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Palmetto enacts six-month automotive repair moratorium for downtown

Ward 2 Palmetto Commissioner Tambra Varnadore successfully lobbied to limit a proposed automotive moratorium in the downtown core to six months from one year, but her constituents still had plenty of concerns following Monday's special meeting. MARK YOUNG/Bradenton Herald
Ward 2 Palmetto Commissioner Tambra Varnadore successfully lobbied to limit a proposed automotive moratorium in the downtown core to six months from one year, but her constituents still had plenty of concerns following Monday's special meeting. MARK YOUNG/Bradenton Herald

PALMETTO -- Palmetto commissioners reached a compromise at a special meeting Monday night to pass an emergency six-month moratorium on new automotive repair businesses from opening in the downtown core. The original proposal was for a one-year moratorium. Business owners left the meeting unhappy and unsure the city had made the right choice.

"I think you should drop it before it gets out of hand and gets really stupid," said Steve White, of Steve White's auto repair.

The moratorium restricts any new businesses from opening or existing businesses from expanding until Dec. 5 within the boundaries of the targeted moratorium area. The boundaries are the CSX Railroad tracks to the east, south to the Manatee River, west to 11th Avenue West and north to 10th Street West.

City officials say the moratorium is not intended to

hurt existing businesses, but rather to protect businesses while giving the city time to rewrite outdated ordinances. All of those businesses are technically in violation of existing codes pertaining to open storage. City Planner Debra Woithe discovered the issue while reviewing the city's ordinances and realized that the city does not allow open storage areas. Open storage is allowed in the city's heavy commercial zone, but only with a conditional use permit.

The secondary argument officials made is the city wants to protect the downtown design guidelines that focus on future redevelopment promoting the city's pedestrian-friendly goals, particularly with recent improvements to Riverside Park West and the pending Phase 1 kick-off of the Florida Department of Transportation's multimodal trail scheduled to begin in late May.

Public Works Director Allen Tusing said the ordinance "has no intention of putting anyone out of business. Right now, we have not had code enforcement come to anyone's business because, as staff, we don't think that's right. We know all of you have to have some kind of open storage and we want time to protect you and others from us having to come out and say clean this up. We are trying to help you."

Business owners said if the city wanted to help them, then the city should have approached them for input before enacting an emergency ordinance. Many asked, but did not receive an answer to, what is the emergency? City attorney Mark Barnebey alluded to there being some interest in the downtown core from a new automotive business last week. Tusing confirmed that there is a party interested in the former Slick's Garage on Eighth Avenue.

"There has been some discussions about someone wanting to come in and reopen something similar," Tusing said.

Slick's had been a thorn in the side of the city commission well before it was shut down by the state of Florida last year. Slicks' owners have been under criminal investigation for taking client dollars without doing repairs.

Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore struck the compromise as commissioners debated the merits and needs of enacting a moratorium.

"I took an oath to protect this city and without a moratorium, we can't stop anyone from coming without fixing these problems," said Varnadore. "I don't think a year is necessary. If it's a priority to the city, it can get done in six months."

The lone dissenting vote came from Ward 3 Commissioner Brian Williams, who despite citing effective examples of past moratoriums that had worked, said he promised he would vote against it.

"I just think we can develop this ordinance without the use of a moratorium," said Williams. "We have done other things without a moratorium."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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