May 30 2018

Burlington Audi/Porsche Dealership to Split Into Two Buildings

By: Rich Hosford

There was a long discussion about a proposed zoning bylaw change for one of Burlington’s long standing car dealerships during the final evening of the May Town Meeting.

The proposal was submitted on behalf of The Herb Chambers Company and was written to allow the company to split the current Audi Burlington and Porsche Burlington, which are in the same Cambridge Street building, into two separate buildings.

Attorney Mark Vaughan of Riemer & Braunstein, representing Herb Chambers Company, said the change was at the request of the Audi and Porsche companies.

“Over the past couple of years both Audi and Porsche have required separate locations to ensure qualified service and unique customer experiences,” he said.


The plan, he said, is to keep the Audi dealership in the current building at 62 Cambridge Street and construct a new Porsche dealership next door at 64 Cambridge Street. This property is already owned by Herb Chambers and is currently be used, by permission of a special variance, for storing vehicles.


Vaughan said the new building would be of modern design in keeping with the Porsche brand.


“It will be very attractive and aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “We think it will be a far cry from the mattress and granite building that was there before.”


He also said that because the dealerships would lose space they currently use for storing vehicles, the plan is to create an underground parking lot beneath the building. This would get the majority of vehicles out of sight, addressing a concern the Planning Board had when they approved the vehicle lot of a “sea of vehicles.”


Vaughan also pointed to the difference in tax revenue for the town between a vehicle lot and a dealership.


“A new Porsche building would generate new tax revenue,” he said. “The existing parking lot generates under 20,000 per year and the existing dealership generates $300,000 in annual revenue. We feel the new building would generate about $200,000 additionally for the community.”

There was some opposition to the proposed change in the Zoning Bylaws, the majority of which was voiced by Planning Board Chairman Jack Kelly. He said the Planning Board voted 6-0-1 to recommend that Town Meeting vote against the proposal.


Kelly said members of the board had a number of concerns, which he outlined at the meeting and which were also presented to Town Meeting in a letter.


The biggest concern was the way the warrant article was written. He said amending the zoning bylaws was a big move to accommodate one business.


“This article 33 is a very unusual way to permit a business a use not otherwise allowed under our zoning,” he said. “Normally we are asked to amend a map or a specific property. Here you are being asked to amend the text, so you’re not rezoning a specific property, but making a text amendment that allows an otherwise non-allowed use.


Kelly also argued that by changing the text of the zoning bylaw other businesses could use the change to seek a “dimensional variance” from the Zoning Board of Appeals to open other dealerships in town where they may not be wanted by residents.


Vaughan said the amendment was tightly written to apply to this site and no other locations in town. As written the amendment allows an automobile dealership “provided that the lot is located within 200 feet of Route 128/95” and “at least 200 feet from the nearest One Family Dwelling residential zoning district boundary.”


Kelly said the Planning Board was also worried about an “Auto Mile” forming along Cambridge Street and argued that previous changes to zoning in the area were meant to limit new dealerships and that this amendment went against the spirit of those changes.


“Usually when you change zoning bylaws and make businesses non-conforming the idea is that eventually they will go away,” he said. “This goes against that long-term plan.”   


Other concerns voiced by the Planning Board were about an additional curb cut on Cambridge Street and about car carriers parking on Cambridge Street rather than pulling into the dealership parking lots.


Vaughan said the plans for the two lots account for space for the car carriers to unload on site.


In the end Town Meeting voted 67 in favor and 26 against, narrowly meeting the 2/3 majority required for a zoning change.


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