Trailer at Gulley's Stirs Debate by Town
Gulley's Garden Center at South East Broad and East Indiana Avenue in Southern Pines is a popular, 33-year-old family-operated retail garden supply business -- a staple of the historic downtown.
But some Southern Pines residents don't find everything about the business so pleasing. Some have complained to the town about eyesores visible on the other side of Gulley's business off East Indiana Avenue around the corner from the customer entrance.
The driveway and shoulder that Gulley's uses for deliveries and other heavy work required in the nursery business has spurred the town to enforce a previously ignored law requiring owner and operator Pete Gulley to remove a long-entrenched unhitched tractor-trailer unit stored at the back of his property. It is partly visible from the Indiana Avenue side.
The trailer is considered a motor vehicle, according to an opinion from the town attorney. But Gulley said it can't be driven or even pulled out by a hitch. It has been in place for so long that the wheels are too deteriorated for travel on a road.
Gulley and Councilmen Mike Haney and Fred Walden consider it a grandfathered use ethically, if not legally, since it was put there in 1982, well before the ordinance being invoked requiring him to remove the trailer was enacted by council in 1989.
Haney said at a recent work session that there haven't been any complaints about it until this summer.
"It isn't doing any harm," he said.
Gulley wrote to the Town Council saying he needs the unit to store indoors perishable pine straw and hay that are an important part of his nursery sales.
"I don't have any other place to store it out of the weather," Gulley said. "I didn't pay any attention to the Unified Development Ordinance, because I assumed I was grandfathered."
The trailer is painted a camouflage color, and two forest green plastic tarps have been strung over a clothesline across the driveway to hide it from traffic passing by along Indiana Avenue. The trailer is tucked well inside the interior of the lot but is visible from the street because of the open driveway corridor.
Councilman David Woodruff initiated the research that led to the belated enforcement of the 1989 ordinance, which forbids permanently having a motor vehicle (such as a trailer) on Central Business or residential property to store or sell items as part of a business.
Gulley's property, along with other businesses along Broad Street in the downtown, is zoned Central Business.
Woodruff also found that the ordinance does not include a grandfather clause to allow such violations to remain as nonconforming uses. The ordinance says a nonconforming item existing prior to the ordinance must be removed within a year from the date when the ordinance becomes effective. Otherwise, 30 days is given in written notices to remove the nonconforming use. Such a notice went to Gulley, who has to remove the unit this month, Planning Director Bart Nuckols said in a brief telephone interview.
Woodruff said he has concerns about appearance problems in downtown and historic residential areas of Southern Pines. Members of the volunteer Appearance Commission have recently campaigned vigorously about the issue, as well.
But Woodruff said his actions were spurred by a complaint to him from a couple who live in Southern Pines but not in the neighborhood where the violation exists. He said they drive down the street frequently and complained to him about the appearance at Gulley's side of East Indiana. He did not reveal their names.
"It's nothing against him (Gulley), but I consider it my responsibility to respond to residents' concerns," he said.
Gulley said he isn't sure what his course of action will be.
Four council members deadlocked 2-2 at a work session last months. Mayor Frank Quis wasn't present.
Haney said he would like to see the council amend the ordinance to grandfather the trailer and allow it to remain as a nonconforming use. Walden appeared to agree with Haney.
Woodruff and Councilman Chris Smithson seemed to oppose that option.
The unit is parked on the back property line of Gulley's property that borders his business and the backyards of small homes and cottages facing South Ashe. Gulley owns two-thirds of the block except for a few houses and some business property fronting on East Illinois Avenue. The residential neighborhood fronts on South Ashe Street and shares a back boundary with Gulley.
Gulley said he is confident existing shrubbery and foliage shields the view of the trailer top from the neighboring backyards.
Gulley has two options, Nuckols said, if he wants to try to keep the unit where it is:
n He can appeal to the quasi-judicial town Board of Adjustment that has the power to issue variances under certain conditions or to ask it to review the situation hoping it will decide in his favor.
n He can apply to the town for an amendment to the current ordinance, having the effect of grandfathering in the unit since it and other possible violations were already in existence when the 1989 ordinance was enacted.
Locking horns at the work session, Haney did not dispute that the ordinance forbids the trailer to remain, unless council enacts an amendment that he supported.
"Let's follow the ordinance or get rid of it," Woodruff said.
Haney said, "We need to support and encourage a healthy downtown business environment. Gulley's is important to downtown, it's an attraction, it brings people in. It seems to be an unnecessary thing to bring up."
Smithson said, "All the debate around town at meetings and on Web sites regarding protecting the 'character of the town' goes to the root of enforcement of ordinances," regardless of popularity.
Sara Lindau can be reached at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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