began when Duffy's Computers, which has a 10 foot easement, was being impeded from time to time by the dealership's cutomers who blocked access to the rear entrance of the computer business when they would park to look at cars. Steps were taken by Croll that allowed customers, employees and other vehicles to reach the rear of Duffy's, but the problems persisted, which led Duffy Gorski and Croll take the matter to the planning commission.
Croll said he has made a great effort to ensure Duffy's has a clear path to the rear of his store and went as far as placing arrows and clearly marking parking spaces. He said when the business first opened the business paid to have Duffy's parking lot seal coated as a good gesture while the dealership was doing its own. Croll said he only wants to run the business as the planning commission allows and doesn't want any trouble with the city or with the store's neighbors.
"The key really is to not have cars park where they block access to Duffy's, but I can't control where they park. I can only ask them to move when I see them," Croll said. "We have used yellow paint and tape and created customer parking spaces and I put arrows down to try to direct drivers as to where to go. We are definitely trying to get the perfect solution."
During the meeting interim City Manager Greg Sundin said 14 cars would be about the right amount for the limited space on the dealership's property, but the commission said it would leave the number of cars allowed on Gilmet's judgment. Croll said he thinks the current layout and number of vehicles is fair and numbers could move up and down depending on their size and other aspects such as where the snow is piled this winter.
"The understanding was 20 cars, however the understanding was also if we could park 25, 30 or whatever number and still be in appropriate spots then it could go up," Croll said. "We needed to park the cars and have them come down and look and that happened. Mr. Gilmet came down and looked at how we parked and approved it."
Gorski said he has not seen the new arrangement because he was out of town, but said he has faith in Gilmet's judgment. He said the matter really will be laid to rest if Freedom Motors complies with Gilmet's demands.
"The solution really depends on Dave and his ability to keep his car count in the range Don afforded," Gorski said. "I just want to keep my business open. The plan should work, but it is in David's hands."
Croll said he knew the limited size of the property was going to be an issue, but said the current location was only a temporary site. He said Freedom Auto already has purchased the former J&J Garden building and land on Washington Avenue and intends to have a site plan drafted and submitted to the planning commission for a special use permit so the dealership can move there.
"We have a one-year lease here and we bought that building with the plan of having that be our permanent location," Croll said. "There is enough space there for us to be able to do the service work we need to be able to do on the cars, have office space and hopefully have a parking lot which will wrap in a horseshoe shape around the building to where we can display 50-60 cars."
Croll said he was pleased with how the planning commission solved Duffy's and the dealership's issue. He said some of the problems were out of his control and he was never made aware of the easement until Gorski told him. He said he wants everyone to get along.
"We don't want to cause any waves or have problems with any of our neighbors," Croll said. "I want for us to get along great. I was pleased by how the planning commission responded last night. I think they liked the fact we were trying to make an effort to solve a few problems which were unforeseen."
Gorski said he hopes Freedom Motors is successful and he isn't wishing any ill will toward it. He said he only wants to make sure his store and customers are protected and get the service they have learned to expect.
"I hope it all works out for them," Gorski said. "I hope they can get moved into the other location where it will suit them better. That really is where they ought to be."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.