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CAR DEALER CRIES FOUL OVER TRAILER

SHARE CAR DEALER CRIES FOUL OVER TRAILER

Car dealer Chris Page says neighbors are OK, but he draws the line at mobile homes.

Page is taking exception to a city nod to let car-sales mogul Ken Garff move into the mostly empty 55-acre Utah Auto Mall with nothing more than a brace of used cars and an office in a trailer.It's not fair, says Page, who had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a building, a parking lot, lights and signs to meet the auto mall's strict covenants before he could become an occupant.

"I just don't think I want a trailer with a Porta-Potty out back butting up against my place," said Page, owner of Riverton Chevrolet-Geo-Oldsmobile, which opened 11/2 years ago as the mall's first big tenant. "It'll hurt my investment in the place, and it'll hurt the overall quality of the area."

In an effort to lure dealerships, the city two years ago paved the wide streets that run through what not so long ago was a drowsy pasture southeast of I-15 and 10600 South. It paid for curb, gutter and street lights and heavily promoted it as Utah's next big car-sales venue.

Riverton Motors was the first to bite, followed by Merrill Motors, a used-car dealership. But nobody else has taken the "leap of faith," as Page calls it, though Garff's company, exclusive Utah dealer for high-dollar brands like Mercedes, Jaguar and Saab, appears hungry for a toehold, even if it's a noncommittal one.

Robert H. Garff, spokesman for the company, couldn't be reached for comment this week, but Byron Jorgenson, the city's chief administrative officer, says Garff hopes to establish a beachhead in Sandy while it waits for a car manufacturer to award it another franchise.

When - and if - it gets the franchise, said Jorgenson, the city would require Garff to put in the same kind of money Page has spent.

The Planning Commission recently approved a conditional-use permit that would allow Garff to start a lot for the time being with little more than a trailer and a stable of autos. But Page, who sits on the privately owned auto mall's "architectural review" board, is opposed to it unless it's clear exactly when construction on a real office would begin and what would happen in the event Garff didn't make good on his promise to build an upscale car lot.

Jorgenson and Page said a compromise is in the works, though the city is leaning toward giving Garff the benefit of the doubt for now. City Planner George Shaw says City Hall is sympathetic to Garff's situation mostly because it hopes it will trigger the kind of development that has been long-touted but slow in coming.

"We've got to get it off the ground, get people in there," he said. "It would be to everybody's benefit, including the competition's."

Page, a Riverton third-generation car dealer, moved the family operation to Sandy on a gamble, hoping the new site's exposure to the 60,000-plus vehicles that traverse the interstate daily would be a boon to business.

The state's robust economy helped and low interest rates had an effect, but Page attributes the move to much of his franchise's new success. His staff of three or four years ago has doubled from 35 people, and monthly sales have jumped from $1 million to $3 million.

Jorgenson noted that Page has a right to appeal the Garff conditional-use permit to the City Council, but Page says he'd prefer working things out more informally.

He said he might be able to stand a next-door trailer for a year but that he wants some commitments in writing from the Garffs, whose company he says is up to the auto mall's standards.

"The Garffs," he said, "are very quality people."