Council supports Lynnway auto auction

January 14, 2012
By Jeff McMenemy/The Daily Item

City officials - including several who a year ago said the waterfront isn't a good location for an auto auction business - defended their support of a new proposal to put a different auto auction there.

"What I see is a vacant lot, not being used," Ward 6 City Councilor Peter Capano said of the proposed auto auction site on the Lynnway. "He's talking about adding 200 to 250 jobs, and they might not be the best jobs, but they're jobs."

Kenneth Carpi, who owns multiple properties on both sides of the Lynnway, according to his attorney and city records, wants to open an auto auction business on property he owns on the waterfront, which had been the site of Lynnway Auto Auction before it closed at the beginning of last year.

The vacant Lynnway Auto Auction, 732R Lynnway, Lynn. (Item Photo / Owen O'Rourke)
The vacant Lynnway Auto Auction, 732R Lynnway, Lynn. (Item Photo / Owen O'Rourke)

Capano, who represents the ward where Carpi wants to open the new auto auction business, said in April 2010 in a Daily Item story when the former business announced it was leaving, "I wouldn't say this is fortunate, but it's good in a way because I'm sure there will be another use for that spot that is consistent with the waterfront plan."

Capano said he supports this latest auto auction proposal because if Carpi's license is approved, he will have to reapply every year, giving the city the control it needs should a developer come in with a multimillion dollar upscale plan to redevelop the waterfront.

He stressed that his support for the proposal does not mean he believes the auto auction is "my vision for the waterfront," but rather a temporary solution that would bring much-needed jobs to the city.

But James M. Cowdell, the Executive Director of the Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn, whose main responsibility is to help develop the Lynn waterfront, said Friday allowing an auto auction to open there "hinders and it doesn't help" that effort.

"So, what we're trying to do is change the image of Lynn" so developers will want to build on the waterfront, Cowdell said. "How does an auto auction change that image at all? Our message is we can do much better than that."

Cowdell believes that council support of the new auto auction violates a pledge they made when they unanimously approved the Waterfront Development Plan in 2007 to resist the temptation to allow businesses on the waterfront that aren't consistent with the plan for mixed-use development there.

"My position is consistent with the presentation I gave in 2007. That blueprint that was adopted clearly calls for a different type of use on the Lynnway," Cowdell said. "You can't make exceptions. Once you start making exceptions, now you don't have that plan."

"We only have one shot of doing this and we have to do it right," he added.

The type of mixed-use development that the master plan calls for includes a combination of residential and retail, and is also zoned for a hotel, Cowdell said.

Instead of opening another auto auction business, Cowdell wants to work with Carpi to help him develop the land he owns with something that fits the master plan.

"There's a lot of balls in the air that we're juggling right now. We're watching very closely about a casino potentially opening there (in Revere at Suffolk Downs) ..." Cowdell said. "I was surprised (about the support for the proposal). It definitely is not a plus. When you're trying to put a multimillion dollar development there, you don't want to sell condos when you have an auto auction next door."

Carpi also promised to drop a lawsuit he filed against the city when the power lines were moved to clear development space on the waterfront and some were put on his property, his lawyer, Tom Demakis of Lynn said, if the city approves the license for the auto auction.

Cowdell said city officials shouldn't be worried about the lawsuit.

"I'm not an attorney, but it's a frivolous lawsuit," Cowdell said. "To use it as leverage makes me laugh. I just don't buy that argument."

Still, Capano doesn't believe the new auto auction will ultimately hurt the development of the waterfront, and is relying on Carpi's business acumen to convince him to make the right decision when the time comes.

"It's (based) on the assumption that he would not pass up a chance to be involved in a multi-million dollar development in order to save a small-time operation," Capano told The Daily Item Thursday. "I don't see that happening."

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said Friday she too supports the proposed licensing of the new auto auction, but doubts it will impact the development the city is hoping for.

"I don't see how the auto auction being present with two other pieces of land, the O'Donnell property and the (former) Beacon Chevrolet property on either end of the waterfront, would hurt long-term development," Kennedy said.

Plus, the city needs the jobs, she said.

"Right now I'm just happy we have the jobs because the economy hasn't rebounded the way we hoped it would," Kennedy said.

Kennedy is scheduled to meet with Carpi's attorney sometime this month to work out any needed details about the licensing, but stressed like Capano that if the auto auction does get a license, it will have to be renewed every year.

"It's not something that's going to become a permanent fixture on the waterfront," Kennedy said.

But the business will bring jobs and city revenue, she said.

"Nobody is banging down our doors looking to develop it (the waterfront)," Kennedy said. "It's not just a Lynn problem, it's a nationwide problem. Development has really slowed down."

Asked about the long-term prospects to develop the waterfront, Kennedy said, "I think a lot of the timing depends on the casino vote. If in fact Suffolk Downs is awarded a casino, it gives our economic development team a great selling point. We could be one of the closest hotels to the casino and we don't have a hotel now. That's a big piece of the puzzle."

Demakis, Carpi's attorney, said his client will close or move the auto auction business if a major development proposal is made.

"Nobody more than Ken would like to see the waterfront developed in a way that's consistent with the waterfront development plan," Demakis said.

Demakis told city officials earlier this week that if the business opens, it will employ 200 to 250 people. He told the Daily Item Thursday about 125-150 of those will be full-time jobs.

He also stressed that Carpi's lawsuit against the city and his desire to open the auto auction business are "separate issues."

"When he hired me to explore the possibility of him getting the auction operation, I was getting some feedback that certain people were upset about the lawsuit," Demakis said. "He told me, 'this (the auto auction) is more important to me.' Ken wants to do the right thing for the city."

An auto auction is the perfect business for the 6.23-acre parcel because it's so easy to dismantle, Demakis said.

That's the beauty of this. I think it's the perfect location for the auction business," he said.

Darren Cyr, the Ward 3 City Councilor, said he has been hearing about plans to develop the Lynn waterfront almost as long as he's been alive. He believes if Carpi is given a license, it should be attached with a stipulation that he'll move the business if necessary.

"I can understand where Carpi is coming from," Cyr said Thursday. "He's got this huge amount of land not doing anything for him. He's got to do something with it."

Cyr also noted that he would support taking the land by eminent domain if necessary.

"If we're in the middle of trying to do a development, as a last resort, of course I would support it," Cyr said. "I would try to go down all other avenues first though."

Asked about Carpi's offer to drop the lawsuit while trying to get the license, Cyr said, "That's the way the business world is. He's looking for something, we're looking for something, you have compromises."

James Marsh, the director of Lynn's Office of Economic and Community Development, said Thursday the auto auction is "not something that I wanted to see down there."

But he said he will try to work with Carpi on the project because the business does not need to erect any new buildings and the license will be for only one year.

"It's tough to forgo these 250 jobs, but eventually you have to draw a line in the sand," Marsh said.

City Councilor at large Daniel Cahill calls the auto auction the "perfect remedy and business activity in that area with zero impact to future development."

He also discounts the argument that a developer would be dissuaded from putting in a major development on Lynn's waterfront because an auto auction is already there.

"If a developer is going to spend multi-millions of dollars, a developer will look at access, they'll look at infrastructure, but developers don't show up and look at this ugly auto auction and say, 'I'm not going to build a building there,'" Cahill said.

Leslie Gould, executive director of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, said in an e-mail statement, "The Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce supports business growth and job expansion. The Carpi family has a long history of doing business in Lynn and if the auto auction creates jobs and brings consumers into the city, then that's a positive. Regarding its location, as the waterfront gets developed, that's when all parties must work together to make sure another viable location for that business is found within the city. The rising tide helps all boats and this is no exception."

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