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Auto body shop on collision course with Lynn

LYNN — The Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to allow an auto repair/auto body shop on Willow Street, but at the crux of the matter is whether that prior use on the property has been discontinued.

The ZBA will determine whether to allow an auto repair/auto body shop use on a parcel in the zoning district, Central Business District where such non-conforming use previously existed. The applicant seeking an auto repair/auto body shop use for 105 Willow St. is Josue Amaya, of Josue Auto Mechanics, Inc.

James Cowdell, Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn) executive director, said putting an auto body shop in that location would be moving backwards. He said the downtown is moving in a completely different direction — the city is putting people in the downtown to live there and restaurants are being added.

“To put an auto body shop in the middle of the downtown, it’s just not what we want in the Central Business District,” Cowdell said. “There are other parts of the city where it would be a better fit.”

Sam Vitali, Amaya’s attorney, said he was representing two Hispanic individuals who are running an auto repair facility at 105 Willow St. He said Amaya and his partner are renting the building from Pat Todisco, of Todisco Properties.  

Vitali said Todisco purchased the property from William Walsh, who owned an auto repair shop there for 30 to 40 years up until last October. He said Todisco fixed up the property and leased it in December.

Todisco Properties LLC bought the property from Walsh last November for $270,000, according to The Warren Group.

Vitali said the use was never discontinued — it’s been a continuous use of auto repair since the 1920s when the property was a gas station. But he said an auto repair license cannot be transferred from one owner to another, so the City Council approved their license in March.

But Vitali said what remains to be seen is whether the ZBA approves the site or use for auto body, arguing that auto repair does not need to be approved since that use was never discontinued. His clients’ application to the ZBA is to allow auto body in an existing auto mechanic shop.

The distinction between the two, he said, is that auto body shops deal with vehicles in collisions, such as those with damage to the frame or bumper, but an auto repair shop is for repairs under the hood, such as an engine that needs to be fixed. Vitali said his clients want to operate both an auto body and auto repair shop at the same location.

Norm Cole, ZBA member, said both an auto repair and auto body shop are not an allowed use in the central business district. He said the applicant needs a use variance from the board.

Cole said Vitali can make his case on whether auto repair and auto body are separate uses. But he said the use the board is being asked to approve has been discontinued for a period of time, so he’s not sure how they’re there operating since the ZBA hasn’t given them approval for anything.

Cole said when a non-conforming use has been discontinued for a year, it should not be reestablished and future use should be in compliance with the zone ordinance.

Allowed uses in the Central Business District where a variance wouldn’t be necessary would be apartment house by special permit, artist work space, mixed use street level with retail/commercial and residential, multi-family residential high rise, open air or food stands, public parks and open space, Cole said.

“I think we’ve got to take a hard look at this because this piece of land is now inside the city’s expanded cultural district for one thing,” he said. “And the other thing, there was a study done in 2009, the Downtown Market Street Vision Plan, (which) made a number of recommendations for that area.”

Clint Muche, director of inspections, said ultimately, auto repair and auto body are activities that are permitted by special permit only and specifically only allowed in light and heavy industrial districts.

“It’s definitely the case that there has been a structure outfitted for auto repair there for a period of years,” Muche said. “Whether it’s been in use is ultimately the question.”

Muche said there could be violations, punishable by municipal fine, if the applicants are engaging in activities that require a special permit without a special permit, or variance without a variance.

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