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USED-CAR LOTS FUEL NEW BILL

Claiming too many used-car dealerships in Buffalo are becoming unsightly junkyards, the Common Council plans to pass new regulations this fall that will include beefed-up city oversight.

The number of licenses issued to used-car dealerships has increased by about 50 percent since June 2000, according to city Licenses Supervisor Patrick Sole Jr.

There are 180 businesses licensed to sell cars, including many gas stations and auto repair shops. While they are scattered throughout the city, Sole said the Lovejoy area, University District and North Buffalo have especially high concentrations.

But Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana complains that too many of the so-called used-car dealerships are nothing more than graveyards for auto parts.

"You have some lots that are filled with junk cars," he said. "They're not really selling them; they're just storing the cars or using them for parts. A number of these lots are right on our business strips, and they look terrible."

Some dealers also have been cramming too many vehicles onto tiny lots, Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola said during a recent meeting to address the problem. "We definitely need to make sure that these dealers aren't trying to put 70 cars on a lot that only has room for two or three vehicles," he said.

During a special meeting of the Legislation Committee on Thursday, lawmakers began working on new regulations that will likely impose new restrictions on the number of vehicles that occupy lots, based on square footage.

Included in the new rules will likely be a requirement that at least three feet of space be left around every vehicle. Robert J. Stasio, chief of the city's Fire Prevention Bureau, said such clearance is needed to ensure easy access to sites in the event of emergencies.

The Common Council also appears to be ready to add a new layer of oversight when it comes to approving applications for used-car dealerships. Fontana predicted that the revised policies will require dealerships to appear before the city Planning Board. He said the board is accustomed to dealing with site plans, landscaping issues and other concerns.

"It will also prevent the Common Council from acting as both the judge and jury on these issues," said Fontana, chairman of the Legislation Committee. "After the plans are presented, the Planning Board will make recommendations to the Council."

But who will enforce the new regulations when some claim that inspectors are already overburdened trying to enforce other codes? Officials concede much of the enforcement will probably be complaint-driven, although staffers in the licensing and inspections divisions will be encouraged to watch for violators.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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