Sunset Chevrolet growth spurs compromise with neighbors, some still unhappy

Staff writerMarch 5, 2014 

Sunset Chevrolet in Sumner must comply with a long list of new city guidelines after neighbors fought for months to create clear rules limiting expansion of the car dealership.

The Sumner City Council unanimously approved the changes this week, a move aimed at easing parking problems, curbing noise and better informing residents if the business plans to grow.

The final result stops short of what the city planning commission recommended. But city officials say the zoning revisions — which evolved from several drafts dating to last summer — offer a balanced solution.

The resident who spearheaded the effort says the changes don’t go far enough. 

“It’s a compromise, but we didn’t get a lot out of it,” said Richard Oswood, who filed an application on behalf of several neighbors to amend the zoning last August.

The final list includes shortening three-hour parking zones along West Main and Elizabeth streets to one hour, prohibiting construction of new buildings, and creating a boundary limiting expansion into the neighborhood. 

There will also be increased public notice when expansion occurs, and Sunset will be required to build a solid 8-foot fence along property lines to block light and sound.

Phil Mitchell, the dealership’s owner, said the outcome is reasonable.

“I think it was pretty fair and equitable for both sides,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just glad it’s done.”

City Planner Ryan Windish said the final plan “strikes a good balance” and addresses key issues that were major sticking points with Sunset’s neighbors, most importantly putting a limit on expansion. 

“Conceivably, as a neighbor, you could see Sunset marching down the block, buying properties and expanding indefinitely,” Windish said of the old guidelines. “There was no clearcut line, and now there is.”

He said the new policies ensure certainty for everybody, allowing Sunset to remain a viable business while maintaining the quality of life for neighbors.

Nearby homeowners told The News Tribune last summer that Sunset was taking over their neighborhood, hogging parking and creating noise and other problems with no end in sight. Tensions mounted in July when a consulting firm wrote a letter on behalf of Sunset urging four adjacent property owners to sell their homes to the dealership. The residents said the letter was threatening and disrespectful; it warned them that if they didn’t move, they would face increased light, noise and activity.

That led Oswood, with the support of three dozen other residents, to ask the city for action.

Oswood said he’s skeptical the new policies will solve much. He’s especially concerned that limited parking will continue to cause problems. He said he will go out on West Main Street every day to take pictures and try to keep spots in front of homes open for residents. 

“They know they are being watched,” Oswood said of the dealership. “That’s what’s frustrating. It’s not my job to be the watchman around here.”

The original list of recommendations, approved by the planning commission last October, was much more stringent. It included stricter parking requirements and an outright ban on use of Sunset’s public address system, among other rules. 

But the city wanted more input from Sunset, which spurred more meetings and further changes to the proposal.

“(The city) had an opportunity to fix some big problems, and I felt like the Planning Commission made some big strides in addressing those issues,” said Cindy Johnson, Oswood’s attorney. “The council really strayed from resolving” them.

Oswood echoed her remarks.

“You can look at (the city) and see they are physically tired of dealing with it,” he said. “I think they did the minimum that they had to do to appease the residents in this neighborhood. And they didn’t want to offend Sunset.”

Johnson said the underlying concern is enforcement. She says the city has a history of ignoring noise, parking and other violations related to dealership operations, including a fence behind her client’s property that has yet to be fixed. The city acknowledges the fence doesn’t meet code, and is working with Sunset to address it. 

Meanwhile, the dealership is preparing to tear down two homes for parking. Johnson said it will be a test of “good faith” for the city and the dealership to ensure all rules are followed.

Oswood vows to hold the city accountable. 

“I don’t think I’m done,” he said. “It’s a big fight.”

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
Follow Kari on Twitter: @KariPlog

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