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Murky automotive moratorium moving slowly toward resolution

Interest in opening up the former site of Slick’s Garage at 923 Fifth St. W. in Palmetto is what launched an automotive moratorium in April to protect the city’s downtown core from a build out of auto repair shops, which also led to how all downtown businesses will be able to store vehicles, equipment and more.
Interest in opening up the former site of Slick’s Garage at 923 Fifth St. W. in Palmetto is what launched an automotive moratorium in April to protect the city’s downtown core from a build out of auto repair shops, which also led to how all downtown businesses will be able to store vehicles, equipment and more. myoung@bradenton.com

Confusion about Palmetto’s murky automotive moratorium and the issues pertaining to restricting automotive businesses from a certain area of the downtown core combined with a citywide issue of open storage didn’t get much clearer Monday night.

“We are trying to protect those businesses because they have come to us because they don’t understand this and we are trying to understand this, too,” said Commissioner Brian Williams, who was under the impression that no matter what the city did, the ordinance would not affect existing businesses.

That’s only true for land use issues and not open storage. Currently, most businesses are in violation because the city only allows open storage in commercial heavy industrial, and even then, only with a conditional use.

“They don’t meet the definition of nonconforming use unless they could establish storage was allowed at the time,” said acting city attorney Scott Rudacille, pertaining to open storage.

While it would be up to the business owner to prove their open storage was active at a time before the city’s ordinance went into affect, the city could not even determine when that was as staff continues to clean up decades-old language throughout their codes.

The city did make some progress in a proposed creation of a new downtown district in order to shrink the moratorium area. The new district would border Ninth to 11th avenues west, north to 11th Street West and south to the Manatee River. The new district would not allow automotive related businesses without a conditional use permit to protect the city’s goal of transforming the district into a multi-modal friendly area and comply with the city’s downtown design guidelines.

Such a move would remove the majority of existing automotive businesses from the moratorium, but it doesn’t solve the open storage problem.

City planner Debra Woithe calculated a system of percentages for businesses in various districts. She suggests 10 percent of property for open storage for businesses outside of commercial general, 25 percent for businesses within commercial general and to allow open storage “by right,” to commercial heavy industrial.

“If there was a need to exceed those percentages, a business could apply for conditional use and the city commission could deal with those on a case by case basis,” Woithe said.

Businesses also would need to comply with new language that requires screening of open storage areas with a covered fence, wall or landscape barrier at least 6 feet high. Commissioner Tambra Varnadore reiterated that the moratorium was not about open storage.

“It might be best to focus on the zoning first because it appears that you have a consensus on the new district,” Varnadore said. “We’ve had tons of discussions on open storage and what defines being grandfathered and I’ve heard tons of different opinions on what that means. This is all in a muddle and no one knows where it’s going or what’s happening. We need to focus on the moratorium and then go to open storage.”

Tusing said it could take another six months to fine tune the open storage language.

“Let’s face it, it’s been 16 years and we haven’t even done a sign ordinance yet,” Tusing said. “We aren’t going to address all these open storage issues before the moratorium runs out and I don’t want to extend it,” past the Dec. 5 deadline.

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