Formula business ordinance advances to first reading

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HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners have worked out a draft formula business ordinance they want to bring up for a vote. Now they’re just hoping it’s not too late.

Commissioners decided to attempt to fast-track the ordinance through the approval process to try to have it in place before the moratorium banning additional formula businesses from opening in the city expires at the end of February.

With the moratorium already having been extended twice, commissioners were unsure about approving a third extension if there’s a chance the ordinance could go through first and second votes with public hearings and approval by the planning commission for consistency with the city’s comprehensive plan. Each public hearing on the ordinance also must be properly noticed to the public.

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth said she’s in favor of holding special meetings to make sure the ordinance is approved on time. City Attorney Patricia Petruff, who is drafting the ordinance with planner Bill Brisson, said she, Brisson and City Clerk Stacey Johnston would get together and figure out one schedule to push the ordinance through quickly and another showing a regular progression of events to present to Titsworth for approval. As chair, Titsworth can call a special commission meeting.

The final draft of the ordinance sustained few changes from what commissioners had already approved in previous work sessions. One change allows only banking institutions to be exempted from the formula business definition. This change was made primarily because of the location of two existing bank buildings, both on Gulf Drive in a commercial district that allows only for office buildings. Commissioners decided to not limit the use of the buildings which were designed as financial institutions.

The ordinance disallows formula businesses only in the downtown corridor, where Marina and Gulf Drives intersect. These types of chain businesses, unless already existing, can only be approved by special exception. The ordinance limits the size of the business to 2,000 square feet and the number of businesses to 5 percent of the overall number of businesses in the area. With the current 97 businesses in the downtown corridor, that limits the number of formula businesses in the area to four. Three already exist according to the city’s definition.

What the ordinance doesn’t do is limit the number of formula businesses in the primary shopping district, the west side of East Bay Drive. The area is home to several formula businesses including Dollar Tree, Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS and Publix. With the reasoning behind the ordinance built on preserving community character and the potential for a lawsuit from shopping center owner Benderson Development looming, Brisson and Petruff steered commissioners away from attempting regulations in the area. Neither felt the regulations could be upheld in court because the area already contains several formula businesses and consists of modern shopping centers without any discernible character.

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she’d like to begin work on a community development plan with the goal of preserving character throughout the entire city in the future. If approved, such a plan could determine how development and redevelopment of commercial districts are handled in the future to create a cohesive look for the city.

“We need to develop the protection this city needs,” she said.

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