See Bottom Attachment: Please Help Auto Beauty Specialists Stay in Webster Groves
City Attorney Helmut Starr said that, after neighbors' complaints about paint fumes, noise and other issues from the business 21 years ago, the city filed a lawsuit against the Auto Beauty, claiming it was a legal non-conforming use for the site.
"The company claimed the site had been an auto body shop prior to 1956, but the city took the position that the company had only been an auto detailing shop in the past," Starr said. "The zoning in the district they were in doesn't allow a public garage."
For us, auto body work, painting and collision repair constitute a public garage. We contended in the lawsuit that the business had morphed from a detailing to an auto body shop over time."But the city and the business settled the issue short of a judge's decision, he said.
"The decision was that Auto Beauty Specialists eradicate paint fumes from their auto body shop by installing special equipment so fumes were not released to the air," Starr said. "They were given more than 20 years to operate the body shop to recoup their investment in installing that equipment. The agreement said that, in 2016, Auto Beauty must cease auto body work, though they'd be able to continue auto detailing forever."
That court order is binding on both the city and Auto Beauty," Starr said.
Over the last three years, Starr said he's been involved in more than four meetings with company officials, exploring options such as the firm relocating to an alternate site in Webster, though he said officials with the company had told him other suggested locations wouldn't work for them.
"We don't want to run them out of the city," Starr said.
John Garber, president of Auto Beauty, insisted his collision repair business represents 90 percent of the company's revenue and that the firm, over the last 10 years, has paid more than $1 million in sales and property taxes to the city.
"We are only required to charge sales tax on the collision repair side of our business," he said. "So by taking collision repair out of Webster Groves, you are essentially saying 'no thanks' to $92,000 of Webster-generated sales tax (paid in 2014). I'm here to work with the city and stay in Webster Groves, however I have to do it."
His company's departure, he said, also would leave nearly 50 yards of Lockwood street frontage vacant.His building had formerly been used for car dealerships which had maintenance and repair facilities on the premises, he added.
Attorney Traci Pupillo, representing Auto Beauty Specialists, said she felt the city and the company could reach a revised agreement to let the firm stay.
"Yes, there is a court consent judgment in place but it just finalized the agreement the city and the company made 21 years ago," she said. "The parties can agree to extend the consent judgment on whatever terms they can agree on."
Many speaking before the council pleaded for the city to take action.
"Cities routinely negotiate agreements to keep a business – it's not impossible," said Deborah Wagnon of West Cedar Avenue and has been a customer for many years.
Tom Mulvihill of Lee Avenue said that forcing the company to leave the city "would be an example of government at its very worst.""If the company would close, it's because bureaucrats have decided they don't want a successful auto collision business on a main drive in their town," Mulvihill said.
"It would be great if the council could pause and think of how important Auto Beauty Specialists and the revenue they generate are to this community – moving shouldn't be an option for them," said Michael Shipley, of Greeley Avenue.
Mayor Gerry Welch said the city hasn't had input on any possible extension from residents who live behind the business, "and it's important we hear from them so we have a balance of information."
We would like to thank Webster-Kirkwood Times for permission to reprint this article.