Auto Shop Appeal Rejected by Council

An appeal by Steve's Auto Care in El Cerrito to overturn Planning Commission approval of new auto-related business next door was rejected by the El Cerrito City Council Tuesday night.

The El Cerrito City Council Tuesday night unanimously upheld the city's Planning Commision in approving a new business that – like the Buggy Bank in Berkeley – would serve as a consignment lot for private owners of vehicles who want to sell their cars directly to buyers.

An application for the proposed consignment sales business at 11858 San Pablo Ave. was filed by Xiao Yi Zheng, and its conditional use permit ws approved by the Planning Commission in August. But the commission's action was appealed to the council by Steve Kahn, owner of Steve's Auto Care, located on the lot next door.

Kahn's appeal said the new business "will erode my business model" and "will not be harmonious and compatible with my property." 

The new business, like Steve's Auto Care, will offer both car repair and auto sales, though car sales will the chief aim of Xiao's business while Kahn's business is repair.

Among Kahn's objections was the fact the auto service bays of the Xiao's business will face Kahn's business, whose appearance Kahn said he had invested much money and effort into.

"The layout of Steve's Auto Care has such an appealing attractiveness," he said. "It doesn't look like ... various other shops as you go down San Pablo Avenue. They look like a dive. My place is not a dive. But it will be reduced to a certain amount if bays are allowed to face my reception area."

Xiao, who said he operated an auto repair business in Oakland before he sold it recently, told the council he would not be doing auto repair on the same scale as Kahn, estimating that he would be fixing about 50 cars a month, compared to about 500 for Steve's Auto Care.

"I'm going to be running a small operation," Xiao said.

Both Kahn and Xiao seemed to agree that it would be good to have a fence, possibly combined with view-blocking plants between the two businesses – both to screen the two from each and to provide better security – but that they had been denied permission for a fence by the city staff and the city's Design Review Board, which permitted only low-height plants between the two lots.

In upholding the Planning Commission approval, the council added a condition for "some enhanced level of physical separation between the two properties with the appropriate visual elements to be determined by the Design Review Board. The council also added a requirement Xiao's business comply with all applicable state and federal laws.

Earlier Mayor Bill Jones asked Xiao if he had been involved in consignment sales previously.

"I've never done consignment sales before," Xiao replied. "I've been in and out of the Buggy Bank, which is a consignment sale lot in Berkeley, for the past 20 years, so I really like this model, and I feel like it will provide a valuable service to the community."


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Martha Patt October 03, 2012 at 05:08 PM
I really like working with Steve's Auto Repair. Their new location is well designed, and visually pleasing to the neigborhood. They offer superior, honest approach to car maintenance unlike the Honda dealer I had worked with previously. Please do not endanger or blight the ethical business Steve's offers to El Cerrito. Martha Patt
Elizabeth Whipple October 03, 2012 at 06:15 PM
The situation seems unfortunate, esp for Steve Kahn. The two business owners should be able to construct a fence to distinguish one from the other and let Kahn maintain his shop's ambience.
Dorothy Coakley October 03, 2012 at 08:55 PM
If Steve wants a taller fence to distinguish his (well designed) property from that of his neighboring business, he should be able to have one. Fence height does *not* have to equal street blight.
Barbara Schaefer October 05, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Barbara Schaefer I believe Steve Kahn should be applauded for a beautifully designed shop. He should be able to have separation by a fence with decorative plants of whatever height he needs. Let's not discourage businesses that encourage beautification of San Pablo Ave.!


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