Historic Van Ness auto shop in Fresno gets OK to expand hours

The Fresno BeeDecember 12, 2013 

A historic auto shop nestled within a residential neighborhood in central Fresno made a case for extended hours and the ability to do more repairs -- a request that narrowly passed City Council with a 4-3 vote on Thursday night.

The request from Van Ness Auto Repair owner Jim Medina came more than three years after he triumphed over efforts to shut his business down when his conditional-use permit was revoked by the city.

Medina somewhat reluctantly accepted the amended recommendations from city staff on Thursday, which were less expansive then recommendations from the planning commission.

Several council members appeared agitated by Medina's requests after more than an hour and a half of public comments from a room filled mostly with Medina supporters, apparent by a show of hands.

Council Member Paul Caprioglio said Medina's continued requests to expand his shop's services over the past 10 years remind him of the phrase, "give an inch and they take a mile."

Still, council members repeatedly talked about the importance of striking a balance between supporting the demands of small business owners and respecting the concerns of some neighbors.

Fifteen people spoke in favor of the expansions proposed by Medina, stressing his kind, generous and honest work ethic, and efforts to beautify the property. Many supporters who live nearby the shop added he's a good neighbor, and noise from auto repairs aren't a nuisance -- nowhere near the sound of trains that pass nearby several times a day.

Four people spoke against his request, saying Medina is "out-growing" his shop, and that his business already conflicts with the current neighborhood commercial zoning. Van Ness Auto Repair should remain "status quo," they said.

Medina said he's done everything the city has requested over the years and has had "nothing but headaches over the years." To stay competitive in today's market, he said he needed to push for expanded services and hours.

Medina's property at 2740 North Van Ness Blvd. has historic significance. A former gas and service station at the site are thought to be the oldest operating in the state, and the second oldest in the country.

Tanks for the gas station were removed in 1999, but the auto repair component continued.

Medina continued the auto repair business in 2001. Over the years, the shop was grandfathered into current zoning and operates through a conditional-use permit.

Staff focused only on the auto shop service requests, and didn't address a request to allow Medina to lease one of his buildings to another business owner -- something that will have to be taken up as an amendment later, said Jennifer Clark, director of the city's Development and Resource Management Department.

A request for 24-hour tow truck drop-offs at the property also wasn't addressed, because it's something the city does not regulate, Clark said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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