Council may ask downtown used car dealers to relocate

Downtown Gilroy as viewed in this file photo from the roof of the Milias Restaurant.

GILROY—The Gilroy City Council has begun discussions on revising what types of land uses are allowed downtown, and those talks could result in relocating used car dealerships to the Auto Mall at 10th and Chestnut streets.
It’s part of a still-in-process plan to bring more people to the city’s center by ensuring that “we have the right uses in the right locations,” said Planning Division Manager Sue Martin. Automotive-related businesses, she said, dominate many of Gilroy’s key intersections and entrances to the community.
“Without oversight or regulation, these (businesses) may become unsightly over time.”
Rather than having car dealers interspersed throughout downtown, Mayor Don Gage suggested a 9.5-acre plot across from Gilroy Toyota in the Auto Mall as a potential spot for a cluster of relocated businesses.
“If we can have a single area for people to buy cars, there’s strength in numbers,” Gage said. “I’m tired of listening to people complain, ‘why don’t people come to downtown?’”
The council and city staff singled out a gas station turned repair shop located at Monterey Street and Leavesley Road, that some believe has become an eyesore at a critical location.
“Instead of saying, ‘Welcome to Gilroy,’ it says ‘let me get the hell out of this area,’” Councilman Roland Velasco said, referencing the cars in various stages of repair parked around the property. “I don’t think it’s the kind of message we want to send.”
But not all on the council were thrilled with the suggestion that longstanding local businesses can get pushed out by way of a council order.
While Councilman Perry Woodward acknowledged clustering used car dealers in the Auto Mall would be the “best possible solution,” he’s wary of driving away viable businesses and replacing them with empty lots.
“In a perfect world, we’d have all our dealerships together and we’d have something more attractive to present to the outside world at our gateways than used car lots,” Woodward said. He said the city’s approach matters, and a gentle nudge is more likely to have his support than a heavy handed shove.
Councilman Dion Bracco was blunt about what he thought of the initiative to relocate used car dealers, and that by telling them they’re not wanted in the city’s center, “what you’re doing is getting rid of them and pushing them out of town.”
“Remember, these are small businesses we’re talking about. They can’t relocate to the Auto Mall,” said Bracco, who owns Bracco’s Towing and Transport. “Some business is better than no business.”
“If we’ve learned anything from our downtown, it’s that when the city gets in there and starts regulating things, the situation can get much worse,” Woodward said.
In place of automotive businesses downtown, city staff envision the addition of hotels and breweries with tasting rooms as potential draws, Martin said.
While the discussion is in early stages, Martin suggested the council consider requiring conditional use permits for automotive businesses downtown. Based on the location of the business, she proposed approving or denying them on a “case-by-case basis.”
“The whole idea is to attract business downtown,” Gage added. “The real question is, are we going to be able to control what goes in those areas? I think everybody needs to talk about it—staff, the Downtown Business Association, the Chamber and the Welcome Center.”
The council is expected to discuss the matter further, but as of press time Wednesday, the topic was not slated for an upcoming, preliminary agenda.

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