City Council hears support for auction

CAMBRIDGE – City Council Chambers were packed Feb. 12, when citizens attended to speak in support of Foxwell Auctions. At the meeting, commissioners and the audience heard the first reading of Ordinance 1115, which would allow the business to operate in the old Metro Building as a special exception to the city’s code.

Owners Shane and Buddy Foxwell want to do business on the site temporarily, as they look to build a new facility in the county. The city’s Ordinance Committee – comprised of council members Steve Rideout, Dave Cannon, City Planner Pat Escher and City Attorney Patrick Thomas – had recommended limits on the auction, including a setback from residential areas at another location.

After the Planning and Zoning Commission met on Feb. 6, heard public comment and unanimously rejected the Ordinance Committee’s recommendations, the matter was sent back to the City Council. The council members will conduct a second reading, hear public comment and vote on the matter at the Public Safety Building on March 5.

When the issue came up for discussion at the City Council’s meeting on Feb. 12, Commissioner Dave Cannon (Ward 4) said on the advice of counsel, he would recuse himself. He then left the chamber for the duration of the discussion.

Cheryl Dayton spoke in support of the Foxwells. “The looming shutdown hurts the needy,” she said. “Foxwell’s is more than a family business.”

Shane Foxwell spoke three times to the council. Each speaker was allotted no more than two minutes at the podium, but others gave their minutes to Mr. Foxwell, allowing him to return.

He said the auction fit the definition allowed in the city code and should not be classed as a special exemption. “All I want to do is run my business,” he said. “A special exemption in a commercial zone is a step backwards.”

A council agenda report submitted by Director of Public Works Odie Wheeler and dated Feb. 12 detailed the issue.

The report reads in full:

“The City has been approached by several individuals requesting approval to operate an auction house within the City limits. The first request was to allow an auction house in the Industrial Zoning District. The Commission discussed the matter at their Dec. 5, 2017 hearing and expressed concerns about large-scale auctions taking place in existing large-format buildings within the Industrial Zoning District.

“The parking requirements within the Industrial Zoning District use a low-parking ratio given the nature of its uses. With auction houses, there is potential for overflow parking impacting the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, the Commission was concerned about the potential of outside storage/displays that are generally associated with this kind of use. The Commission decided not to amend the UDC [Unified Development Code] to allow this use in the Industrial Zoning District.

“The City has since been approached by another property owner, Allan McRae and an operator, Shane and Buddy Foxwell, seeking permission for an auction house in the General Commercial Zoning District and specifically, on the property known as the Metro building. The Commission discussed the matter at their Jan. 2, 2018 hearing and the Commissioners felt that this use, in the commercial zoning district, would be appropriate because: 1) it aligns more with retail sales and; 2) this zoning district has higher parking requirements.

“The Commission still had concerns about potential vehicle sales, parking, and outside storage. The Commission directed staff to draft language that would address their concerns and hold a special meeting to address this use within the Commercial General Zoning District to try to expedite the text amendment process.

“A special meeting was held on Jan. 10. During that meeting the Commission, after reviewing the proposed language, directed staff to include auction use in the Industrial Zone with limitations imposed by the definitions and the addition of parking requirements to alleviate the concerns that they raised at their December hearing. Staff recommended approval by special exemption to ensure compatibility and provide additional enforcement capability in the case of violations. The Planning Commission concurred and voted unanimously to recommend that Council approve the amendment.

“This amendment went to the Ordinance Committee for language drafting where there were clarifications made to the definitions to distinguish commercial auctions from the occasional special-event auction and the addition of a parking requirement. Additionally, a 500-foot setback from the residential zone district was added.

“At the Feb. 6 meeting of the Planning Commission, the Commission heard public testimony, considered the Ordinance Committee recommendations, and voted unanimously to move the test amendment forward as originally drafted, without setback requirements. Subsequently, the Ordinance Committee members have agreed that the ordinance – as recommended by the Planning Commission – should proceed to the council for introduction, without their earlier changes.”

April Goodman was one of the citizens who spoke in support of the auction, saying she regularly buys items for use in her jewelry business.
“My family has been going there for 40 years,” she said. “I’m selling all over the place.”

Some of those in attendance also mentioned the Foxwell’s volunteering their skills for fundraising auctions.

“They give their time,” Dawn Cook of the Relay for Life said. “They have raised for us more than $50,000.”

The Cambridge City Council will meet at 6 p.m. at 305 Gay St. on Feb. 26 to vote on the issue.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Cannon is also an employee of The Dorchester Banner.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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