Old Town Car Dealerships Forced Out

The owners of two used car lots in Alexandria's Old Town area are protesting the city's plan to boot them out.

King's Auto and A&B Auto Finance are located in the same block along historic King Street. The owner's of both have recently applied for special use permits to try to stay but they've been told a reprieve is unlikely.

Reza Sansani, who runs King's, says there has been a auto sales lot in his location since 1926 and he's had his business since 1991.

"This is kind of a service to the community," Sansani said. "There is no other service, no other car dealerships around here."

About 50 yards away, Bruce Raiszadeh has operated his lot since 1996.

"I feel very bad. I've been here 18 years. I have good customers... I feel heartbroken to leave this place," said Raiszadeh.

When the men appeared before the Alexandria Planning Commission in early January, its members deferred a final decision until March to allow the car lot owners more time to look for new locations. Sansani says this is a tough time to consider moving, not long after the down economy cut into his business.

"I do hope they will understand the consequences of shutting down this business. I hope they will give an extended time for that," said Sansani. His lease at the King Street lot runs until 2016 and he said he'd like to stay until then.

But city planners say the car lot owners have had plenty of notice. In 2005, the city created and adopted the King Street Retail Strategy and rezoned the area. In 2006, letters were sent to the car lot owners and property owners informing them an auto sale lot is "inconsistent with the vision for King Street as an attractive, vital pedestrian place that serves local residents & visitors alike."

They were instructed that they had until November 2013 to apply for a special use permit which, if approved, would allow them to stay. Both turned the forms in late last year but city planners say it's unlikely the permits will be granted by the planning commission.

"There is an appropriate place for everything and unfortunately this location has really evolved into a place not compatible with a car dealership. Other areas of the city are," said Alex Dambach, Alexandria Dept. of Planning and Zoning division chief.

Dambach said the city's economic development staff can help the car lot owners relocate. Some business owners who have shops that fit with the King Street Retail Strategy, say they don't like the idea of forcing the car lots out.

"I understand that it doesn't fit with the fabric of the retail around here but I also don't like the idea of kicking somebody out of business, " said Roger Vasilis, who owns the Lamplighter store.

Scott Castleberry just opened a men's clothing store in between the two car lots. He says most of his customers would like to see the lots closed down.

"They seem like really nice guys but it's sort of an eyesore for this corridor of King Street. They are really looking for retail stores, not car dealerships," said Castleberry.

The Alexandria Planning Commission will make its final decision on the special use permits March 4. If they are rejected, the car lots will have until May to cease operation.

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