Despite a negative recommendation from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), the Stephenville City Council voted to approve a request by J7 Vehicle Sales to rezone the business’ new location on E. Washington Street.
The zoning amendment request was made by the shop’s owner Terry Staton in January. On the application, Staton requested a zoning change from B-3 “Central Business District” to B-2 “Retail and Commercial Business District,” and said the request was to allow him to establish his business at a new location and to help “rejuvenate and revitalize downtown Stephenville.”
Prior to a public hearing to address the request, Betty Chew, the city’s director of community development, said the P&Z denied the request in a 7-2 vote. One commission member abstained since they own property within 200 feet of J7’s new location. Since the commission recommended denying the request, Chew said a super majority, or seven affirmative votes, would be required to make the change.
During the public hearing, local attorney J Mac Rust spoke in favor of the request and explained why the change was essential to the business, which has operated in Stephenville for 20 years.
Rust said while the B-3 zoning allows for auto parts sales, service stations and car care centers, it does not permit auto sales. The B-2 would mean that Staton and his crew could service automobiles and sell auto parts but would also allow for automobile sales.
“Terry Staton is begging for a chance to do business,” Rust said.
While the shop’s previous location on US Highway 377 was easy to spot with its dozens of classic and modified vehicles, Rust said the new location would serve its customers in a different way, with only a few polished vehicles on display in a showroom. He said Staton does not plan to stack cars in the lot in the middle of the central business district. Rust said J7 makes the majority of their auto sales through their Web site and the Internet. However, Rust said putting his works on display is vital to Staton’s business.
Staton also addressed the council and said over the last two decades, J7 has “poured money into the community” and brought thousands in tax dollars to Stephenville and Erath County by bringing outsiders into the area to buy cars. He said automobile enthusiasts sleep in local hotels, visit local restaurants and fill up at local gas stations. He also cited inventory and property taxes totaling about $3.5 million annually over the past 15 years.
“Go ask (tax assessor/collector) Jennifer Carey,” Staton said.
Following a civil lawsuit filed by First Financial Bank, Staton said, “I am dealing with what I have left.”
Council member Scott Evans, who once operated Evans Tire at J7’s new location, supported the idea of revitalizing the shop. Evans said he had banking problems in the past and understood Staton’s troubles.
“That old building needs something to go on down there,” Evans said. “You deserve a chance. I vote yes.”
The other council members agreed that bringing businesses back to the area, where only a few doors remain open, is a good idea.
“I believe investing in and improving downtown is a positive thing,” Councilman Russ McDanel said.
While Councilman Don Zelman expressed concern in voting against P&Z and said he would like to know their reasoning, he and the entire council voted in favor of the request and provided the super majority needed to keep J7 rolling.