How To Save the Neighborhood

Let's say you've got a serious zoning problem. Here's what you do: Show up at county hall with armed with allies and solid arguments. Surely your elected representatives will do the right thing.

Mary Williams remembers the day Ed Williamson told her he intended to purchase the vacant lot near her Kendall home and move his Cadillac dealership there. It was a June day in 1997. Williams says her recollection is clear because she was dumbfounded by the prominent businessman's pronouncement.

First, she was familiar with the tract he was going to buy on the corner of South Dixie Highway and 104th Street. It was very small for a car dealership, a little more than two acres. Second, the traffic is horrendous at that intersection, which is where the Palmetto Expressway feeds into South Dixie. Adding a car lot there would only exacerbate the congestion.

Most important, Williams knew that the county's comprehensive master development plan -- the guide by which all land in the county should be developed -- recommends against locating an auto dealership on that type of lot because a portion of it was zoned for residential use only. She was also aware the remainder of the property was zoned industrial, and that specific county ordinances bar car dealerships on industrial lots smaller than three acres, or operating an auto repair shop inside a dealership if it is within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood. Williamson's parcel failed on both counts.

"When he told me his plans," Williams recalls, "I wasn't really worried because I knew the idea of putting a car dealership on this dinky piece of property was ludicrous."

While 58-year-old housewives typically aren't conversant in arcane county zoning codes, Williams is far from typical. For one thing, she is president of the Continental Park Homeowners Association; for another, she has embraced her responsibilities with a seriousness and devotion rare even among elected officials. For the past 22 years Williams has lived in this middle-class community of single-family homes and townhouses, and she well knew that any development on that particular parcel would have a significant impact on her neighbors.

During that telephone conversation last year, Williams was genuinely concerned that the auto magnate might not be aware of the various zoning restrictions on the site, and so she counseled him to be careful, otherwise he might end up being stuck with an expensive piece of unusable property.

"'Oh, well, that's all right,'" she recalls Williamson responding. "I've already talked to the commissioner and she's going to take care of the zoning for us. She's going to help us with the code."

Ed Williamson didn't identify the commissioner by name, but because he used the word she, Mary Williams assumed he was referring to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, in whose district the lot was located. But the notion that Sorenson would grease the skids for some arrogant car dealer was so ridiculous Williams simply laughed into the phone. "I knew Katy Sorenson would never fix the code for anybody," she says. "Katy Sorenson is too straight to do something like that."

Just to be safe, though, Williams promptly called Sorenson's office and spoke to her chief of staff, Mindy McNichol, who assured her that Sorenson had no intention of rewriting county codes as a favor to a lone car dealer. That was good enough for Mary Williams. She put the matter behind her.

And then it happened.
Five months later, on November 4, 1997, ordinance number 97-197 was introduced before the Miami-Dade County Commission. The ordinance, which passed easily, reduced the minimum number of acres required for a car dealership from three to two on industrially zoned land. The measure also allowed auto dealers to house repair shops alongside residential neighborhoods, eliminating the previous requirement that such facilities be at least 500 feet from people's homes. The ordinance never mentioned Williamson Cadillac or the vacant lot at 104th Street and South Dixie Highway; it simply changed the countywide zoning code that affects more than one million residents in the unincorporated portions of Miami-Dade.

And as Williamson predicted, the ordinance was indeed introduced by a woman: Gwen Margolis, commission chairwoman.

So did Williamson simply ask Margolis to sponsor the ordinance? "I have never had a conversation with Ed Williamson regarding that property," Margolis says emphatically. "Not at all." She insists that Williamson had "absolutely nothing" to do with her decision to initiate an ordinance changing the zoning requirements for automobile dealerships. It was, she claims, simply a coincidence.

Not according to Ed Williamson.
"Absolutely I talked to Commissioner Margolis," he affirmed by telephone while vacationing in the mountains of western Canada. Williamson went on to explain how he maneuvered to get the zoning change. "We wanted to put [the dealership] on that site, so we talked to the commissioner," he said. "I've known her for several years." In fact, he added, he has regularly contributed to her campaigns, dating back to her days in the Florida Senate. "I met with her and explained our situation," he elaborated. "I asked if she would consider dropping the acreage requirement from three to two acres and she said she would."

Of course she would. After all, who could say no to Ed Williamson? A bona fide mover and shaker in Miami-Dade's business community, Williamson was recently named co-chairman of the Non-Group, the legendary coterie of influential Miami business and civic leaders. He is also a former president of the Orange Bowl Committee and sits on the board of trustees for the University of Miami.

The ordinance Margolis introduced was not written by a member of her staff -- or by any other county employee, for that matter. Rather, it was created by Williamson's hired gun, land-use attorney Jeffrey Bercow. "I drafted it on behalf of Williamson and I lobbied for it," Bercow declares candidly. "I spoke to some commissioners and their staffs. I don't recall who." Did Bercow speak with Margolis? "I believe Ed talked to her," he replies.

One person he is certain he did not talk to is Katy Sorenson. "I was sure she would be opposed to it," Bercow recalls. "Katy Sorenson has never been in favor of anything I've worked on, and I didn't see why this would be the exception."

It is not so difficult to understand why Sorenson would generally oppose Bercow. He has earned a well-deserved reputation as a developer's lobbyist, one of the black knights of zoning law who preys on residential neighborhoods. In the past, he's represented the Robbie family (against homeowners surrounding their stadium), the Graham Companies (against homeowners in Miami Lakes), and Sportacres Development (against homeowners in northwest Dade).

When the City of Aventura tried to curb unwanted noise by restricting the hours construction companies could operate, Bercow represented three different firms opposing the measure. When the county commission last year passed an ordinance requiring that developers seeking zoning variances provide site plans so neighbors could see precisely how a development would affect them, Bercow successfully led the charge to have Mayor Alex Penelas veto it.

A prodigious campaign fundraiser, Bercow specializes in exploiting not only his knowledge of the system and his political contacts, but the naivete of homeowners as well.

Bercow, however, wasn't the only lobbyist on the Williamson team. The businessman also acknowledges hiring Ric Sisser, a man who has virtually carved a lobbying career out of his close ties to Gwen Margolis. "He helped guide me through the process," Williamson says of the cigar-chomping Sisser.

Thanks to Sisser's "guidance" and Bercow's lobbying, the Margolis ordinance took barely ten minutes to breeze through the commission and win approval. Commissioner Natacha Millan, who was absent that day, had asked that the vote be postponed until she returned but Margolis refused, insisting that the item be taken up without delay.

The ordinance caught Mary Williams and her Kendall neighbors by surprise. Even Katy Sorenson concedes that when the matter came before the commission last November, she didn't realize it was written explicitly for Williamson Cadillac. "I thought something fishy was going on," Sorenson recounts. "I had heard during the meeting that it might have something to do with something in my district, but I didn't know what."

Sorenson opposed Margolis's ordinance anyway. "Regardless of who or what was behind it," she says, "I didn't think it was good public policy." Commissioners Betty Ferguson and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla also voted against it. Commissioners Jimmy Morales, Javier Souto, Dennis Moss, and James Burke joined Margolis in voting for the change to the zoning codes.

For his part, Ed Williamson was apparently so confident Margolis would deliver those zoning changes that he bought the property on July 7, 1997 -- four months before the commission chairwoman's ordinance was passed. He paid $2.6 million for the 2.3-acre site.

Williamson had just one hurdle left. Because a section of the property was zoned for residential use only, he would need to petition the county for a change in the zoning on that portion of the land, a process that required public hearings.

This time, though, Mary Williams and her neighbors promised they'd be waiting for him.

Williams's living room resembles the command and control center of a military campaign. On several chairs sit stacks of papers, including copies of Ed Williamson's application for a zoning variance and the neighborhood's response. In a corner are copies of petitions that have been circulated outside local supermarkets in opposition to the proposed dealership. Spread out over a coffee table in the center of the room are maps of the neighborhood and site plans for a new Williamson Cadillac. "My husband thinks I'm a little crazy," Williams allows. "I think he'd prefer it if I got all this stuff out of here."

Ever since the commission passed Margolis's ordinance last year, residents in the area have been meeting regularly at Williams's home to plot strategy. There are actually two communities bordering the proposed car dealership: Dadeland Cove, a 300-home subdivision; and Continental Park, with more than 800 homes. At the center of these neighborhoods, which stretch from South Dixie Highway to Galloway Road north of 104th Street, is Continental Park -- an eleven-acre green space with ball fields and tennis courts. "It's one of those old-fashioned neighborhoods," says Williams. "On most blocks, everybody knows everybody else. They tend to look out for each other."

Ed Williamson insists he is not an enemy and denies he is trying to ram anything down the community's throat. He notes that he has met with the area's homeowner groups and has modified his plans for the dealership. He believes those changes will lessen the negative impact car dealerships typically have on neighborhoods. "This is not going to be Kendall Toyota," he says derisively, referring to the behemoth car lot down the road on South Dixie Highway.

Williamson has agreed to restrict the height of his main building to 40 feet, even though under current zoning a developer can build a 100-foot-high office tower there. He has also agreed to use special lights and signs that, he claims, won't cast a glare over the neighborhood. Williamson will also be responsible for the cost of landscaping designed to shield the homes adjacent to the proposed dealership. He has hired a phalanx of experts, including a sound engineer who maintains that the new Williamson Cadillac would actually be good for the neighborhood because it would block the street noise now emanating from South Dixie Highway.

Williamson also argues that his dealership is far preferable to the myriad uses allowed for that site. Under existing county rules, a developer could place on the industrial portion of the property a brewery, a cement factory, a chicken slaughterhouse, a machine shop, a bottling plant, or a host of other undesirable businesses. "There are lots and lots of businesses that could have been dumped on this piece of property without any public hearing," Williamson says.

Responds Mary Williams: "If it is such a great use of the property and such a great deal for the neighbors, then you shouldn't have to go out and spend $25,000 on consultants to justify it."

Williamson, who confirms he has spent nearly $25,000 on attorneys, lobbyists, and experts to rationalize the merits of his proposal, did win over some residents -- most notably the board of directors of the Dadeland Cove Homeowners Association, whose members said they were impressed with the businessman's efforts to mitigate potential damage to the neighborhood.

But Betty Romeo, who is 61 years old and lives in Dadeland Cove, says she was disappointed when she heard that her board was supporting Williamson's proposal. "It made us furious," Romeo recalls, referring to her neighbors, "so that's when we started with the petitions." Romeo and neighborhood friends went from house to house throughout Dadeland Cove. Out of nearly 300 homes in the subdivision, residents in 179 of them signed her petition opposing Williamson Cadillac. Romeo also contacted Mary Williams, whom she had heard was also opposing the proposed dealership, and joined Williams's living-room strategy sessions.

The first public battle over the dealership took place before the area's community council, an elected body of seven people created to rule on neighborhood zoning issues. It came before the council this past March, and 75 neighborhood residents showed up to oppose the project. But attorney Jeffrey Bercow, who was overseeing Williamson's presentation, asked that the item be deferred. Council members granted the deferral, as they were obligated to do.

Williamson's proposal next appeared on the council's agenda in May. Nearly 100 residents showed up in opposition. Bercow again asked that the item be deferred, and again the council was obliged by law to grant his request. (Mary Williams says she has since learned that this is a common tactic used by zoning attorneys who represent developers against residential neighborhoods. They repeatedly postpone the hearing in hopes that residents will become frustrated and stop attending.)

When the community council met this past June, Williams and Romeo walked into the meeting room, on the south campus of Miami-Dade Community College, only to find the place packed with Williamson Cadillac employees. "This time most of our people couldn't even get into the room," Williams recalls. "Only about 25 or so made it inside."

In addition to producing a battery of paid experts to speak on behalf of his plans, Williamson also transformed a portion of the council meeting into a testimonial to his character. Jack Langer, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami, was summoned to the microphone. "I'm here speaking not about decibels or noise or speeding through neighborhoods," Langer began. "I'm here speaking on behalf of the good corporate citizen Williamson Cadillac has been to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami. I'm here in support of what they have done in and around the community and what they will continue to do."

According to an audio tape of the meeting, an unidentified councilmember replied sympathetically: "We all know Mr. Williamson's reputation."

Despite the objections of Williams and Romeo and their allies, the council voted to grant Williamson's request to rezone the entire parcel as industrial so he could build his auto dealership.

Blind-sided in November, frustrated by postponements in March and May, then feeling steamrolled in June, the residents who opposed Williamson Cadillac now realized they needed help. Mary Williams and others began contacting various attorneys who specialized in zoning matters. "The strange thing is," Williams observes, "there are very few zoning attorneys who want to represent neighborhoods and homeowners." It is far more lucrative, she notes, to cultivate a reputation as a developer's attorney.

When the neighbors finally found an attorney who would take their case, he demanded a $10,000 retainer just to appeal the community council's decision to the Miami-Dade County Commission. "This is beyond what simple people can afford to fight," says Karen Collins, a first-grade teacher who has lived in the neighborhood for 46 years.

Unable to come up with the large retainer, the neighbors decided to keep battling on their own. They gathered the necessary forms and filed an appeal. A few weeks later, on Tuesday, July 21, the matter went before the county commission.

On the day of the meeting, only about twenty residents made it to the commission chambers. Many more who opposed Ed Williamson had either been worn down by the protracted process or couldn't take time off from work. Those who did attend had organized their presentations ahead of time.

The neighbors got off to a rocky start, however. At the outset of the hearing, something unexpected happened: The county's planning director, Guillermo Olmedillo, announced that unless Williamson made certain changes to his proposal, the planning department would recommend that the commission side with the residents in opposing the car dealership.

This should have been very good news for the neighbors, but Mary Williams, who had been in the hospital a few days earlier and wasn't feeling well, became confused and thought Williamson was changing his proposal. She and some others in her group asked commissioners to defer the item so they could study the changes. Other members of her group, though, told her everything was fine and they should move ahead with the hearing.After conferring among themselves for a couple of minutes, the neighbors regrouped and told the commission they were ready to proceed.

In the meantime, however, several commissioners had begun joking about the neighbors' seeming disorganization. Commissioner Pedro Reboredo mocked them by twice calling out: "Who's on first?" Gwen Margolis could be heard laughing into her microphone.

"I'd like to apologize for the little bit of confusion here," said Elva Marin, another of the residents who had been designated to speak. "We are neighbors. We are trying to get through this process together. We apologize that we don't have representation here but we couldn't afford one."

Marin then proceeded to lay out for commissioners the reasons a car dealership was ill-suited to this piece of property. Among those in her group, she was uniquely qualified to do so: As she told commissioners, for the past ten years she has been a professional planner for the county. From 1990 through 1993, she served in the building and zoning department. Today she is a supervisor in the county's General Services Administration. Marin's arguments were cogent and probative.

First she noted the existing traffic problems. In addition to the Palmetto Expressway merging with South Dixie Highway at 104th Street, recently installed express-bus lanes run along the same north-south corridor. As a result, the system of traffic lights at that intersection is very complex and often backs up cars for blocks along 104th Street as they wait to turn onto South Dixie Highway. Because the only entrance to or exit from the proposed car dealership would be on 104th Street, the congestion would undoubtedly be made worse. In addition, cars leaving the dealership could only turn right, which would force drivers deeper into the neighborhood. If they wanted to get back to South Dixie Highway, they would have to make a U-turn somewhere along 104th Street.

Second, 104th Street is listed on county land-use maps as a "minor roadway," meaning it's a two-lane street, one in each direction. The county's zoning code states that entrances and exits for car dealerships must be along "major roadways," which are defined as being at least three lanes wide -- one in each direction and a center turning lane.

Third, she explained that car dealerships present a specific and potentially dangerous problem for any residential neighborhood: test drives. Despite Ed Williamson's promise to restrict all test drives to prescribed routes within the area, Marin predicted that Cadillac customers will be speeding through their streets -- many of which have no sidewalks. Neighborhood children, she added, walk and ride their bicycles to and from the two local elementary schools and Continental park.

Finally, Marin told Commissioners, the car dealership itself would adversely affect the neighborhood and degrade the quality of life there. Williamson's plans include a four-story showroom and garage, with rooftop parking for 171 cars. A separate two-story mechanics' area would house 30 repair bays. Marin noted that neighbors would be confronted with the sounds of pneumatic tools and revving engines.

A half-dozen neighbors followed Marin to the microphone. Several said they had a great deal of respect for Ed Williamson. "I'd like to stipulate that everybody here knows he's a good man and that he's good for the community," offered resident William Kennedy, referring to Williamson's work on behalf of local charities. "This has nothing to do with that. That's between him and God, and God is going to give him his reward for that. The problem here is this is not the place for this dealership to be located."

Betty Romeo then stood up and showed commissioners a crudely drawn map of her Dadeland Cove neighborhood, complete with red dots marking each of the homes whose occupants signed her petition against the dealership. "I hope you will take note of this and help us," implored Romeo, a great-grandmother who has lived in Miami all her life but who had never attended a county commission meeting.

"I have to tell you, I was a little nervous," she acknowledged afterward. She was also put off by the commissioners' discourteous behavior. "They were very rude," she said flatly. "I felt like they weren't paying any attention to us whatsoever. The commissioners were milling around and talking amongst themselves during our presentation. It was like their minds were already made up. The only person who was really interested in us was Katy Sorenson. She paid attention."

When the residents were finished, Jeffrey Bercow stepped forward to make his presentation, which included testimony from a number of experts whose fees were paid by Williamson. The power of money was most evident when the auto dealer's team played for commissioners an elaborate computer-generated video "tour" of what the proposed dealership would look like. It was dazzling. In contrast, the homeowners tried to give commissioners a sense of their neighborhood by driving through it with a shaky, hand-held camcorder.

The neighbors, however, were able to make an impact in other ways. Because zoning hearings are considered quasi-judicial proceedings, all witnesses are sworn in, and residents are permitted to cross-examine experts. One of those experts was former City of Miami planning director Jack Luft, who was paid by Williamson to testify that he believed placing a car dealership on this lot was reasonable and that it would have no ill effect on the neighborhood.

After Luft spoke, Karen Collins had two simple questions for him.
"When you were with the City of Miami, did you typically put residential zoning next to industrial?" she asked.

"No, we typically did not," Luft replied.
"Did you typically have car dealerships exit 100 percent of their traffic into small neighborhoods?"

"No, ma'am, we did not."
At another point during the hearing, Collins asked Williamson's architect about the height of the tallest building being proposed. She was trying to make the point that people on the roof of that building would be able to look down into the back yards and perhaps through the windows of nearby homes.

Bercow derailed the question. "Theoretically they could jump off the roof as well, but they are not going to," he said in a snide and condescending manner. Several commissioners responded with giggles.

Commissioners were not amused, though, when residents questioned the motives or the integrity of Williamson's witnesses. At one point Natacha Millan angrily chided one of the neighbors for his tone. Margolis chimed in that she found the residents' presentation "very tiresome."

Despite such obstacles, the residents still held out hope that their concerns would be taken seriously. "We are aware of the fact that there is tremendous pressure on the county staff and commissioners to facilitate the desires of influential community members," Collins tactfully noted in summary. "But the zoning rules are there to protect all members of the community, including the simple homeowner."

Now it was the commission's turn. Sorenson spoke first and argued that placing a car dealership on that lot would be a mistake. "I don't understand how a car dealership can go in there and have enough space to really exist without causing a big problem for that neighborhood," she asserted. "It's too small a piece of property."

Sorenson then proffered a motion to overturn the community council's decision and prohibit Williamson from placing a dealership on the site. Normally, if a commissioner asks that an item affecting his or her district be voted down -- as was the case here with Sorenson -- the other commissioners, as a matter of collegiality, willingly assent. Not this time.

After Sorenson's motion failed, Pedro Reboredo, who earlier had likened the residents to an Abbott and Costello skit, moved that the commission uphold the community council's decision. Margolis promptly seconded his motion. Disregarding the planning department's objections, commissioners with little debate voted and the residents were sent packing. Joining Reboredo and Margolis in favor of Williamson Cadillac were Miriam Alonso, Natacha Millan, Javier Souto, Dorrin Rolle, Dennis Moss, and Bruno Barreiro.

Sorenson and Commissioner Jimmy Morales voted against the zoning change. "I thought it looked pretty stacked from the outset," Sorenson recalls. "The Williamson people really had their act together. It had been very well orchestrated."

Ed Williamson, who had previously supported Sorenson and donated $500 to her re-election campaign earlier this year, now condemns the commissioner. "She proved to me during that meeting that either she wasn't paying attention or that she was only looking for votes in that neighborhood," he says angrily. "I thought what she did was dishonest."

In the wake of that meeting, Williamson donated $1000 to Sorenson's recent commission opponent Steve Sapp, and placed one of Sapp's large campaign signs on his current Kendall Drive dealership just prior to the election. Sorenson won handily anyway.

For Mary Williams, Betty Romeo, Karen Collins, William Kennedy, and the others who went to County Hall believing they had a strong case against Williamson Cadillac, the commission vote was a bitter lesson in local politics. "We feel so helpless," Williams laments.

Romeo recalls that after an earlier hearing, she had approached Ed Williamson and tried to talk to him. She was hopeful she might be able to persuade him to see things from her perspective. She reports his response: If she didn't want to run the risk of living next to an auto dealership, she shouldn't have purchased a house near property zoned for industrial uses. During the county commission meeting, Gwen Margolis had made a similar comment.

Not everyone, of course, can afford to buy a home in an exclusive community. Furthermore, when Romeo and her neighbors purchased their homes, car dealerships were prohibited from locating on that particular piece of property. But Williamson's connections to Margolis neatly eliminated that little problem. "It just shows how arrogant they are," snaps Mary Williams.

Up until three years ago, a county law prohibited anyone from putting a car dealership on property zoned for industrial uses -- regardless of the size of the parcel. That ordinance, however, was changed by none other than Gwen Margolis. Why? The commissioner freely admits she sponsored the change because "Bill Graham asked me to do him a favor."

Bill Graham is the brother of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and head of the Graham Companies, a development group with holdings throughout South Florida. Margolis recalls that Graham owned a piece of property in northwest Dade he hoped to sell to someone who wanted to open an AutoNation dealership. But the property Graham owned was zoned for industrial uses only, which under existing county laws excluded car dealerships.

So the wealthy businessman simply asked Margolis to rewrite the law. Bill Graham confirms Margolis's recollection, with the exception of one small detail. "It was a Saturn dealership," he corrects, not AutoNation.

Rewriting that ordinance, however, wasn't easy. A number of local business groups and law firms with interests in zoning matters objected to some of the proposed changes. Eventually a compromise was worked out and an ordinance was drafted. The author: Jeffrey Bercow.

Bercow claims that, in writing the 1996 ordinance, he wanted to set a standard for the minimum number of acres required for a car dealership. He decided on three. "I just picked a number out of the air," he shrugs. Which is why, he contends, his behind-the-scenes efforts a year later to change the ordinance again -- from three acres to two in order to accommodate Williamson's needs -- was no big deal.

Interviewed several weeks after the commission vote, Gwen Margolis still doesn't know what all the fuss is about. She believes the site on 104th Street and South Dixie Highway is perfect for a dealership. "It seems like the most logical place in the county to have one," she says.

Ed Williamson agrees. He says he scouted numerous locations before settling on that particular parcel as the place to relocate his Cadillac dealership. Which raises a question that was never addressed at all during the various public hearings: Why is he moving? His current dealership at 7250 North Kendall Dr. has been doing well for many years. According to Williamson, it is the thirteenth-largest Cadillac dealership in the nation. So why move? Why create such problems for residents of Continental Park and Dadeland Cove?

Money, of course.
Williamson explains that he has an irresistible offer from a private developer to buy his Kendall Drive property and turn it into an entertainment complex, complete with shops, restaurants, and movie theaters. He's already signed a contract to sell the land, though he refuses to disclose the sale price. And under a state law designed to protect the owners of franchise businesses, he can only move his dealership within a two-mile radius of its existing location. Turns out there weren't many options available to Williamson. "Certainly I would have liked more than two acres," he says, "but this was one of the only sites we could move to."

Williamson's good fortune, however, continues to be the neighboring residents' bad luck. Although the commission vote left them demoralized, Mary Williams and her neighbors have decided to press on. Their only remaining hope is to challenge the commission's decision in state court, and to that end they have raised enough money to hire an attorney, Tony O'Donnell.

"I think they have done an excellent job," O'Donnell says. "Their arguments were sound and well thought out, and they managed to place things on the record that will be very useful on appeal." O'Donnell's appeal, filed in Dade County Circuit Court earlier this month, alleges that the county commission made three fatal errors. Two of his arguments are highly technical; the third, though, is basic: The county's own ordinances state that the entrance and exit of an automobile dealership cannot be located on a minor roadway. Commissioners simply ignored this when Elva Marin pointed it out during her presentation.

An appeal can take four to six months to work its way through the system, O'Donnell explains. In the meantime, Ed Williamson is allowed to begin construction of his dealership, which he hopes to open in the fall of next year. But O'Donnell notes that the car czar is now proceeding at his own risk. If the courts end up siding with the residents, Williamson Cadillac will be prohibited from operating.

"We have a very good case," O'Donnell adds. "I've been doing this for twenty years and I'm pretty confident we will prevail.

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