Special Land Use Permit for used car dealership on Veterans Memorial Highway denied by Cobb commissioners

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A Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) for a used car dealership on Veterans Memorial Highway in Mableton was denied unanimously by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners at their zoning meeting on Tuesday, May 16. The property is located on the south side of the highway, west of Puckett Drive.

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The SLUP was requested by Alexandria Holdings Group, Inc., the owner of the property.

Goun Hanna, the company CEO, said that he bought the property in 2012, and it was a used car lot at the time he purchased it. He operated a used car business on the property until 2019 when he leased the property to tenants.

Those tenants signed a three-year lease and also operated a used car dealership on the property.

Hanna said the property had been grandfathered for use as a used car dealership since 1974.

The tenant requested a lease extension, which Hanna granted, but the holder of the lease developed cancer and asked to cancel the extended lease.

A new tenant was found, but when that tenant attempted to apply for a Cobb County business license, they were told there had been no license for the previous used car dealership for the past three years, and taxes were due.

After the taxes were paid, Hanna went back and forth between Zoning and the Business License Division, and was ultimately told by the zoning department that the property would need a Special Land Use Permit (SLUP) in order for a used car dealership to operate on the property.

“And at that time, you know, Zoning said the easiest way to do is just to go get a special use permit even though it has always been a car dealership,” Hanna said. “Since the day I bought it 2012 I used to run my business out of there, and it’s been a car lot since the 1970s.”

“The car lot is surrounded by other dealerships, by a tire shop, by a car wash, by another dealership and the junkyard and a body shop transmission shop,” he said. “The whole thing is the same use so I’m not asking for any changes to their use. There’s always been a car lot, and this is why I’m asking you guys to approve.”

Robin Meyer of the Mableton Improvement Coalition (MIC) spoke in opposition to the granting of the Special Land Use Permit.

“As you know and as you can see from the GIS map, this area of Mableton is saturated with used car sales,” Meyer said.

“This property has been the subject of code enforcement actions in the past,” she said. “It is not pleasing to the eye as you drive by.”

Meyer said that until the application was filed, the fence adjacent to the sidewalk was covered with a green tarp.

“But most importantly, this property does not have the one-acre of paved parking required for a used car lot,” she said. If the SLUP were approved, staff had written that a variance would have to be issued for the property to continue to operate as a used car dealership since there was not adequate space to load and unload cars from car-hauling trucks.

Meyer said that other auto-related activities than sales had taken place on the property and that when getting her vehicle inspected nearby, she could smell paint.

“The saturation of used car dealers hurts the ability of other businesses in the area to attract customers to other types of businesses,” Meyer said. “This is not a matter of ‘Oh, there are just too many of these businesses in the area.’ It’s a matter of saturation.”

Meyer said that when considering a SLUP, there are fifteen criteria, and that impact on the community is the subject of several of those criteria.

“This is an unattractive property with no plan for aesthetic upgrades or improvements,” she said. “That’s at least what Mr. Hanna told us when we spoke with him before the Planning Commission here.”

The discussion was then turned over to the commissioners.

As the commissioner for District 4, where the property is located, Commissioner Monique Sheffield referred to past code enforcement actions on the property.

“The current owner has owned the property for just 11 years but in that 11 years, I have not observed any investment made to the property to enhance the community in which it serves,” Sheffield said. “Instead, it seems to have gone in the opposite direction based on some of the testimony that the applicant shared today and some of the photographs that were shared by the Mableton Improvement Coalition.”

“It also has a history of code enforcement violations which dates back three years which we discussed earlier, including storage of wrecked vehicles, storage of tires, storage of tools, auto Parts, parking on the grass parking, storing tires on the grass.” she said.

“The description of the business on the code enforcement case synopsis is identified as a car dealership but the code enforcement inspector observed several uses including vehicle painting and repairs in the parking lot in a building … that houses heavy equipment for car repairs,” she said. “With the final observation of (and I quote), ‘It looks really bad from the street and I think there may be an EPA violation as well’.”

Sheffield made a motion to deny the SLUP, and it passed 5-0.