Former Car Dealership To Be New Home Of Church, Auto Repair Shop

February 7, 2019

DICKSON CITY — The former Gibbons Ford on Main Street is set to be the home of a church and an auto body repair shop following zoning hearings Wednesday.

The Zoning Hearing Board voted 3-0 to grant a special exception allowing the Cornerstone Alliance Church to move into the former Ford dealership’s vacant showroom at 938 Main St. The board again voted unanimously to grant a variance allowing Vienna, Virginia-based Cherner Development Group to convert the dealership’s former service center into an auto body repair shop and paint shop, which will be the new home of a Caliber Collision location.

The land on Main Street has been vacant for about three years since Gibbons Ford moved into its new location on Viewmont Drive.

Both Cornerstone and Cherner had agreements in place to purchase the properties contingent on approval by the Zoning Hearing Board. The locations are zoned for general commercial use.

A collision repair center is considered major repair work, which is not permitted in general commercial zoning.

Churches are considered special exceptions that need approval in nearly every zoning district in Dickson City.

Nestor Soto, the pastor of the church, explained that they selected the location because it is wheelchair accessible and its bathrooms are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The showroom location also gives the church room to grow, he said.

However, the borough’s Planning Commission recommended that the board deny the special exception, citing the borough’s zoning ordinance that states that “the use is compatible with the borough’s master plan.”

Planning Commission Chairman Mike Fedorka said the borough hoped to build a six-story, mixed-use building on the Gibbons Ford property that would be a starting point for its multimillion-dollar Main Street Revitalization Project, and the church would prevent that.

“This kills me,” he said, explaining he didn’t want to object to the church, but the property is on a major corridor through the borough that sees upwards of 20,000 vehicles each day. The property would have had both businesses and high-end apartments, and the borough had received interest from developers, he said. The six-story building would encompass both the Cherner and Cornerstone locations.

Attorney Frank Marcin, who represented the Cornerstone, asserted churches are protected uses, so it is irrelevant whether the proposed use goes against the master plan. He also pointed out that the property was vacant for three years, and plans for the six-story building could fall through.

Following the hearing, Soto said he hopes to move into the showroom in about two months.

“We want to be a part of revitalizing Dickson City,” he said.

The commission also initially objected to the body shop out of concerns of tractor-trailer traffic to the facility, but Fedorka retracted the objection after Jonathan Ackaoui, Cherner’s vice president of acquisitions and business development, and architect Bret Flory said that would not be the case.

Ackaoui said they plan to invest $2.155 million into the location, which includes purchasing the property for $925,000. The 20,000-square-foot center would create between 15 to 25 jobs, he said. Caliber would be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Ackaoui added that the church could use their parking lot on Sundays. He hopes to open Caliber by the end of the year.

Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Fred Kohl called it a “win-win” with the locations, pointing to the fact that they are already working together with shared parking.

“We think both of these things are improvements for the town,” he said.

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