Fight erupts over parking lot deal at Partners Auto Auction

Fight erupts over parking lot deal at Partners Auto Auction

Sen. Gordon Rogers’ Stone House Motor Inn is the runoff location for cars for the Partners Auto Auction. Cars are kept in a lot to the left behind the motor lodgings. Residents complained that Rogers swiped an expansion deal from the town and his actions are counterproductive to fighting the blight on Route 6. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)
Owner says it was town’s fault, is now looking at expanding elsewhere

FOSTER – Some residents say they are angered by a business deal between Sen. Gordon Rogers and Partners Auto Auction that has the senator’s Stone House Motor Inn acting as an overflow lot for the auction house, but the owner of Partners says it was the town’s fault that it came to this.

Former Planning Board member Ron Cervasio said he’s concerned that the deal with Rogers prevented the possibility of Partners Auto expanding and creating tax revenue. Partners, at 150B Danielson Pike in Foster, previously stopped plans to expand at its site, Cervasio said.

Cervasio said he’s seen more than 100 cars at the motel in the past week, though that number fluctuates daily.

The Valley Breeze is committed to keeping quality news stories like this one free to our readers. You can be a huge part of this local journalism success story by making a one-time or monthly contribution to what we do every week. Thank you as always for reading.

Luke Semmelrock, of Partners Auto, said the company purchased 16 residential-zoned acres next to the auction facility. He said plans were drafted for an overflow lot on 4 dry acres for the property to create a 35,000-square-foot car auction building with surrounding lots.

Semmelrock said the Planning Board was on board with the plans, but it met opposition from the council when he needed to change from residential zoning to commercial. He said the company pulled its request for a zoning change before the council at the last minute and decided to use the motel lot for sold and inventory product.

“The town of Foster has not been pro-business by any stretch. They’ve been very difficult to work with,” Semmelrock said.

When cleaning up the property last year, Semmelrock said he neglected to pull building permits, which led to trouble. He said building inspectors came to the auction site and demanded landscaping and fence work on the property totaling more than $40,000 in costs

“I don’t know why any of it was necessary. All we did was clean up the facility,” Semmelrock said.

Since completion of that work, Partners Auto runs 300 to 400 used cars in dealer auctions each week. He said the company was attempting to do the right thing and expand the business in Foster by pulling the correct permits and changing zoning, but the town continued to make it difficult.

“We’re a new businesses in the middle of COVID-19 fighting to keep the business alive, fighting for our financial life,” he said.

Even with the help of Rogers, Semmelrock said he is looking at other towns, such as Johnston, to build the new $5 million facility.

Rogers, who was also recently hired as Foster’s highway director, is married to Councilor Heidi Rogers. Rogers said he has 6.5 acres of commercial property at the Stone House Motor Inn, located at 162 Danielson Pike, and has the zoning and space to house the vehicles.

He said he is doing his part for Foster to keep a local business in town, though he said the money received from renting the space helps pay his “rising tax bill.”

Rogers added that he spoke with his lawyer and was advised that he was within his rights to rent the space. He will not be selling the cars from the overflow lot or removing any parts, and all cars are road-worthy and registered and insured, he said.

Rogers said many local businesses along Route 6 rent space for vehicles and dumpsters. He said he met his own roadblocks when attempting to expand his motel in the past, and said Foster has “many variances with so many erroneous setbacks and headaches” that make building difficult.

“The guy at the auction barn has pretty much thrown in the towel with having a dealership in town,” he said.

Rogers said the accusations of swooping up a town deal for his benefit are a “political hit job” and he has done nothing wrong.

According to Planning Board Chairman Anthony Renzi, Rogers did not go before the board with plans to convert space at his motel for a parking lot. Renzi said he is not surprised Rogers skipped the board.

“Gordon doesn’t have to go in front of anybody because that’s Gordon Rogers, the DPW director, Gordon Rogers the senator, that’s Gordon Rogers,” Renzi said.

Renzi said he and other Planning Board members, including Cervasio before he was removed from the board over his foul language and lack of decorum, are focused on removing blight on Route 6.

“This should be our business corridor. It won’t attract business the way it is right now. He’s opened another eyesore,” he said.

Renzi added that the deal is counterproductive, and is only to the benefit of Rogers.

Foster resident Lynne Ryder agreed with Cervasio, saying the arguments being made are not convincing. She said if use of the motel as a car lot followed town ordinances, it would need proper lighting, barriers, and an impermeable surface.

“My big concern was people have been talking over the past two years about cleaning up Route 6 and to bring in any viable business. We’d rather not have it look like a slum, which it does right now,” she said.