Prince George's used-car dealers win suit against county
Dec. 3, 2004
Tiesha Higgins
Staff Writer

Barbara L. Salisbury/The Gazette

"I feel like a heavy load has been lifted off my shoulders," said Mazi Azar, owner of Adele Motors in Marlow Heights, following a court ruling that allows him and other owners of small used-car dealerships in Prince George's County to stay in business without expanding.

A county zoning bill banning used-car dealerships smaller than 25,000 square feet was struck down this week by the Prince George's County Circuit Court.

The Vehicle Mobile Home and Camping Trailer Sales and Service Zoning Law, passed unanimously by the District Council in 2000, was an attempt to improve the aesthetics of older commercial corridors in the county. Under the bill known as CB-87, used-car dealerships smaller than 25,000 square feet would have had to either expand or move out of the county.

Peter Shapiro, a former District 2 councilman, sponsored the legislation, citing older commercial corridors such like Route 1, Bladensburg Road and Branch Avenue with high concentrations of small used-car dealerships.

"The purpose of it was to make it easier for folks who are interested in investing in the county to assemble smaller parcels," Shapiro said. "Used-car lots are, by and large, on very small lots. What can you put in a lot that small?"

After three days of deliberation in September, Judge Michele D. Hotten ruled the law unconstitutional this week.

"I think that this is a fair decision and it was anticipated," said Wendi Williams, president of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce. "Now what we'll have to do is recognize the council concerns and do our best to alleviate those concerns."

Mazi Azar, owner of Adele Motors in Marlow Heights, was one of the 15 used-car dealers who sued the county. For now, Azar, who sells high-end used cars on a 12,000-square-foot lot, is breathing a little more easily.

"I feel like a heavy load has been lifted off my shoulders," Azar said. Braced for the worst, Azar said he cut his staffing and reduced inventory by 60 percent in case he needed to liquidate quickly.

The court decision will have a ripple effect throughout the dealership industry in terms of hiring mechanics and car part purchases, he said. "It's amazing how far the ripple spreads," Azar said.

The Prince George's chamber was especially interested in the case. "Our members were generally concerned with what the legislation meant on a broader scale and the vulnerabilities that could one day apply to their business," Williams said. "Maybe tomorrow it's a hair salon that doesn't have so many square feet."

His clients are "just hoping this is over and we don't have to relitigate this," said Dennis Whitley, a lawyer with Shipley & Horne, who represented the car dealers.

Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Burns Institute for Leadership, said he hopes the current District Council appeals the ruling.

William Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville, Shapiro's successor, said revitalizing the county's older commercial corridors continues to be a concern and the used-car lots issue is probably not dead.

"We'll have to revisit it and see what we do next from this point on," Campos said.