CarMax won’t be selling cars where they had hoped in Visalia, if at all. The Visalia City Council voted Monday night against the nationwide used car dealer setting up shop in the still developing Visalia Parkway Shopping Center.
CarMax hoped to build their showroom and offices on a five acre parcel across from Target’s south parking lot at the intersection of Visalia Parkway and Mooney Boulevard.
Council member Phil Cox and Mayor Bob Link voted in favor of allowing CarMax to build their lot, while council members Brian Poochigian, Steve Nelsen, and Greg Collins voted against the proposal; a used car dealership on Mooney went against the city’s zoning code, and they were not willing to amend it.
More than a dozen people showed up to voice their opinion at the August 17 city council’s public hearing, but CarMax representatives spoke first. It was an uphill battle as the Visalia Planning Commission had recently voted on June 22 to deny the company’s request to change the zoning.
Car dealerships are currently only allowed in the Ben Maddox/East Main Street region or at the Visalia Auto Mall on Plaza Dr. Used cars are not allowed to be sold at the auto mall.
CarMax still gave a compelling case as to why the city council should overturn their planning commission’s decision.
Roger Dale, a consultant hired by CarMax, he said that $8.8 million in construction related spending would be generated during the building of the facility, according to a presentation he gave to the council. Dale added that CarMax would generate $22.2 million in new business activity a year and create 96 permanent jobs.
He also pointed out that the company would bolster the city’s retail tax base by $60,000 a year and add $683,500 annually to the city’s General Fund.
Dale stated that an untapped market of used car buyers existed in Tulare County: they would buy used cars in Visalia if an option existed, he said, but they instead spend their money in Fresno; CarMax has locations in Bakersfield and Fresno.
Another CarMax representative claimed that the company’s model has been hugely successful and that they have never had to close a store. He touted benefits such as a no-haggle environment and buying cars, even if the seller is simply unloading their vehicle.
CarMax is also considered to be a “regional retail attractor.” Regional retail attractors, like CarMax, are few and far between, he said, stating there were approximately 12 in the Kings and Tulare County region.
Ten of the 14 people who spoke were not in favor of CarMax locating in the Mooney retail zone. Most of the detractors came from auto dealerships owners, but some also came from the general public.
Ed Dena, who owns Ed Dena’s Auto Center, stated that “at the end of the day this is just a big box store throwing their weight around.”
He said any car dealer would want to be across from Target — but dealerships have not been allowed to locate there.
Dena also debunked CarMax’ claim that they will increase Visalia’s tax base. Taxes are collected where the car is registered, not where it is bought.
“We get the sales tax even if the car is bought in Fresno,” Dena said.
Dann Harrison, owner of Dann’s Discount Auto Sales, said that the planning commission has consistently denied dealership’s requests to locate on or near Mooney. Granting CarMax permission to locate across from Target he said would give them an unfair advantage over Visalia’s family owned car dealerships and lead to layoffs, he said.
“There is not a factory out there building used cars,” he said. “We all buy our cars from the same auctions.”
CarMax just sells them for a lot more, he added.
Fresno developer Jim Shehadey spoke supporting the property owners of the Visalia Parkway Shopping Center who have been sitting on an empty piece of land for a long time.
He said that CarMax would be a huge draw and an important anchor to the intersection of Visalia Parkway and Mooney, stating that during these uncertain economic times Visalia would be unwise to turn down such an opportunity.
For years, the city council didn’t allow grocery stores on Mooney, he said, but that retail regions evolve, and now they do. He suggested the city council do the same with auto dealerships.
Jim Reeves, a local activist, joined those who spoke in favor of CarMax. He said that the last two cars he bought were from CarMax but that he had to go to the Fresno location to buy them.
City Council is a Mixed Bag
For Poochigian, the issue was one of fairness. This was no time to be setting a new precedent on what retail the city allows on Mooney, he said, and he agreed with the planning commission’s decision.
Cox saw CarMax as an important asset to Visalia. He said that over his life he had probably bought 40 or 50 cars for his large family, all in Visalia. But the last car he bought was at the Fresno CarMax because it was the only place that had exactly what he wanted.
Cox added that his vote many years ago to approve the Visalia Auto Mall on Plaza Dr. was a mistake. He said that it was time to allow a business like CarMax to locate on Mooney.
Collins also regretted the city’s decision to approve the Plaza Auto Mall. He was against it from the beginning and said it didn’t turn out how the developers sold it; however, he emphasized that city policy should remain consistent. He didn’t like the idea of auto dealerships on Mooney 25 years ago, and he doesn’t like the idea now.
Nelsen said he’d like to see a CarMax in Visalia, but not at that location. He felt that CarMax would be getting “favored nation status” if the city council overturned the planning commission’s decision. He was apprehensive about how the city would say no to the next dealership after allowing CarMax to locate in the Mooney retail zone.
Nelsen was also skeptical about CarMax’ ability to increase the used car market. He said there are only so many people who buy used cars, and CarMax would cannibalize business from the local family owned dealerships.
Link reminded everyone that customers can buy a car at Costco, which is located in the Mooney retail zone. He asked if the city council had plans on rescinding that decision?
He mused that the retail world is not the same as it was in 2015 when Visalia updated their last General Plan. While he was in favor of CarMax locating at the Visalia Parkway Shopping Center, he was ultimately voted down 3-2.