A request for a special exception for a rental car company on Olive Street to store its cars indoors sparked a rift among neighbors about whether such a business should come to Wooster Square at all.
That rift came to light during a public hearing at an hours-long monthly Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Tuesday at the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St.
After hearing debate, the BZA voted to allow a special exception to for a future Avis Car/Budget Truck Rental business to store up to 26 of its cars indoors.
Developer Arsalan Altaf has plans to build a new Avis Car/Budget Truck Rental office and garage at a former gas station at 170 Olive St. near Grove Street. Because the more than 18,000 square foot lot and the existing 7,000 square foot building are already in a BA, or general business, district, he can have such a rental business there as of right. The business replaces one that used to be at the corner of High and George streets; it had to move from there after developer Randy Salvatore purchased the corner High-George lot to build a boutique hotel.
Altaf wants to use the existing building at 170 Olive, in part, as an indoor storage for the rental cars and for his employees’ parking. But he needed a special exception from the BZA to do it. The plans he submitted to BZA called for the storage of as many as 35 cars, though Altaf noted that it was more likely to be 20 to 25 cars, with a couple of the spaces devoted to parking for employees.
His attorney, Carolyn Kone, said providing employee parking on site and out of sight would keep employees from taking up parking in the neighborhood. As an olive branch to neighbors, the business would provide off-site parking if it could not store employee cars inside. The owners would agree to not have trucks on site that are over 24 feet long.
None of that was enough to appease some neighbors or current Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, who asked the BZA to postpone its vote for one month to allow the neighborhood to further weigh in on the plans.
In addition to those who wrote letters in opposition, neighbors like Mona Berman came in person to testify Tuesday against the special exception with hopes that it would put the brakes on the whole project.
Greenberg said while he welcomes rehabilitation of the abandoned site, some worry that the rental car business would bring “traffic safety and quality of life hazards to my ward without contributing a significant amenity to the neighborhood.”
Berman said that though 170 Olive St. is zoned for business, it is mostly surrounded by homes. She said that the site’s former days as a gas station and garage were a less intense use than a rental car business would be and didn’t produce much traffic.
“This use impedes and impinges greatly on the neighborhood,” she said.
On the other hand, City Clerk Michael Smart, a former neighborhood alder, said that he believes more people in the neighborhood would welcome some development on the long-vacant lot. He called it was “a step in the right direction” to have a national franchise come into the neighborhood.
Neighbor Charlie Murphy said the site has been unused for about a dozen years. The new plan puts the site back on the tax rolls, he noted. And its proximity to renters in the neighborhood who don’t have cars would be “a service to many people.”
Ultimately, the BZA members voted to accept the zoning staff’s recommendation to allow up to 26 vehicles to be stored inside but for rental vehicles only, disallowing any employee parking inside the building. They made that decision only after a vote that would have allowed both rental and employee vehicle storage failed.
The project still needs site plan approval. For that it will have to go before the City Plan Commission.