Fort Myers City Council targets crowded used car lots

FORT MYERS, Fla. From flags, to signs, to giant smiley faces, curb appeal means everything for small used car lot owners.

But for the city of Fort Myers, they don’t provide the aesthetics they want.

“The cars are crammed onto the lot with very little room for any kind of landscaping,” said Steve Belden, the city’s director of community development.

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There are 81 used auto dealers operating in the city, most on Palm Beach Boulevard and Fowler Street.

Of those, 40 are less than half an acre in size, leaving no room for parking, much less landscaping. City Council will soon vote on ways to clear space.

“We’re not trying to put anybody out of business,” Mayor Randy Henderson said. “Council’s interest is curb appeal, improving the quality of our city.”

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Existing rules mandate a 1-foot setback from the right of way, and one row of shrubs.

But compliance has proven difficult.

“That’s how we do business, that’s how we get our customers,” said Luz Merrill, owner of L.A. Great Auto Sales. “People are at a red light and they stop and they see the car and they turn back around. And that’s how we keep our business going.”

The city is seeking to provide more landscaping regulations and enforce them. It’s also considering an update to the land development code in the future to control where new dealerships spring up.