Paso council changes mind on used-car dealership zoning

The Paso Robles City Council has reversed its summer decision to block used-car sales at one of its key gateways, saying it shouldn’t be picky about new business — and the tax revenue it can bring to town.

“We can’t afford to turn down that kind of investment and that kind of income to the city in terms of sales,” Councilman Nick Gilman said Wednesday.

Unfortunately, the reality check came too late. The car dealer that initially spurred the debate no longer has an application with the city, planners say.

In July, the council denied an appeal from San Luis Obispo-based Smith Volvo to set up a used-car lot at Spring and Second streets because its project didn’t match new plans to reshape the city’s west side.

At the time, the council voted 4-1 against the project, with Mayor Duane Picanco dissenting. Gilman voted to deny the project, although he wasn’t happy about it.

Smith Volvo was denied its request because most council members wanted to encourage a walkable downtown with mixed-use projects to be consistent with a new vision of the west side that the council adopted last year. The council thought that a used-car lot would produce the opposite of the desired look, creating something more unsightly.

Planners wanted the Spring Street corridor to continue its transition away from attracting gas stations, motels and car dealerships — businesses popular from 1930 to 1950 when Spring Street was Highway 101.

However, “With certain stipulations, (used cars) could be a placeholder for economic gain for the time being,” Councilman Ed Steinbeck said at the meeting.

The city has reduced its spending since 2008 to address multimillion-dollar shortfalls as revenue from sales tax, property tax and other public fees has declined. Those cuts grew to more than $7 million per year since 2009, affecting all city departments.

In the summer, officials with Smith Volvo said its lot could produce annual sales about $15 million.But on Tuesday, city planners said Smith Volvo hasn’t reapplied and there hasn’t been interest from any other used-car dealers.

The issue was part of a short review of the city’s new zoning laws at the council’s Jan. 17 meeting.Codes were also changed to allow for a temporary outdoor storage yard at the south end of Paso Robles Street and to redo the way businesses with outdoor seating evaluate their parking.

The used-car zoning now allows for lots on Spring Street between First and Ninth streets as well as 15th Street to the north.