Car-auction giant wants DeSoto address, Feb. 26 hearing slated

Copart rescheduled its Jan. 22 public hearing for Feb. 26 before the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners.

A national internet car-auction company wants to make 110 acres on U.S. Highway 17 the newest addition to a lineup of more than 200 locations in the United States and 10 other countries.

Dallas-based Copart puts over 125,000 vehicles up for cyber-auction every day, through what the company says are “cutting edge asset liquidation services.”

It auctions the vehicles and other motorized machinery it acquires from insurance companies, licensed dealers, lenders, charities, municipalities, and fleet operators. The auction sales Copart makes include used undamaged or damaged vehicles, trailers, watercraft and power sports, and industrial and construction equipment. Auction buyers must be licensed to participate, and the vehicles and other assets are sold as is.

No dismantling, draining of fluids, crushing, or sale of parts occurs at a Copart facility, the company says in its application to DeSoto County to rezone the property on the west side of U.S. 17 from agriculture to planned unit development, or PUD.

Also, “assets are never stacked, and remain in short-term storage for an average of only 50 to 60 days,” Copart says in its application.

The county does not plan to set limits on the number of vehicles on the lots or the duration they can be there, according to Earl Hahn, DeSoto’s development director. Once on the lot, the assets are listed for sale through Copart’s proprietary online auction-style website, the company says.

Copart has had a yard in Punta Gorda for several years and will continue to operate it, said Michael Taber, DeSoto County’s economic and tourism development specialist. Taber said the DeSoto location will pull its vehicle business from the Interstate-75 corridor south of Tampa, where Copart has an operation. The Punta Gorda yard gets its sale vehicles from Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, Taber said.

While staffing in DeSoto County will likely be limited to 20 or so workers, spinoff economic activity will come from transporters, salvage yards and vehicle wholesalers that do business with Copart, he added.

Copart executives did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.

In some circles in DeSoto County, however, the project Copart wants to put on U.S. 17 between Southwest Senate Street and County Road 761 is derided as the “Fort Ogden junkyard.” Some members of a neighboring church are inside that circle.

But that label is hardly fair, Taber insisted. He emphasized that the vehicles stay intact once they reach the yard and are removed once they sell at auction. Copart brings the vehicles into the yard from wherever it acquires them.

“It’s going to be buffered from the highway,” Taber said, referring to landscaping and other visual barriers the county wants as a condition for approving the new zoning. A Feb. 26 public hearing before the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners will allow both sides to air their support or grievances.

Don’t expect another DeSoto yard such as the Allied scrap metal recycling operation, Taber said. “That’s not the model.” At the Punta Gorda operation, all that is visible from the roadway is a building with “nice fencing,” he said.

County planners say Copart plans an office building, customer parking, a shipping and receiving area, and a paved short-term storage area for inspection of assets headed for auction.

Taber said the Copart selection of DeSoto County for the newest addition to its network is typical of the interest the county has received in the last 12 months.

“From an economic development standpoint, I have received more inquiries from companies than in the five years prior,” he said.

“These are good companies,” he added.

Much of the new interest is in DeSoto’s U.S. 17 corridor, according to Taber, which includes a housing project of some 1,100 single-family homes.

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