Orange slammed for permitting car storage lot in residential neighborhood

The Brown Auto Group removed cars from the part of the storage lot that Charles Schurter and Susan Chester can see from their backyard. Shown above is their backyard's view in late July.

(Courtesy of Susan Chester)

By Daniel Langhorne

An East Orange couple recently filed a claim against the City of  Orange, claiming it should revoke a permit issued to Brown Auto Group to operate a car storage lot on a strip of vacant land surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

Charles Schurter and Susan Chester filed their claim on June 20,  alleging the car  lot  behind their backyard fence “constitutes a nuisance and is detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood in that such use creates urban blight [and] substantially reduces property values…”

The  city  council  denied  their claim at its July meeting. Schurter said he plans to file a lawsuit asking a judge to invalidate the automotive group’s conditional use permit.

The City of Orange approved a conditional use permit in October 2014 that allowed the Brown Auto Group to use the property south of North Fireside Street and East Parkside Avenue to be used much like a recreational vehicle storage  lot.  The  vacant  parcel, which  is  a  formerly  abandoned section  of  railroad,  is  about  40 feet  wide  and  more  than  2,600 feet long.

Vagrant vehicles

“Having a bunch of cars parked behind my house tanks my property value,” Schurter said. “I want to get this permit invalidated not just for me but my neighbors. We shouldn’t have to live with this crap. It’s just wrong.”

Dallas Ford, vice president of Brown Auto Group, said his company has made an effort to reach out to the neighbors, some of whom described the lot as "blighted" and "a magnet for graffiti and delinquent teenagers.”

Now  a security guard splits his time between the Volkswagen dealership and the storage lot, he said.

“Ultimately, to be a good business in the city and generate revenue, we need a storage lot,” Ford said.

Although the project was proposed as a storage lot for Volkswagen of Orange, Schurter noticed many of the cars and vans on  the  property  were  from  the Brown Auto Group’s Nissan dealerships. The  dealers  have  since removed  most  of  the  cars  from the property.

Paul  Sitkoff,  Orange  spokesman, said the city’s code enforcement  department  inspected  the property and reminded the automotive group that it was required to comply with its conditional use permit.

“The property owner, at the request of the city, has been making efforts to be a good neighbor, and making corrections as required by the C.U.P.,” Sitkoff said.

But  Schurter is not satisfied changes.

Cars and vans lined an abandoned section of railroad in East Orange in early June near North Fireside Street and East Parkside Avenue.

Courtesy of Susan Chester)

Nothing to see here

“Things  have  died  down  and part  of  it  was  because  I  created enough flak,” Schurter said. “They’re starting to enforce the code, but that is only part of the issue.”

Schurter claims that the automotive group failed to construct a solid wall and plant landscaping to shield neighbors’ view. He also alleges the automotive group did not follow setback rules that vehicles should be stored at least 20 feet from residential properties. Ford wouldn’t comment on the claims, saying that he relied on city staff’s understanding of the municipal code.

“All I’ve done is what they’ve asked me to do, and I want to be a good neighbor,” he said.

This isn’t the first time an entrepreneurial  business has seen dollars to be made from using a section of abandoned railroad.

In  November,  residents  opposed the city’s decision to allow Loftus Nursery to operate a tree and shrub farm on a strip of land near Palmyra Avenue and South Craig Drive.

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