Company's request overcomes government hurdles

CORNELIUS – An improving economy led one automobile dealership to seek expansion to house more inventory, but town commissioners debated April 7 how to keep the property from becoming an eyesore.

Modern Automotive Network requested a land-use change to expand the existing Modern Nissan of Lake Norman dealership on Statesville Road and U.S. 21. The company plans to build an additional parking lot to accommodate nearly 100 vehicles in inventory.

“The economy has been good and we continue to see good things at the location,” said Jerry Hollifield, chief financial officer of Modern Automotive. “But we have run out of space for vehicles. This is a logical space and the only choice.”

Because people won’t be going in and out of the lot regularly, planning staff agreed to allow smaller than usual parking spaces for inventory.

Planning staff recommended commissioners require that the final plans are approved prior to permitting, a lighting plan meets requirements, the driveway is gated and that the parking lot is only used for inventory and not customers.

Commissioners had some conditions of their own, requiring better landscaping.

“The problem I’m grappling with is the same issue had with Infinity (a previous project) – it’s the sea of cars problem. This looks great in the image,” said Commissioner David Gilroy, noting the drawings of trees hiding the cars. “But at the end of the day, in four to five months, those leaves are not there and there is no buffer. It’s just a sea of cars.”

Mayor Chuck Travis agreed, pointing out one proposal showed shrubs in an illustration while another depicted tall trees. He wanted to know which would serve as the buffer.

“Knowing that this is a car dealership and it’s inventory parking, we want some display vehicles out front,” said project engineer Wes Smith, adding the intent was not to have landscaping fully block the area.

After discussion, it was decided the landscaping doesn’t have to be lining the property, but there should be several pockets of large evergreens to greatly lessen the visibility impact.

“I want to support a car dealership here growing,” Commissioner Woody Washam said. “You folks aren’t the only ones with this challenge and that’s a good thing. We need to be proactive in supporting you guys doing the expansion to do businesses. We like you and want to keep you so we have to be business friendly in the process.”

Kip Zent, owner of neighboring Lake Norman Miniature Golf, sided with the dealership, saying leaving the property as is would be a greater eyesore, but he felt that the trees commissioners wanted for the buffer could block his sign.  

“It would create an issue that would then bring me to come back to you to allow something on the north end of the property for sign relocation or possibly allowing me to work with Modern Nissan for easement to have rights to light up the sign,” he said.

After getting the nod that both companies would work together to ensure there was proper landscaping while allowing Zent to add approved lighting for his miniature golf sign, commissioners voted unanimously of the expansion with the conditions.