Brittain move stuck in park

EAST PALESTINE – The family-owned dealership on East Martin Street targeted for relocation to state Route 14 will remain on East Martin.

Village Solicitor Shirley Smith told Village Council on Monday they needed to make a decision regarding the project.

“It doesn’t look like it’s feasible to move forward at this point,” she said.

The village became involved at the close of 2011 after Brittain Motors owner Tom Brittain requested the property be annexed into East Palestine in order to keep his business in town.

He said that doing so would improve the village’s tax base and create and retain jobs.

The roughly 10 acres along state Route 14 in Unity Township is owned by Brittain and is not being used for anything at this point.

The dealership has operated on East Martin Street since 1925 and the move to state Route 14 was to meet a General Motors requirement that all dealerships be relocated or refurbished.

Council approved the annexation and also approved seeking public funding to extend water and sewer service to the site. The extension was last estimated to cost around $740,000, and the village would have been eligible for grant funding on the basis that the project would create and retain jobs.

The project earned the approval of county commissioners last year as well, but was halted because of a state franchise law prohibiting dealerships from relocating within 10 miles of another dealership offering the same line of automobiles without that dealership’s approval.

Brittain was notified in June 2012 that Dave Flynn, owner of Columbiana Buick-Cadillac-Chevrolet Co., would not sign off on the move.

Since then village officials have been looking for other ways to move the project forward, but Smith said that it doesn’t seem to be possible.

Brittain said on Monday he continues to hope he can relocate to state Route 14, but that won’t happen until approval is granted from the Columbiana dealership.

“There’s nothing I can do about that at this point. I will continue to hope that it will be resolved,” he said.

Meeting the GM requirement has also not been resolved yet, he said.

Either way, he thinks the village should continue working to move utilities to state Route 14, with or without him.

“I’d love to see the whole city limits moved north … I think it’s the greatest thing in the world for East Palestine,” he said.

But extending utilities to that area isn’t possible without grant funding, which is something that would have been available as long as Brittain Motors was involved.

Councilman Alan Cohen said, and Finance Director Traci Thompson confirmed, that the village just doesn’t have the money to provide those services to that area on its own.

“Do we want to be out on state Route 14? Sure. Is it something that is probably going to happen? I don’t know,” he said.

Cohen added that bringing outside property into town is also difficult when the affected residents don’t approve.

“Last spring or summer we had a discussion on the annexation issue and a majority of people don’t want to be annexed,” he said.

Council approved a first reading of legislation that could cancel the project. Two more readings are required before a vote.

Council will then need to repeal the previous legislation allowing the utility extension. That legislation was passed on March 12, 2012, Smith said.