The Planning Commission had a lengthy conversation regarding the recommendations to change four areas of the formula retail store ordinance brought forth by the City Council.
Planning Director Jim Jordan said when the ordinance was adopted in 2007 the city did not have any regulation in regards to formula retail stores. He said City Council addressed formula retail stores by adopting regulations.
Those regulations were to adopt a code and ordinance that would reinforce the city's objectives in regards to protecting Sanibel character, atmosphere and to offer a balance of island businesses. It further set up a definition, limit the size in floor area for any new retail stores and required conditional use approval.
"Since the adoption in 2007 there has been a total of seven formula retail stores that have been approved by the city. Up until just last year five of those stores remained under the review cap of 50,000 square feet. Last year for the first time we exceeded that 50,000 square feet. Two applications required City Council approval by ordinance," Jordan said.
That action, he said led council to wanting staff and the Planning Commission to address the redundancy of having both review and approval of conditional use applications for formula retail stores. Jordan said the council wanted to give the Planning Commission authority to review any applications that exceeded the 50,000 square feet when a new formula retail store was added.
He said currently under formula retail stores, if the store did not originate on Sanibel it was automatically a formula retail store.
"I think council does not want the ordinance to preclude small businesses from coming to the island that may also be a value to the community in terms of services they provide and in terms of retail sales," Jordan said.
The City Council directed both staff and the Planning Commission to look at four changes, which are to adjust the current formula retail trigger from 50,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet; give Planning Commission the authority to review all new formula retail stores that remain below the 70,000 square foot review trigger when adding to the existing formula retail store square footage; any applications that exceeds 70,000 square feet to go before City Council and amend the definition, so that the fifth store would be the trigger for what constituted a formula retail store whether it originated on the island or not.
Jordan said the city has roughly 600,000 square feet of commercial floor area. The 50,000 formula retail store square feet only represents 8 percent of that floor area. He said 70,000 takes it another 3 percent up.
Commissioner Chuck Ketterman said stepping to four stores from one is very pertinent because it is about assuring what ever happens is successful. He said by being more flexible they will have a chance with whoever is coming in will have an opportunity to make a living and keep a business instead of heavily turning over the stores.
"That is important to us as residents also," Ketterman said.
Jordan said changing the number will not change the core values, objectives, goals of the ordinance.
"This is basically granting a little relief on the definition, which some would say was a little too restrictive. If your store did not originate on Sanibel and you had one other store in another market and thought, 'I wouldn't mind taking this to Sanibel and see if it works there' that store automatically would be a formula retail store and trigger the whole review process," Jordan said. "Some may see that as an obstacle, rather than an invitation to start a business on Sanibel."
Commissioner Holly Smith said she is not against 70,000 square feet, but moving that mark continuously may be a problem. She said her concern is how heavy one plaza will be compared to another.
"I would really like to see a leveling of when these things come before us, if there are so many in one project, maybe that project has reached its peak and is that something we can be looking at in our discussion here. So that way we are spreading the love around the island and one particular strip is not known as the formula retail center of the island. I think currently we have a real imbalance," Smith said.
Jordan said he does not know if the city wants to get into the business of policing, or monitoring, or setting caps on how much square footage can be in a particular center. He said the code caps the square footage.
"If a particular center is allowed to have 100,000 square feet of commercial floor area they can rent to whomever they want to," Jordan said.
Ketterman said they do not want to set up regulations with how many formula retail stores are at each center.
"I don't think that is government's role. I think the monitoring idea is a good one, but we shouldn't substitute ourselves for the marketplace. The marketplace will kind of decide this if you set the rules properly," he said.
Commissioner Karen Storjohann talked about the forms the businesses have to fill out because some of the stores that had come forward were less than forthcoming and diligent for their business to be legally established on Sanibel. She asked if the commissioners could see the form.
"We have started with the forms, but won't have all the specifics for the questions that we are going ask and the certifications that are required until we have the actual changes in our hands," Jordan said. "We have a pretty good outline currently of what the form will look like, what the questions we will ask and what kind of certifications we will require from each individual property owner."
Storjohann said if they step through that process they will get a clearer picture of what is taking place.
"Our main focus today is to look at amending the ordinance. I don't want the commission to decide to take on additional tasks such as preparing forms and reviewing forms. I think that should probably be left in the staff's hand, unless you want to recommend that to council to give you that authority," Jordan said.
Ketterman also touched upon the number of stores that classifies triggers them as a formula retail. He said four or less stores off island is not formula retail stores, but if they have more than four stores off island it is classified as formula retail.
Ketterman said they should accept the proposal that staff had put before them, which is to apply the definition of formula retail to any existing retail store with more than four off island stores.
"So, if they got more than four, I would read that to be five or more they are defined as a formula retail. If they have four or less off island they are not formula retail," he said.
Storjohann said she believes it is important to get the definition down in regards to formula retail stores.