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Planning Commission further talks formula retail

By Staff | Jul 19, 2017

Commissioners Karen Storjohann and Dirk deWerff with Planning Director James Jordan. MEGHAN MCCOY

The Planning Commission moved forward with its decision from last month’s meeting in regards to the definition of formula retail stores.

Planning Director Jim Jordan provided a recap of the Planning Commission’s June 13 meeting regarding their discussion of formula retail, which initially began in April.

“The body decided that the number of retail stores qualifying as a formula retail should be fewer than three existing locations. You also recommended at that time raising the review trigger to 60,000 (square feet), but leaving in the City Council’s review of conditional request of formula retail stores,” Jordan said.

Commissioner Holly Smith, who was not at the June 13 meeting, said they hit the nail on the head. She said after reading the minutes, and listening to the meeting, she is pretty comfortable with the vote that was taken.

Jordan offered an alternative approach for the commissioners to consider.

“Commission may want to look at a couple of things with regards to the authorization that the Planning Commission has currently. Under code, the Planning Commission has the authority to approve conditional use permit requests with the exception of formula retail stores, which requires an additional review by City Council for anything that is over the 50,000 square feet of commercial floor area,” Jordan said. “One of the things that you could consider is whether or not the code should be amended and give the Planning Commission the full authority to grant the conditional use request for formula retail stores without City Council having to review it for the second time.”

He said if they decided to go that route they would not have to adjust the trigger square foot.

Commissioner Chuck Ketterman asked why they needed any trigger point, if the Planning Commission was going to solely deal with the issue.

“My own view is this is a cultural issue for the city. This idea of formula retail is part of our culture. The idea that we don’t want a lot of it because we like mom and pop, it’s part of how we see ourselves. I think it is healthy to have a trigger point where the City Council kind of looks forward where we are going as an island,” he said.

Smith said she was not ready to make a vote on the alternative last Tuesday because she thinks having a trigger is still a good idea.

After hearing some feedback, Jordan said if the commissioners were not happy with the alternative they did not have to take any action.

Ketterman said the retailers on the island are going to face a significant change moving forward because of the economy.

“The idea that we can sit here and predict 60,000 (square feet), we are going to have to be very flexible here on the island as commissioners as we see what is happening here,” he said. “It’s easy to speculate. I don’t know if I want to speculate of where this might be going, but the speculation might be that the idea of the mom and pop start up retailer being successful in the future . . . there is going to be a much lower instance of that.”

He said the presence of online shopping will be the cause.

“The question may have to be not how much do we have, but what kind do we have,” Ketterman said of formula retail. “I imagine in the future it’s going to be what kind of formula retail are we going to be OK with because we are not going to see as many alternatives in the future.”

Ric Base, president of the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, to share that the chamber believes a checklist from the city in terms of what a business has to do to open a store on the island would be beneficial.

“We get a lot of people that walk into our place and ask for information, or calling us up. We have a pretty good idea, but it would be nice to be able to hand them something from the city. Also, give it to the landlords, so they have a better understanding of what is necessary. So, again no one can come along later on and say, ‘Oh, I wasn’t sure about this,’ or ‘I didn’t understand.’ Generally what we do is send them over to the planning team to start the process,” Base said. “It’s the concept of understanding the process. I think it al makes us look a little more professional.”