By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Virginia-based CarMax recently filed a lawsuit appealing the Tupelo City Council’s opposition to the used car company locating a possible $5 million development in the Barnes Crossing Overlay District, a move that has other used car dealership owners crying foul.
Attorney Greg Pirkle filed a lawsuit Aug. 29 on behalf of CarMax Auto Superstores in Lee County Circuit Court to appeal the City Council not approving the company’s request for permission to open along Tom Watson Drive.
The Tupelo planning committee approved requests from CarMax on Aug. 5 for a major conditional use for a used car dealership and a variance to add more parking spaces in the proposed development.
The City Council rejected by a 4-3 vote minutes from the planning committee meeting that recommended requests by the car company.
No ruling has been made on whether a hearing will be granted in the case.
Council members opposed the development after a few current used car dealership owners claimed they were told a decade or longer ago that they couldn’t locate a used car dealership in the Barnes Crossing Overlay District.
None of the used car dealers say they made formal requests with the city.
Three new car dealerships operate in the Barnes Crossing Overlay District currently with no used car dealerships.
The proposed updated development code makes no distinction between new or used car dealerships and won’t require planning committee or City Council approval. However, the development code has failed to pass with the previous council and has been postponed a few times during the current administration.
The council voted 4-3 to table it during Tuesday’s meeting.
Council president Nettie Davis of Ward 4 supported CarMax locating to the commercial area in north Tupelo, which is in her ward, and also voted for the development code. She had said repeatedly that she thought the development code would pass.
“Hopefully, we’ll move forward on it soon,” she said. “I thought I had the votes.”
A City Council work session will be held in the future to continue discussing the updated development code, intended to grant commercial and residential developers more flexibility on new projects than current rules allow.
Councilman Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7, whose wards cover south Tupelo where many used car dealerships are located, said they oppose city granting permission for CarMax to locate in the company’s preferred location when existing business owners were previously told they couldn’t.
The current development code was passed in 1994.
Newell said he feels confident about a court ruling in the city’s favor if a hearing takes place.
“I would say that we’re on pretty strong ground because we haven’t allowed a used dealership in there in 20 years,” he said. “We’re using the same development code. Nothing has changed.”