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Planning narrowly approves retail store

By Staff | May 18, 2016

There is no excuse for any Sanibel business to operate without a license, but there needs to be clarity on the definition of certain businesses.

That’s the conclusion the Sanibel Planning Commission made Tues-day in considering a Conditional Use Permit application to a local business that, knowingly or not, had been operating for more than two years without a local business tax license.

The reason the commission didn’t pass it outright was because the 1,000-square-foot business officially exceeded the city’s 50,000 square-foot limit on what they call “formula retail,” meaning the application will have to be approved by City Council.

Paul Chren, owner of FantaSea, located in the Periwinkle Place Shopping Center, a retail store that sells home accessories and artwork, was looking to license his business, which he opened in November 2013.

Then, FantaSea applied for a Business Tax Receipt that was denied by the Planning Department. FantaSea was considered to be a formula retail store by definition, which requires a conditional use permit (CUP) in order to obtain a Business Tax Receipt.

The CUP was necessary because the store had switched from a chocolate shop to a retail business.

Chren opened the business anyway. It took nearly two years, but Code Enforce-ment sent a notice of violation to the applicant on Sept. 21, 2015, and a pre-hearing notice on Dec. 22, 2015. On March 25, Code Enforcement sent a notice of hearing.

A completed CUP was submitted April 13.

Dr. Phillip Marks, commission chair, said the store meets four criteria for formula retail; standardized, name of business, signage, logo and multiple stores under united ownership.

He also accused Chren and his team of disregard for the rules, wondering why Chren and his attorney didn’t come to planning to determine what was necessary to open and why.

“I feel there has to be some admission that you, or your attorney decided unless something like this happened, you would continue to be in business without the licenses all the other businesses on the island require,” Marks said. “We have rules that are easily understood if you go into the department and ask.”

“This was the first I’d heard of a CUP. That may be the responsibility of a property owner, but not a business owner,” Chren said. “We have diligently executed what you requested.”

In defense of Chren, this was not the first time this has happened. At least three other businesses have fallen into the same trap because of confusion in the definition of a formula retail store.

Perhaps more succinct communication of the rules is needed, the committee agreed.

Also, with the limit of 50,000 square-feet of formula retail (20,000 of which is the CVS Pharmacy) now exceeded, the need to re-evaluate the city’s position on the subject may be necessary.

The committee passed the ordinance, with a provision that the city take another look at the entire formula retail ordinance, from front to back.

“We need to take a step back and look at this in detail,” Marks said. “It’s time to step back and ask if we’re happy where we are.”

The vote was 3-2, with Marks and Tom Krekel not in favor.

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to send to council an ordinance amending the city code by eliminating references made to the 5-year cumulative cost of improvements immediately preceding the date that the application is filed and increase the floor area of structures by 50 percent or more over the floor area that existed on Sept. 18, 1990.