Rock Hill plans new rules for used car lots

ROCK HILL -Gerald Black has done his car shopping at big franchise dealerships before, but this week, he was comparing cars at a smaller, independent used car lot, one of several that line the main roads coming off of Interstate 77. They tend to be good places to hunt for a deal, he thinks.

“If you don’t have great income or credit, a place like this can give you good prices on a mid-range car,” Black said. “I drive a truck, and I work for a smaller company, so I know sometimes you can get better service at a smaller place. It’s all about good customer service.”

Gerald Black went looking for a car recently at in Rock Hill. Black says he’s gotten good service and lower prices at smaller used car lots like this one.But city planners are worried about the number of smaller lots where car-shoppers can hunt for those deals. They say Rock Hill has seen a “significant increase” in the number of people seeking sites for used car lots, many of them in areas the city is targeting for redevelopment for potentially more upscale businesses, such as Cherry Road and the Knowledge Park area.

On Monday, the Rock Hill City Council gave first-reading approval to an ordinance that would tighten rules for auto sales businesses that seek to open in the future, while also asking the Planning Commission to propose “upgrades” for existing car lots’ parking, fencing and landscaping requirements.

Because dealers often only need a small building and a parking lot to open shop, planners say they don’t have a chance to correct “non-conformities” in the site that would normally kick in if a business renovated the site before opening. The result can be a business that doesn’t fit on the lot or look very attractive from the roadway.

“They tend to cluster together,” said city planner Leah Youngblood, “and other businesses will not be enticed to open where a lot of them are.”

Rock Hill’s 45 car lots – including five new-car dealerships – provide one lot for every 1,800 residents, and the planning office gets requests from two or three new ones per week, Youngblood said. Seventy-five percent of those are on unpaved lots or lots that lack landscaping or adequate parking. Some “pack in” cars on less than an acre.