The Coastal Star

Gulf Stream: 11th-hour talks bring peace between Gunther Volvo and neighbors

By Steve Plunkett
    A proposed three-story garage that Place Au Soleil feared would bring unwelcome noise and light will instead be a concrete reminder of good-neighborliness.
    Eleventh-hour negotiations between Gulf Stream and Gunther Volvo resulted in a series of concessions just before Delray Beach’s Site Plan Review and Appearance Board gave the project its final OK.
    Four members of the public commented at the May 10 SPRAB meeting — Gulf Stream Mayor Scott Morgan, Place Au Soleil Homeowners Association President Chet Snavely, resident Julio Martinez and Ann Bennett, a Place Au Soleil resident and vice president of the town’s Civic Association. All were in favor.
    “I figure that we are going to be looking at this garage for the next 50 to 100 years, so it was important to us that we get a project that was digestible. I think, I hope that we’ve gotten to that point,” Snavely said.
    How the car dealership will control lights on the garage’s upper level, where its employees will park, led to the breakthrough of using motion sensors. Gunther lawyer Matthew Scott said it was too soon to say whether such devices would do the job.
    “We just had an aha moment about motion sensors today,” he told the review board.
    If the sensors will not work or if Delray Beach police do not approve the idea, Gunther will turn off half of the top-level lights at 9 p.m. and the remainder at 10. Delray Beach code would have allowed the lights to stay on until 11.
    Morgan, who called Gunther’s efforts “very reasonable,” sent a letter to town residents detailing changes the dealership would make. Among them:
    • Adding black honeycomb grilles to openings in the walls to cut noise and light, and recessing interior lights in the ceilings.
    • Moving the site for offloading vehicles from the east side of the property, next to Place Au Soleil, to the south side and restricting offloading to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. (“There will be no weekend delivery and it will not be at night,” Scott told the board.)
    • Adding a dense tree line to the 20 existing oaks on the east property line.
    • Making the perimeter berm higher and adding a wall on top, effectively making a 10-foot sound barrier.
    • Buying new car washing equipment designed to minimize noise and putting it inside the garage to make it even quieter.
    • Relocating the trash bin from the east side to the south side.
    • Not installing a public-address system outdoors.
    Review board member Linda Purdo-Enochs complimented both sides “for working together and finding a happy medium.”
    Gunther will also plant three more sabal palms at the southeast corner of the garage to screen it from the Delray Preserve apartment complex.
    The dealership’s current showroom is showing signs of age, Scott said. “It’s not exciting. It’s not fresh,” he said.
    Volvo is rebranding itself to get away from a historical emphasis on safety and become cool, Scott said. Gunther’s dated furniture inside will be replaced with a modern, warm, Scandinavian design.
    Under Delray Beach’s comprehensive plan, auto dealerships are “specifically directed” to the east side of Federal Highway north of Delray Preserve, city senior planner Amy Alvarez said. The garage, which will be 65 feet away from Place Au Soleil at its closest, could have been 10 feet away and met code, Scott said.
    Fort Lauderdale-based Gunther paid AutoNation $13.5 million in 2012 for the Volvo and neighboring Volkswagen dealerships.
Snavely said letters he and the HOA overnighted to Joseph “Jay” Gunther Jr. and Joseph Gunther III were game changers. The older Gunther emailed back that he wanted “to work with you folks. You are our neighbors,” Snavely said.
    Relations between the car lot and Gulf Stream were less cordial in the months leading to the garage-showroom’s OK.
    As recently as mid-April, Snavely said the dealership was intransigent. “Volvo was not interested in spending any money for any redesign,” he said.

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