An auto repair shop in Hazelwood has come under fire for spilling over into a surrounding residential neighborhood.

Triangle Automotive Repair has been bursting at the seams for a few years, with vehicles crammed cheek-to-jowl on its tiny lot. To solve the space crunch, the mechanic shop bought a lot across the street for overflow storage. It inadvertently ran afoul of Waynesville zoning laws by encroaching into a residential district, however.

After a year of fielding complaints from neighbors and ordering the mechanic to cease and desist, the town of Waynesville resorted to filing a civil suit against Triangle Auto to rein in use of the overflow lot.

“We are glad for their success, but because of their success they have outgrown the property they are on,” said Byron Hickox, Waynesville code enforcement officer.

Hickox first reached out to the owner of Triangle Auto last November after neighbors complained about the churn of vehicles being stored on the overflow lot in their midst.

“Within a couple of weeks, they had moved most of the vehicles off and the neighbors seemed to be satisfied. In most cases, someone gets a letter from the town, they fix it, and that’s the end of it,” Hickox said.

But by April, the overflow lot had been pressed back into service. So Hickox reached out again. This time, the owners told him the vehicles on the lot were their own personal vehicles.

Observers could readily see the lot was a revolving door of different vehicles, however. Hickox even documented vehicles being taken from the shop across the street, or tow trucks dropping them off.

“They literally took them over there to store until they had time to work on them,” Hickox said.

The postage stamp lot of Triangle Auto — squeezed into the triangle of a Y-shaped intersection on Brown Avenue near the Hazelwood Ingles — is hemmed in on all sides with nary an inch to spare.

So the vacant lot just half a block away no doubt seemed like a convenient solution. A house that previously stood on the lot was burned by the town fire department as a training exercise.

But since the lot is in a residential neighborhood, it can’t be used for vehicle impoundment unless it is rezoned for commercial use. Hickox gave the owners a rezoning application should they want to go that route, but given the proximity of surrounding homes, rezoning would likely be an uphill battle.

“We were very upfront about it,” Hickox said. “Asking for the rezoning is not just a technicality and a hoop you have to jump through. They would have to make the case.”

The owners of Triangle Auto chose a different route instead: to build a gigantic, palisade-like fence around the lot to conceal the vehicles being parked there. The towering fence sits right on the property line, so close to neighboring homes it obstructs light coming through their windows.

Last month, the town resorted to filing an injunction against the owners in civil court.

“None of us in this office get any joy whatsoever of doing that. We don’t want to have to go to that next step,” Hickox said. “But we weren’t getting anywhere.”

If a judge grants the injunction, Triangle Auto would face a court order to remove the vehicles from the overflow lot.

“If they don’t comply, they could be held in contempt of court,” said Waynesville Town Attorney Bill Cannon.

Long-standing business

John Sutton, an attorney in the matter for Triangle Auto, declined to comment pending the Jan. 8, deadline to respond to the court filing.

The owners of Triangle Auto — Dustin Smith and his wife, Lauren — were advised by their attorney not to comment on matters of the case either.

The property where Triangle Auto is located has been in Dustin Smith’s family for over 40 years. His grandfather, Barron Clark, originally built a laundromat, dry-cleaners and general store on the site in 1978, when it was still the town of Hazelwood prior to its merger with Waynesville.

Smith was raised by his grandparents and spent much of his youth growing up inside the business. They brought him to work with them ever since he was a baby.

“I was in and out of this building since I was able to crawl,” said Smith, now 39.

His grandfather continued to run the laundromat until 2007 when there was a tragic turn of events.

“Two guys came in and robbed him. They pushed him down, him on a cane, and broke his pelvis,” Smith said. That led to a gradual decline in his grandfather’s health until he passed away in 2010.

Smith, who was working as a mechanic at Anderson Automotive at the time, quit his job to open his own auto shop on the property inherited.

Hickox reiterated that the town doesn’t want to stymie Triangle Auto’s success. But the town likewise can’t allow defiance of zoning rules or let one business’ growth come at the expense of nearby neighbors.

“We are glad they are successful, but they are in a bottleneck. The properties around them are not zoned appropriately to expand their business into,” Hickox said.

While it wouldn’t be as convenient as the overflow lot across the street, Hickox suggested the business look for another lot to store vehicles that’s in an already commercial area.

In the meantime, neighbors have continued to call and ask why the town wasn’t doing something, so Hickox said he has kept neighbors abreast of the civil suit.

“They understand the process can be slow but that we are working on it,” he said.

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