Trash or treasure? Scottsville car dealer outraged

Emery Skeen has a beef with the town of Scottsville. The used car dealer says Scottsvillein his words, "trying too hard to become little Williamsburg"– has led City Council to "constantly gouge" at him about the appearance of C&S Motors, his used car lot.

Skeen, a WWII veteran who has lived in Scottsville all of his 75 years, says that the dealership, which some residents consider an eyesore for its jumble of rusty cars and farm machinery, has become the target of the town's latest efforts at gentrification. Scottsville, as reported in the Hook [Cover story, "Flooded with Money, January 9, 2003], has recently scored over $2 million in grants that will revitalize much of the downtown.

The latest skirmish concerns a mobile home parked at C&S Motors. An enormous empty trailer, it served for years as an office until Skeen replaced it with a newer unit. The structure is prohibited by a town zoning ordinance if it is being used for storage.

Under the impression that the trailer was being so used, Scottsville Mayor Stephen Phipps asked Skeen to remove it from his lot. Skeen, who describes himself as "hard headed," temporarily moved the trailer several hundred feet across the street. It later reappeared on the C&S Motors lot sporting a "For Sale" sign. Phipps issued a warning on November 7, demanding that Skeen sell or remove the trailer by March 1 or face a violation of the town's zoning ordinance.

Skeen denies that he's using the trailer for storage and says that he's upset that the town is trying to tell him "what I can or can't sell." He claims that C&S Motors, a 50-year-old business that was grandfathered in the county and later annexed into the town of Scottsville, is exempt from the zoning ordinance.

Zoning Administrator Wyatt Shields, however, while conceding that the trailer is one of the "pre-existing nonconformities," says that it is not authorized to sit on the lot as a storage unit.

This latest controversy fuels Skeen's frustration. "We've got carpetbaggers in here trying to meddle in people's business and tell you what color to paint your front porch" he says, referring to City Council and Zoning Administrator Shields, who Skeen claims have been "harassing" him relentlessly.

Skeen's lawyer, Benjamin Dick, says that Skeen is being unfairly targeted by a City Council that should concentrate on filling the town's vacant storefronts. According to Skeen, 38 Scottsville businesses have closed up shop in the past five and a half years.

In a town divided between past and future, says Dick, "Mr. Skeen and C&S Motors represent a part of Americana that's disappearing." The town, Dick adds, is "trying too hard to make Scottsville the crème de la crème."

In the meantime, Mayor Phipps says that he and Shields are working with Skeen to bring C&S Motors "closer into conformance with the public zoning ordinance." Shields says the town will continue to monitor the trailer to make sure that it is "empty and ready for sale."

With the March 1 deadline approaching, Skeen says he's in "no hurry" to move the trailer. While he says he's had several shoppers, no one has made him an offer. Maybe that's because he placed a sign reading "$19,000" on the vehicle. Skeen insists he'll take "any reasonable offer."