Board votes to reject used-car dealership at former Green Park restaurant site

Restaurant representatives speak in favor of DriveTime

By Mike Anthony

The Green Park Board of Aldermen last week rejected a used-car dealership proposed for the site of the former Casa Gallardo Mexican Restaurant at 11185 South Towne Square.

Aldermen voted 5-0 April 15 to reject a development plan submitted by the DriveTime Car Sales Co. to operate a used-car dealership on the roughly 3.24-acre site at the northwest corner of South Lindbergh Boulevard and South Towne Square.

Ward 2 Alderman Tim Thuston recused himself from the vote because “I’ve got a working relationship with some of the people representing (DriveTime) and I don’t want any element of impropriety …”

In March, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-0, with two members absent, to recommend against approval of DriveTime’s proposal.

While Green Park’s City Code permits new-car dealerships to also sell used cars, the code does not allow used-car dealerships in the city. Furthermore, aldermen said DriveTime’s proposal conflicted with the city’s comprehensive plan, which was updated in February.

DriveTime, based in Phoenix, currently operates a location in north county, according to Chris Santone, who represented the company at the meeting.

“… We’re the nation’s largest integrated used-car sales and finance company …,” he said, adding DriveTime is the seventh-largest dealer for used cars in the country.

For its proposed Green Park location at the former Casa Gallardo, which closed in early 2012, Santone said DriveTime would hire 10 to 15 employees and would demolish the front part of the building and renovate it.

“… We’re estimating a $3.5 million initial investment into the property. So that includes $2.5 million on purchasing the property and then a million dollars in building and site improvements,” he said.

During a public hearing, representatives of three local restaurants — the Pasta House Co., Lion’s Choice and Bartolino’s South — spoke in favor of DriveTime’s proposal, while John Bommarito of the Bommarito Automotive Group, which owns property at 6304 and 6312 S. Lindbergh Blvd., voiced his opposition to the proposal.

Joe Fresta, of the Pasta House Co., told aldermen, “… When I found out that Casa Gallardo was going to be gone, I was really getting interested in what was going to happen there, and did not want another restaurant. That’s for sure. And when I did find this DriveTime was going in there, immediately I just thought of all the business we do with the other dealerships around South Lindbergh, and I thought that would be very beneficial to us and other restaurants in the area …”

But Bommarito cited Green Park’s City Code, noting it does not permit used-car dealerships. He urged the board to reject DriveTime’s proposal.

“… I suggest highly you don’t approve DriveTime, OK, because you could end up with exactly what you don’t want,” Bommarito said. “It all decreases our land values. What this space should be, straight up, it’s retail. We need the tax-base revenue. It’s much stronger than an auto dealership. I’m not necessarily supporting restaurants. It’s a retail space …”

Board President Fred Baras, who serves Ward 3, noted that because Green Park is a pool city, it would see very little of the sales-tax revenue a used-car dealership would generate.

Santone said, “But at the end of the day, that pool has grown, right? I mean, today you’re pulling from a smaller pool than you would be …”

Baras said, “Not necessarily because whatever we get is going into a pool. Then it’s divided up around a number of other municipalities. We’re not getting this whole thing that you think we’re going to get … It goes out to other municipalities, too, but our portion is smaller, too.”

City Administrator/City Clerk Zella Pope said, “Because it’s determined by where the purchaser lives. It isn’t by point of sale, it’s where the purchaser lives is how it is figured.”

Noting she visited the DriveTime facility in north county, Ward 1 Alderman Carol Hamilton said, “… It was really clean. It was very nice, but I just don’t — I don’t picture it down here. I picture more a restaurant, retail, to stay with our look. You know, I have nothing against DriveTime. It was actually impressive, very clean, but … it doesn’t fit for me …”

Ward 1 Alderman Tony Pousosa said, “I think the biggest thing about our comprehensive plan is we put a lot of work into it and we just approved it (in) February 2013 … This is what the residents that voted for us hold us accountable to uphold and I think that’s important because the thing about this community being a small community is that most of us know each other. And if we’re going to go against this, then those neighbors aren’t going to trust us, and that has a lot of ramifications because we’re all pretty close. We all live in close proximity. We see each other around town and I think that’s important …

“We just did this three months ago and now we’re going to change it after we put all this hard work into it and the residents saw that this is what we approved? I think it’s important to make sure that that has some meaning because if we don’t uphold this, then it just opens Pandora’s Box for all kinds of other problems. And we’ve already been down that street in the early stages of the city and I think we’ve come a long way from that …,” Pousosa added.