CarMax ruling irks local auto dealers

carmaxBy Dennis Seid
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Used-car giant CarMax has gotten the go-ahead from the Tupelo Planning Committee to build a location on Tom Watson Drive.

But some Tupelo auto dealers aren’t happy with the committee’s decision to grant the Richmond, Va.-based company a major conditional use for its store.

CarMax plans to build on Tom Watson Drive, which sits in the Barnes Crossing District Overlay. That area, which includes portions of North Gloster Street’s large retail and restaurant zone, has long been closed to used car dealerships.

At least, up until the Planning Committee gave its OK.

Hoyt Sheffield, the owner of Tupelo Auto Sales on South Gloster Street, said he was turned down years ago when he wanted to buy the former McDuff Electronics store near the mall.

“I was told I could not sell used cars there; we were turned down,” he said.

The store, which stayed vacant for several years, is now a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Sheffield said it’s been long-standing policy that used car dealerships weren’t allowed in the area.

“It’s been that way for 25 years, and now we’re going to make an exception. … it’s not right,” he said.

B.J. Teal, the city’s development services director, said she couldn’t speak for the department’s decisions of the past. She also said the development code in the proposed comprehensive plan – which has yet to pass – makes no distinction between new and used car dealerships.

But that argument doesn’t fly with Dossett Big 4 owner Rudy Dossett Jr., who also spoke against the conditional use approval.

“I’m not trying to stop CarMax,” he said. “I think competition is good. But my point is that it’s not fair that we were told we couldn’t sell used cars up there, and now some big business comes in and they make this exception for them.”

John McNamara, CarMax’s real estate manager, said his company does its best to work with local car dealerships and doesn’t seek an adversarial relationship.

“We work hard to build positive relationships with other local dealers,” he said. “We follow all current zoning codes in every market we consider. … We establish mutually beneficial working relationships whenever possible. Local new dealers often receive service and manufacturer warranty work from our dealerships, and we regularly purchase parts from local dealerships, which helps contribute to these positive relationships. We also have found that when a CarMax enters a new market, we are able to bring in more customer traffic to our lots and other dealers’ lots as customers search for their perfect car.”

The Planning Committee’s recommendation now goes before the City Council for approval. And CarMax still must submit site plans that meet the city’s codes and requirements.

And McNamara said CarMax isn’t in any big hurry to open.

“We have the property under contract and plan to close upon approval by the city council; however, we have no timeline on when we expect to start construction or open,” he said. “Right now, we are working from an announced schedule that includes new store openings until the first quarter of the 2015 fiscal year – which is through the end of May 2014 – and this is not among those listed.”

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

  • Beauregard Rippy

    Policy in place for 25 years? Well, that’s a generation ago. Stuff changes, “Leadership” changes. It’s a new day and new paradigm. It is what it is which is a slave to the almighty tax income dollar.