CarMax Eyes a Lakeland Site Near I-4 and U.S. 98

poposed carmax siteCarMax, a nationwide retailer of late-model used cars with a no-haggle approach, may open its first Polk County dealership on a now-vacant lot on U.S. 98 just south of Interstate 4.

To accommodate a car dealership, the 6.13-acre parcel at 3223 N. U.S. 98 would need to be rezoned from commercial highway use to planned unit development. Petitioner Vanessa Mesell, as Center Points Solutions, LLC, already has positive recommendations for that change from the Lakeland Planning and Zoning Board  and from city staff.

From the 1970s until around 2005, the site was home to the Crossroads Motor Lodge and restaurant, which was razed about a decade ago by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency after a history of code violations.

“CarMax has been looking for the last couple of years for a location on the I-4 corridor,” Matthew Lyons, the city’s principal planner in development review and zoning, told city commissioners during a workshop session on Friday morning. “They are not a typical used-car lot like you see around Polk County.”

A staff analysis described CarMax as “a nationwide retailer of used cars with a business model based on sales of late-model, low-mileage vehicles, no more than six years in age, combined with a customer-oriented sales approach that offers consumers a ‘no-haggle’ stress-free, buying experience.”

The dealership would be visible from U.S. 98, separated by a short kickwall and landscaping; however the only access would be off Pyramid Parkway on the west side of the dealership.

The Florida Department of Transportation built Pyramid Parkway about 15 years ago during an I-4 reconstruction project to provide access between U.S. 98 and Florida Avenue via West Robson Street.

The dealership’s conceptual site plan shows a 7,590-square-foot building for sales and vehicle maintenance, the capacity to store 185 vehicles and a stormwater retention pond.

Lyons said efforts have been made to allay concerns about increased traffic that were raised by a couple of Robson Street residents during a Planning and Zoning Board hearing.

The current zoning would allow more intense uses, such as a fast food restaurant, and the potential for heavier traffic than the relatively lighter use of the dealership, Lyons said. And under the special provisions of the planned development, test driving of vehicles would be prohibited on Robson Street, he said.

Robson Street already is designated as a collector street and improvements have been made in recent years to provide sidewalks, including to nearby North Lakeland Elementary School, according to city planning manager Tersea Maio.

Chuck Barmby, the city’s transportation and development planner, told commissioners that MSF Land, LLC, the owners of the shopping center immediately to the south, are concerned about retaining neighborhood access to Pyramid Parkway. The busy shopping center houses Just Move North Lakeland, Citi Trends, Beall’s Outlet and Brasa Latina, among other businesses.

Barmby said that shopping center customers have had informal access since the 1970s-era motel was demolished a decade ago, but there is no formal roadway or drive.

He said the city has asked the two property owners to work out cross access that would allow neighborhood access to the shopping center with a driveway onto Robson Street.

People who live in the neighborhood would already be familiar with how to get around to the back of the shopping center but the owners could also put up internal signs, Barmby said.

“We believe CarMax is satisfied but the shopping center is not,” Barmby said. “However, we believe this is a good middle ground.”

On Monday, CarMax starts a two-part approval process through the City Commission on the rezoning request. A public hearing will be held during the March 18 City Commission meeting.

Currently the CarMax dealerships closest to Lakeland are in Tampa, Clearwater and Orlando.

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