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The 180-day moratorium on new car dealerships opening along U.S. 19 in New Port Richey is ending. City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that aims to regulate the appearance of new and used car lots.

NEW PORT RICHEY – Getting automotive dealerships on U.S. 19-Gulf Coast Highway within New Port Richey to tidy up their lots has been on City Council’s to-do list all year.

Discussions this spring resulted in the board choosing to place a 180-day moratorium on any new dealerships of new or used cars opening along the highway within city limits. There are 13 dealerships on the three-mile stretch of U.S. 19 passing through New Port Richey.

The six-month moratorium ends this month, and City Council is ready to pass an ordinance that amends the municipal land development code to allow the city to regulate the appearance of U.S. 19 car lots.

“Since (April) the staff has devoted some effort to engaging in discussions with the owners of both new and used car dealerships in the city, introducing standards and responding to concerns expressed to us in relationship to the recommended changes to the ordinance,” said City Manager Debbie Manns.

The city’s concerns include the clustering of car dealerships within the Highway Commercial Zoning District along U.S. 19 and the unsightliness of some lots.

After speaking with local dealership owners and other communities dealing with the issue, said Planning and Development Director George Romagnoli, staff created Ordinance 2019-2166. Its first reading came during the city’s Oct. 1 regular meeting and included 11 provisions.

Examples of the rules include mandating that all new locations have a minimum of one acre in order to operate, outdoor inventory being parked on paved surfaces, outdoor inventory areas being landscaped and having trees in at least 15 percent of all parking and inventory areas and sales and rental office buildings being at least 1,000 gross square feet in size.

Additional provisions aim to: regulate or ban the use of advertising devices such as balloons, decorative flags, banners and inflatables; keep inoperable or disassembled vehicles out of public sight; establish parking standards for customers and employees; and create a separation requirement of 1,000 feet between used car dealerships.

The provisions apply to new dealerships. Existing businesses must comply with almost all requirements within one year of the effective date of the ordinance, except for the standards for minimum lot size and width, minimum sales office building size, service and repair bay doors and separation requirements.

Based on concerns from some existing dealerships, landscaping and buffer requirements may be addressed by the city manager to determine whether compliance would create undue burdens.

Council voted 4-0 to bring the ordinance to a second and final reading at its next regular meeting, on Oct. 15. Councilman Chopper Davis was absent.

Prior to the vote, Councilman Matt Murphy stated that the two weeks between readings will provide time to resolve any further concerns or questions. One such concern was raised during the discussion last week by Robert Kalo, owner of Sunray Motors, 5250 Luna Vista Drive, just off of U.S. 19. Kalo’s small dealership doesn’t display any vehicles on the front of the property. It is in the Highway Commercial Zoning District, however, and would have to comply to the provisions set forth in the ordinance.

Manns said the city would visit Kalo’s dealership and look into the issue to see what kind of exemptions need to be incorporated.

“If his property doesn’t display automobiles, that’s the primary driver of this ordinance, then there might be some room for an exemption,” said Councilman Peter Altman.