Planning talks formula stores
After more than an hour discussion, with new guidance from the city’s mayor, the Planning Commission further discussed formula retail stores and changes to the ordinance verbiage.
Planning Director James Jordan provided an overview of the main areas City Council wanted the Planning Commis-sion to review in regards to formula retail stores. Those items included amending the review trigger of formula retail stores, an increase from 50,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet and the fifth location of a retail store considered to be a formula retail store.
Some of the proposed draft revisions Jordan included “retail stores that have four or less locations, or that had their original location in the city, are not defined as formula retail stores.” Another included “a conditional use application for a new formula retail store that results in the total commercial floor area used by formula retail stores in all of the city’s commercial districts to exceed 70,000 square feet.”
Commissioner Chuck Ketterman made the motion to accept the staff changes in regards to the trigger increasing to 70,000 square feet, and change the stores from two to five. The proposal included that a drafted ordinance come back before the commission.
The motion passed with Commission-er Holly Smith opposing.
“I’m not sure if this is being pushed a little too fast without proper discussion. I’m not against what’s on the resolution. I just think there is a little bit more that I want to understand before I am comfortable passing the resolution, or moving the resolution forward. Personally I just feel that it was too fast. I certainly respect all of the yeses here. My no was just for the reservation that I would just like to know a little bit more,” Smith said.
The conversation shifted gears after hearing a few comments from Mayor Kevin Ruane at the start of last week’s meeting.
“We at the council gave you some clarity for retail formula. I think if you go back in time, what council has tried to do, is give you some guidelines we are looking for with an ordinance,” he said. “Any time we look at things like this, we want you to look at this holistically. We don’t want to handcuff you and tell you here are the three things we want you to do and that is it.”
Ruane said it really needs to be looked at in a way that encourages people, and/or penalizes people, for not complying with the city.
“I would really like to see the group, as you seven people, have a discussion, look at the forms and even walk through the process and understand what the worksheet looks like and see how applicable it is and see some of the flaws that we have,” he said. “You are our eyes and ears. You get to look at this a lot more closely than we do.”
Smith said Ruane gave the commission clear direction that she believed needed to be followed.
“My ears heard ‘we want you to look at this to see how we can better make this work now,'” she said. “Not under a subcommittee because subcommittee meetings are typically very brief and they cover everything. He has tasked us to cover something now. With that direction we need to listen and put together a work plan of how we were directed by the mayor of the city of Sanibel.”
Chairman Phillip Marks said he believes the subject could be better handled at the subcommittee meeting, where all of the commissioners are members.
“I think if we meet a couple of sessions of a subcommittee that are focused . . . we could either meet at 8 or we can meet after the meeting,” Marks said. “I think we would be very focused and there wouldn’t be any other issues on the table. I think then it needs to be brought back obviously with the same seven people at the public commission meeting. We could discuss our findings, we could take input from the people in the audience, or any advice from the planning department.”
Commissioner Chris Heidrick said he does not want to see them delay the process because of the same seven people having to attend a different meeting. He said if all seven of them are on the subcommittee and it’s faster to consider this, then why not go that route.
Commissioner Karen Storjohann said she thinks it is extremely important that everything becomes effective together.
“I think for anybody trying to operate a business on Sanibel it is already complicated enough without having things come out disjointed,” she said.
Storjohann said if they had all the forms and documents they needed sooner, rather than later, they could hit the ground running with discussions.
City Attorney Ken Cuyler said if the ordinance is prepared with the Planning Commissioner’s recommendations al-ready occurring, then Jordan will have it on the June agenda for the City Council for the first reading. The final adoption would not take place until late July.
“That would give you plenty of time to take a look at all of the non-ordinance types of things. If you have more considerations and recommendations of the ordinance itself, that would extend it past the June date, then it would be first reading in July and second reading and adoption in August,” Cuyler said.
Ketterman said they can separate the two tasks at hand – the amended ordinance language and the process in which it takes for businesses. He said after the technical language is given back to the City Council, they can really go through the process and recommend the changes necessary.
“It is important to get these changes in this summer,” Ketterman said of the ordinance verbiage. “We can make the changes in the process and forms and stuff and it doesn’t have to go through the ordinance process.”
During the lengthy discussion of formula retail stores, many of the commissioners shared their thoughts, as well as certain information they would like staff to bring back to them to further understand the process.
Ketterman shared information he received from a local retailer, Diane Knight, during the meeting. He said she said the whole idea of the number of stores might be an inadequate view because of the nature of competition. He said she also pointed out that the change in triggers might be moving too far because of the competition with someone who has three stores off island, as well as the nature of buying power it might have on one individual store.
“I only share this, not necessarily because I agree with the comments, but it’s about the only feedback we got back from someone who deals with this that actually has to fight this battle in the market,” Ketterman said. “My only take away from this is that it is a judgement call from two to five. I am personally comfortable with five.”
He said they need to listen and pay attention the next 12 to 24 months and see what is happening, as well as recognizing the industry is different today.
“The purpose of this isn’t to restrict, or protect multiple businesses on the island,” Heidrick said.
He said he believes the real purpose of the discussion is to make the land development code consistent with what a reasonable person would think.
“It’s really to stop that scenario of a person opening their second store would ever dream they were under this definition of formula retail,” Heidrick said.
Storjohann said she decided to see how easy it would be to find information on the city’s website about opening a new business. After many tries with different verbiage, she ended up going to the “planning department” section of the website.
“That was my challenge. How on the city’s website would I know where to find this information,” she asked. “I think that is the beginning of the problem.”
Storjohann said it is important to step through the process and understand what a new business has to go through.
Jordan said their typical experience with folks is they call the office to get the information they need. He said they are open to any suggestions to make the process more user-friendly, and clearer to those seeking the information.
Commissioner John Talmage said since they began the process of discussing formula retail stores he has always thought of the unintended consequences it may bring forward.
“The unintended consequence that I am worried about, especially when you have large property owners now that have many significant retail operations off island, you have all sorts of opportunities to skew the market towards a different segmentation of retail categories,” he said.