Top 10 Legal Land Use Issues Auto Dealerships Don’t Think about When Rebranding or Remodeling

Tools on Blueprints including monkey wrench, keys and pencil House plans printed on white and yellow paper

Is your dealership looking old and tired? Does it need a facelift? Are you considering adding a new brand to your existing one? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time for a remodel or a total rebranding.

Whether you are simply updating an older façade, adding additional parking, changing signage or lighting, or building a whole new structure, there are a number of legal land use-related considerations you need to bear in mind before moving forward.

Project’s scope

It is critical that everyone understand the scope of the work and what is to be accomplished. By creating a roadmap, you will be able to determine what entitlements and approvals will be required as you move forward.

Variance requirements

While automobile manufacturers have specific requirements when it comes to logos, colors, signage, and the overall look of a dealership, often they are vastly different from what your municipality or county might permit. Be prepared to request a variance.

Code consistency

Many things that change the exterior look of the dealership require, at the very least, a site plan amendment to ensure that what you are doing is consistent with the city’s code.

Architectural review

What about the aesthetics? Is what you are proposing compatible with surrounding structures? In some cases the local government’s presiding architectural review committee will have to review your plans to determine if what you want to do meets its standards, or if adjustments are needed.

Zoning and Plat changes

Adding buildings, parking, new entrances or exits to a dealership can trigger the need for a zoning modification or plat amendment.


Do you plan to add lighting? Cities and counties regulate lighting based on foot candles. Glare and spillage, that is how much light spills off your property onto adjacent property, also are regulated.


As you add square footage to your dealership you likely will be required to add parking spaces. Make sure this is taken into consideration when creating your overall plan.


Because codes change, what your dealership was allowed to do years ago, may no longer be permitted. If your plans include changing something that was grandfathered in, be prepared to have to bring it up to existing code.


There are always politics involved. Depending on the scope of the project, many times, as part of the approval process there is a public hearing required. It’s important to be able to sell the concept to the public officials who will vote on the project.


Hiring an attorney who is familiar with land use requirements and who has the connections needed to get the job done not only will save you time, but also money and aggravation.

Rebranding and remodeling is important to the continued success of any dealership. By taking these ten things into consideration you will create a much smoother process.

Erin McCormick represents developers and property owners seeking development entitlements and environmental permit approvals for their real estate projects. Additionally, she works on financing, transactional, land use and environmental issues affecting real estate transactions for buyers, sellers and lenders.

Michael Bowen


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