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Should it stay or should it go? Bradenton faces a car wash dilemma

How much taxpayer money should be spent to spur the redevelopment of 14th Street West in Bradenton?

The question surfaced when a potential buyer wanted to reopen the former American Car Care Center and car wash at 1505 14th St. W. only to find out that a car wash is no longer allowed under the city’s zoning code adopted in 2010.

Automotive-related businesses and social services facilities such as Salvation Army do not conform to the current suburban village codes designed to encourage a pedestrian and bicyclist friendly environment. Uses are limited to retail, residential, mixed use, offices and restaurants.

The existing businesses were grandfathered in, but if they close for more than a year, that business can no longer reopen.

The car wash closed in 2016 and is nothing more than another fenced-in, vacant, property quickly becoming slum and blight, and leaving yet another poor first impression while driving through one of the city’s key gateways.

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A buyer wanted to reopen the car wash at 1505 14th St. W. only to find out under city codes a car wash is no longer an allowed use after it was closed for more than a year. Given that building can’t be used for anything else, the city must consider spending tax payer dollars to tear it down so it has a better chance to sell for allowable uses pertinent to the city’s vision for the corridor. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The issue with a car wash is that there is nothing more it can be than a car wash, so officials are considering using tax dollars to demolish the building, ultimately for the benefit of a private owner.

The owner’s address is listed as being in Jersey Cit, N.J., and the property is currently listed for sale at $500,000. The listing clearly informs potential buyers that the car wash can no longer be operated as such under city codes. The investment from a private developer to pay for the land and demolish the building to start over with a new development would be significant and makes the property a tough sell.

The city invests dollars into private development in a variety of ways, either through incentives or grants, and has purchased properties in the past for the sole intent of demolishing a building to remove slum and blight and encourage redevelopment.

This situation is a little different, but not beyond the scope of that type of redevelopment.

“The thing is, the city has done a tremendous amount of work in order to get rid of uses like car washes on 14th Street,” said Catherine Hartley, planning and community development director. “The whole point of all that work was to eventually get rid of used car lots, car washes and social services.

“By not letting these uses reestablish after they have been closed for a year, they can either be torn down or converted to a permitted use. Obviously, a car wash is hard to convert into something else, so the preference would be to tear it down.”

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A buyer wanted to reopen the car wash at 1505 14th St. W. only to find out under city codes a car wash is no longer an allowed use after it was closed for more than a year. Given that building can’t be used for anything else, the city must consider spending tax payer dollars to tear it down so it has a better chance to sell for allowable uses pertinent to the city’s vision for the corridor. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The city could rezone the property to make it an allowable use, but Hartley said it would be counter productive to what the city decided in 2010.

Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said he just wants to see faster business growth on 14th Street. He acknowledged the financial assistance provided to other businesses on the corridor, “But 14th is not the most desirable business corridor in the city of Bradenton. The fact is there was a buyer and it seems like we are getting in our own way. We need to get some movement.”

Hartley said she will do whatever the council asks her to do, but said it would be contrary to the city’s vision.

“It starts to chip away at the vision that was adopted,” she said. “One might as well change the whole corridor back to suburban strip commercial. But with that, they get uses they have clearly said they don’t want like social services, another Salvation Army, another Turning Points, another food bank, another car lot and so on.”

Hartley reiterated what council members have complained about for years and that the original zoning created “a highly concentrated area of poverty. I’m not sure allowing more of the same in order to get this one business running is the answer. But the council will tell me what their vision is, and I’ll make it happen.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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