Glenarden officials are applauding the denial of an auto-repair business proposed for Martin Luther King Highway — even though the prospective site has long been vacant.
The Prince George’s County Planning Board voted 2-1 on Thursday to deny an application by Upper Marlboro-based Rockport Autos LLC to open a commercial auto-repair shop across the street from the city’s James R. Cousins Jr. Municipal Center.
The property was home to an auto-repair shop from 2007 until April 2011. After the tenant left, the site was rezoned from commercial to mixed use as part of a plan for future growth in inner Beltway communities. The new zoning requires the site to include a mix of residential and commercial or retail use.
After the property was vacant for 180 days, the new mixed-use zoning took effect, but at the hearing Thursday, property owner Eglin Jolly of Laurel argued the auto-shop proposal should be approved because she did as much as she could to secure a qualified tenant. Jolly said she continually advertised the property via a “For rent” sign in the building’s front window and through business contacts. A prospective tenant backed out of a lease in September 2011 after an extensive inspection process that forced her to make several repairs to the property.
“I’ve done everything I possibly can to get a tenant into that building and to make sure everything is in compliance,” Jolly said.
But Glenarden City Attorney Suellen Ferguson said Jolly could have done more to advertise the property.
“The reason it was not tenanted properly is twofold,” Ferguson said at the hearing. “[Jolly] was not paying attention and didn’t use the resources available to her to properly advertise and screen tenants. Advertising with a sign in a building that is set back from and below [Martin Luther King Highway] is not consistent with a good-faith effort to rent a property.”
City Council President Margaret T. Dade (Ward 2) said that because the property has been vacant for more than six months, it is time to move forward with the new mixed-use zoning. Dade said after the hearing that the city would like to see something in line with the mixed residential and retail use defined in the county’s plan.
“We were monitoring the property to see if a new owner would go in,” Dade said. “We understand there are grandfathering provisions [allowing a business to continue operating], but once there’s a break in ownership or time, you’ve got to comply with the new requirements.”
City Manager Debi Sandlin said before the hearing that the city is against the auto shop in part because if the application were approved, it might never be redeveloped with a mixed use.
“Once you get back to the nonconforming use [of a commercial auto shop], the zoning is open to always stay that way,” Sandlin said.
Planning Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Hewlett said that while she had “empathy” for Jolly, the land needs to be rezoned according to county law.
“This does create a hardship for you, which tugs on my heart,” Hewlett said. “... But on the other hand, we have the law, which is intended to phase out nonconforming uses except ... if you meet certain criteria. The ultimate goal is still for these uses to be phased out.”
Jolly declined to comment after the hearing.
Dade said after the hearing that she was pleased with the decision.
“We’ll wait and see what direction the owner wants to go in,” she said.