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Commission learns process of becoming a formula retail store on the island
May 17, 2017

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The Planning Commission furthered its discussion of formula retail stores during a meeting last week by understanding the process.

Finance Director Steve Chaipel said they issue business tax receipts for any entity that does business on the island. The only difference is in the procedures of whether the business is located on, or off the island.

"Most businesses tend to start with the finance department. The vast majority of those individuals (formula retail stores) start with the planning department," he said.

The business tax receipts for on-island from 2008 to 2017 ranged from 2,821 to 3,050. Off-island business registrations ranged from 859 to 949 in the same time frame.

"We haven't had a huge fluctuation of business," Chaipel said. "Anywhere from that 3,600 to 3,800 range we are pretty constant there. The majority of what we see is businesses changing hands than businesses starting up."

Chaipel said business tax registration is for businesses off island that have to register to do business on the island. He said they are not licensing them. In other words, Chaipel said if a pest control business has approached the city stating that they are going to spray a house on Periwinkle, they have to register with the city and pay $50 to do business on the island.

The approval process for a formula retail store consists of the following:

* Pre-application meeting between the applicant and the Planning Department;

* Submit applications for conditional use and development permit;

* Planner reviews applications to see if it's complete;

* A public hearing with the Planning Commission is scheduled;

* The planner prepares a staff report for the Planning Commission;

* A public hearing is held with the Planning Commission.

If the application is approved the public hearing closes and staff prepares the final resolution, which the Planning Commission approves. The Planning Department then issues a development permit, followed by the Finance Department completing the process by issuing a business tax receipt.

Commissioner Chuck Ketterman said the key is how does someone new enter the process and how do they know where the track leads. He said the process should start with someone coming in with a new business.

"The first few steps are the critical ones, so we got the right information to the folks," Ketterman said.

Commissioner Chris Heidrick said the discussion they should have does not revolve around how to catch a formula retail store after it opens, but rather solve how they make it clear to an applicant that they are formula retail before they open.

"So we are not deciding on a conditional use permit for a business that is already operating putting us in a more difficult spot," Heidrick said.

He said they should not overcomplicate the process if it is only impacting a small number.

"How do we help the applicant identify that their business is a formula retail," Heidrick asked. "To me it really comes down to the business tax receipt."

After their discussion, the public had an opportunity to speak about formula retail stores.

The City Council directed the Planning Commission to look at some changes to the definition of formula retail stores, which are to adjust the current formula retail trigger from 50,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet and the fifth store would be the trigger for what constituted a formula retail store whether it originated on the island or not.

Maureen Watson, the owner and operator of Watson MacRae Gallery in the Village Shops since 2009, said she likes that Sanibel is unique and special. She said the stores that are here contribute to that sense of community.

Watson said her concern is about a business coming onto the island - what they add to the residents and tourists, as well as how they are compatible with the other businesses.

A major concern is the proposed fifth store as the trigger for formula retail.

"By the time you get to five you have a growth strategy and you are in many, many places," Watson said. "Why do we want Sanibel to look like every other affluent resort place? We are starting to look like everyone else."

She said it is not about the process of getting here, it's the process of staying in business. Watson said they need visibility, signage, affordable rents that have good traffic.

"Why are all the formula retail in Periwinkle Place? Because they are the ones that can afford to be there," she said.

Watson said they need a strategy of what they want the retail landscape to look like to keep people coming and keep Sanibel thriving.

Diane Knight, who owns Sanibel Home Furnishings, also spoke about the proposed number to be considered as a formula retail store on the island.

"I can honestly say as you see big businesses close, smaller, unique independent businesses do very well. That is why I opened here on Sanibel," she said.

Knight said five stores is way too many. She said it should not be much more than two stores.

"I myself have been asked to go to other places to open my store. I want to be special to Sanibel," she said.

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