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Newport Accelerates Effort to Keep Mercedes Dealership : Retail: Fletcher Jones Motorcars, the city’s largest generator of sales tax revenue, plans to leave site when lease expires in 1996.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The city of Newport Beach has stepped up its efforts to prevent one of its most prominent residents from moving away.

Fletcher Jones Motorcars, one of the nation’s largest Mercedes-Benz dealerships, has made no secret of the fact that it will move out of the former Jim Slemons lot when its lease expires in December, 1996. Should Fletcher Jones leave town, Newport Beach stands to lose its single largest generator of sales tax revenue.

Newport Beach City Manager Kevin J. Murphy would not disclose the amount that Fletcher Jones pays to the city annually in sales taxes. However, the total is significant enough that the city is prepared to do whatever it can to keep Fletcher Jones, Murphy said.

It is also lucrative enough that the neighboring city of Irvine has been in contact with the dealership to brief the company on its zoning laws and other regulations.

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Newport Beach appears to have the edge, though. The city has been working with Irvine Co., Orange County’s largest landowner, to facilitate the sale of a parcel that would fit the particular needs stated by Fletcher Jones Jr., owner of the dealership. It has also been lobbying both the city and the state to alter the zoning restrictions now on the land.

Jones has said the lot that the dealership now leases on Quail Street is no longer adequate. The company is seeking a site that it could buy on or near a major thoroughfare.

Unfortunately, such places in Newport Beach are few. “There are a limited number of sites in Newport that are large enough, near major streets or have good visibility that would work for them,” Murphy said.

Negotiations are now focusing on a parcel of land owned by Irvine Co. near the intersection of Jamboree Road and Bristol Street.

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Dawn McCormick, spokeswoman for Irvine Co., confirmed Tuesday that Fletcher Jones and the city of Newport Beach have been negotiating, and that Irvine Co. would be interested in selling the property.

The snag is that the land would have to be rezoned before it could be developed. “That will definitely be a challenge,” Murphy said, “but we are going to give it our best try.”

As it is zoned now, the property could be maintained as open space or developed as a fire station or as a park-and-ride lot for commuters. Changing that would require modifying both the city’s General Plan and the local coastal plan. It would also mean changing the coastal development permit filed with the California Coastal Commission.

Newport Beach may very well prevail, in part because the competition is fading. Robert Johnson, Irvine’s director of community development, said he is no longer in contact with Fletcher Jones. “It has been months since we talked to them,” he said.

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Irvine never set out to woo the dealership away from Newport Beach, Johnson said. “We provide a service to anyone who is interested in moving to Irvine.”

If Fletcher Jones did choose an Irvine location, though, “we would be more than happy to have them,” Johnson said.


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