Thursday, June 11, 2015

Auto repair returns to Davidson with new Woodie's outlet

It has been 7 ½ years since you could get your oil changed in Davidson.  7 ½ years since you could get your car inspected.  7 ½  years since you could get a flat fixed or your car repaired without having to leave town limits.

The  days of being able to do all those things ended in Davidson with the closing of Stowe’s Exxon at the corner of Main and South Streets in December of 2007.  For decades, the service station at the site where Flatiron restaurant now sits in the Stowe Building provided these valuable services.  They are services that have been missed.

Even in Davidson, a town known for its focus on walkable design, bike lanes, and greenways, almost every household has at least one car.  For this past many years, residents have had to go elsewhere to take care of those needs.

Well, that long drought ended last week with the opening of the newest Woodie’s Auto in the Circles @ 30 area near the Harris Teeter.

When asked about the opening, Kim Flemming, the town’sEconomic Development Manager, said “we welcome Woodie’s Auto Service to Davidson’s business community and look forward to their providing a valuable service to our citizens.”

While Ms Flemming certainly is correct about this being a valuable service – one that has been sorely needed in town, it is hard to imagine how close this came to not being a reality.

This project only came to fruition because Davidson’s Board voted to grant a variance to a town ordinance requiring all new commercial buildings in town have two working floors.

Even though the new building looks like it is two floors, as an auto repair facility it really only has one.  In an attempt to show they were meeting the spirit of the ordinance, the running joke by those who supported the project at the time was that the cars pulled in on the firsts floor, and were repaired on the second – once they were hoisted on the lifts.  More seriously, the building was designed so that in the event Woodie’s ever left the location a second working floor could be installed.

Still, at the time in the Spring of 2013 that was not enough to sway the Davidson Planning Board or Town Planning Staff.  The citizen-led Planning Board voted 8-1 opposing the variance and the town staff opposed it as well.  Holding to the strict “letter of the law” outweighed allowing a needed business to open.

However, in April of that year the Town Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of granting the variance and letting the project go forward as proposed.

After a passionate and sometimes heated public hearing with several citizens speaking against the project, Commissioners Laurie Venzon, Brian Jenest, and Connie Wessner voted to approve the variance request.  Commissioners Rodney Graham and Jim Fuller voted against it.

Two years later now that the building is there, what do the Commissioners who opposed the variance request think?

Commissioner Graham said that he had actually run into the Woodie’s team after the vote and told them that even though he had voted against the variance request, he told them he'd certainly be a customer once they opened.

He also passed along some good news about employment opportunities for local residents.  Graham said “I had a conversation with the owner of Woodies a couple of weeks ago about their efforts to recruit Davidson residents to be employees at this new location.  In conversations with others who have been involved in this effort I am encouraged that Woodie’s has made a sincere effort to hire Davidson residents at this location, and am hopeful that Davidson residents will respond positively to these employment opportunities.  Having Davidson businesses hire Davidson residents is beneficial on many levels.”

Commissioner Jim Fuller echoed hose sentiments.  Saying “my answer doesn't differ greatly from Rodney's.  I voted as I did out of conscience, thinking about our commitment to preserving the small town character of Davidson, and, as well, a genuine concern for neighbors and trees--which I find go together nicely in our town.  Yet, respecting the majority's vote, I sincerely hope Woodie’s succeeds, becoming one of our corporate community leaders.”

Both comments are definitely good to hear.

As growth and development continue to pick back up in town, the town will certainly have many more opportunities to work with developers in search of common ground and compromise like they did with Woodie’s.  While one can expect the Planning Board and staff to stick to more doctrinaire positions, it ultimately comes down to the elected officials to make the decisions.

Let's hope those who vote do so on the basis of common sense realism.

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