Displaced car dealer could end tenure at new site

Story Motor Sales operated at 826 W. State St. for 50 years. The City of Rockford forced owner Paul Story to give up the property to make way for the Winnebago County Justice Center. Story hoped to end his career at the site.

He wants to operate a small car wholesaling operation, dealing with up to six cars.

Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), former Codes and Regulations Committee chairman, hoped to help make Story’s dream come true.

“The guy got tears in his eyes,” Beach said, describing Story’s July 3 appearance before the Codes and Regulations committee.

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) became Beach’s successor during a July 10 City Council meeting. Mark served as the sole objector to Story’s special use permit. He claimed—during a June 20 City of Rockford Zoning Board of Appeals meeting—Story’s new location, 623 N. Madison St., would endanger putting the city’s 2020 Plan into practice.

Mark stressed his being chairman would have no bearing on what decision the committee reached. However, he noted committee members would have to be brought up to speed.

Story and his counsel, Theodore Liebovich, came before the board again to request a special use permit and variation. The special use permit would allow Story’s proposed car wholesale operation to exist in a I-1, light industrial, district, while the requested variation would allow existing conditions to remain “as-is.” Liebovich stressed Story only wanted the permit to last three years.

“Where do you draw the line? We have a use that is not consistent with the Madison Street desire. That is certainly not consistent with where we want to go,” Mark said.

He asserted the City Council passed the 2020 plan a year ago, with the intention of creating a mixed-use area. Mark said the area would include commercial and residential development. While the three-year limit might accommodate Story, Mark deemed it was unacceptable. He noted the City Council’s Codes and Regulations Committee voted to amend zoning in that area from I-1, light industrial, to C-4, commercial oldtown. Aldermen approved the zoning amendment at the July 3 meeting.

According to the plan itself, which can be found at www.ci.rockford.il.us, city planning staff created the 2020 Plan in order to address things the Year 2000 plan didn’t foresee. That includes Rockford’s expansion to the Boone County line.

Mark and city current Planning Manager Todd Cagnoni’s reservations weren’t alleviated by assurances from Story’s counsel, Theodore Liebovich—Story only wanted to remain in business for three more years.

Liebovich stressed he and Story were aware of the city’s plans, but not of a definite development timeline. While acknowledging support of River District development, Liebovich predicted nothing would materialize within the next three years.

“I think it’s going to be a long time before we get that type of development,” he said.

Cagnoni said the 2020 Plan provides the proverbial line in the sand. He said redeveloping downtown is challenging, and the proposed Story development would hinder the city’s vision.

Liebovich said the city lost sight of its promise to assist Story with finding a new location. According to Liebovich, that assistance consisted of providing Story with publicly-accessible real estate listings. He said Story had already reviewed them, eliminating them from consideration.

City Attorney Kerry Partridge said the city began eminent domain proceedings in 2005. According to Winnebago County court records, the case was settled May 31, 2006. Partridge said he was unaware of any promises the city made to Story in regard to finding another site. But he asserted Story purchased the Madison Street site without the city’s permission. The property is among those being rezoned from I-1 to C-4. Partridge said Story’s proposed car dealership wouldn’t be permitted in either I-1 or C-4.

“That’s the way the (zoning) code is written,” he said.

The Zoning Advisory Committee suggests permitted uses, Partridge said. He said citizens, landscapers and engineers help make up the committee.

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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