Car lot finally ready to open

Dealer ran afoul of Durham zoning

Staff WriterMay 11, 2005 

Brace yourself for the grand opening extravaganza.

After months of ads bemoaning delays in the move to the new Mark Jacobson Toyota, the ubiquitous TV pitchman and Durham dealership owner has received permission to occupy his gleaming glass auto palace perched on a rise overlooking U.S. 15-501.

Jacobson had originally planned a grand opening celebration for the week before Christmas, but in late December city inspectors found zoning violations for 66 light poles that were too tall and situated in the wrong places, the removal of big trees that were supposed to stay and the erection of a towering, unapproved flagpole.

Jacobson was forced to file a new site plan with the city and to lower the height of the poles and plant new saplings with a cumulative diameter equal to the mature trees that were cut. The reworked drawings filed by the dealership included the flagpole and a lighting plan that reflected the reality of the spacious sales lot.

The final holdup was a requirement to build a 500-foot-long, 8-foot-tall wall at the back of the dealership to shield homes along Landsbury Drive from noise and bright lights some residents compared to a close encounter of the third kind.

Workers put the finishing touches on the new wall Tuesday. Clad in brick and bonded at an estimated construction cost of $162,000, the barrier looked sturdy enough to withstand a Yankee artillery barrage.

Jacobson did not return calls Tuesday inquiring about his plans, but recent TV commercials have played up the lengthy delay moving out of the old dealership, just across the road from the new lot, as a "last chance" opportunity for Toyota buyers to save thousands and to pick up some used office furniture. First there was a sale, then the final sale and then the final, final sale.

"I need your help to get me out of this mess," Jacobson pleads to prospective customers as he walks through an empty showroom in his latest 30-second spot. "My pain is your gain!"

Frank Duke, the city-county planning director, said the controversy over the case had led to a jump in the number of calls from residents with complaints about construction projects near their homes. As a result, the proposed city budget includes money to hire an additional site plan inspector next year.

"We've been swamped, and we just couldn't keep up at the current staffing level," Duke said, adding that he is relieved the six-month ordeal with Toyota of Durham appears to be over. "I never thought this project would end."

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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