In a major shift, Anne Arundel County executive John G. Gary is backing state legislation that would repeal the county's blue laws to allow auto dealers to open Sundays.
The move is designed to clear the way for AutoNation USA, the used-car superstore chain launched by billionaire entrepreneur H. Wayne Huizenga. AutoNation wants to open a used-car lot near Glen Burnie and a vehicle restoration center near Pasadena.
The two AutoNation facilities, employing as many as 560 workers, would be one of the largest new employers in the county in more than a decade, according to the county Economic Development Office.
Gary's spokeswoman said two weeks ago that he would favor AutoNation's proposal in the unlikely event that "a substantial majority" of the county's 35 existing new-car dealerships backed a repeal of the blue laws banning Sunday sales. The repeal was AutoNation's key condition for moving to the county.
At that time, a survey of the Arundel dealers by the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association found that 80 percent opposed such a change.
Like AutoNation, the dealers also sell used cars, the most profitable part of their business.
Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman, said yesterday that the county executive changed his mind after meeting last week with Arthur Turpel, AutoNation's director of real estate and the person responsible for selecting its sites.
Gary was convinced that the company would build its two facilities in Prince George's County if Anne Arundel did not allow AutoNation's used-car lot to open Sundays, Ritter said. Dealers in Prince George's, Howard and Montgomery are allowed to sell on Sundays.
"He [Gary] recognized that it [the AutoNation used-car lot] was going to happen and that it was better for it to happen in Anne Arundel County than Prince George's County," she said.
Acting on a request from the county administration, state Sen. Edward Middlebrooks, an Anne Arundel County Republican, introduced a bill Friday to repeal the Sunday-sales blue laws.
Joseph P. Carroll, executive director of the state automotive trade association, said yesterday that dealer resistance to repealing the blue laws has increased in recent weeks. He said that all but one or two of the dealers are opposed to Sunday sales.
Carroll said he expected Gary's shift to anger county dealers.
Carroll said the Anne Arundel County delegation will hold a meeting on the bill before the legislation is sent to committee. "In my opinion," he said, "that's where the issue will be decided."
According to J. William Pitcher, a lobbyist for AutoNation, the company wants to open a 1,000- to 1,200-vehicle sales lot on a 17-acre site in the Cromwell Business Park off Dorsey Road. He said the facility would employ between 122 and 160 workers.
Annual salaries would range between $15,000 and $30,000 for clerical workers, and $40,000 to $100,000 for 16 to 20 management jobs. The average salary of sales people would be $30,000.
Pitcher said the company's used-car reconditioning center would employ between 200 and 400 workers. The center would repair cars and trucks sold at the Glen Burnie lot as well as other AutoNation outlets in the mid-Atlantic area.
He said the Pasadena shop would hire 10 to 20 managers at jobs paying between $40,000 and $100,000. It would employ between 150 and 300 technicians earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.
Pub Date: 2/04/97