Palmetto officials held their first public hearing on establishing a new district in the city’s downtown historic core on Jan. 9 in an attempt to limit automotive repair businesses from emerging within the proposed new boundaries.
A final public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 23 to vote on an ordinance that includes amending the city’s downtown guidelines, that as it turns out, aren’t guidelines at all.
Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said former Mayor Larry Bustle made it clear to the commission, which included Varnadore and Commissioners Brian Williams and Tamara Cornwell that the guidelines were not part of the code at the time it passed.
“It was not presented by the mayor or the city attorney that they were part of the code,” Varnadore said. “They both said the guidelines were subjective and may or may not be applied.”
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If you are casting dispersions, you really need to stop it right now.
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant
City attorney Mark Barnebey, who was not city attorney at the time, said that is not the case based on the language of the 2007 ordinance.
“Any improvements proposed are required to comply with the downtown guidelines,” Barnebey said. “That’s what’s in the ordinance and that sounds like codes to me. I can appreciate what you are saying, but what you adopted are regulations. I’m with you. It is misleading, but that’s the way it’s worded.”
That issue threatened to hold up what city officials have been working toward since early April of 2016 when a six-month automotive moratorium was enacted. Varnadore said she would not support any action amending the downtown guidelines without a thorough review of the proposed changes. Williams suggested voting the entire ordinance down and starting from scratch.
“This thing has gotten way out of hand,” Williams said. “Let’s figure out how to make it work. We’ve been doing this for so long, the length of time going back through old notes is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be a headache for staff to start this over.”
Public works director Allen Tusing said to do so could undo everything the city has worked toward since early last year.
“If you stop now and tomorrow someone walks in the door wanting to start an automotive repair business in the historic district, we’ll issue the permit,” Tusing said. “And you can have a used car lot where you don’t want it to be. We’ve been communicating that for the past six months.”
The city is working to declare an area of the downtown core as a new Old Main/10th Street West historic district with boundaries from Riverside Drive West to the south, north to 11th Avenue West and from 9th Street West to 11th Street West as the east-west borders. Automotive repair businesses would be restricted from this area under the new ordinance, but existing businesses would be grandfathered in under the new law.
The moratorium expired in December without staff and elected officials coming to a resolution. The commission opted not to extend the moratorium when it was proposed to establish the new district, which would include new zoning regulations.
It has been a contentious process to get to this point as staff and elected officials exchanged accusations over the delays. Williams said staff wasn’t communicating with the commission and Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the commission was not being responsive enough to staff.
“If you are casting aspersions, you really need to stop it right now,” Bryant told her commission. “I don’t want any finger pointing and adversarial remarks. I don’t want to go there.”