The Sanibel City Council has directed staff to draft an ordinance addressing three issues related to formula retail stores. The new language will consist of the Planning Commission conducting the sole review, the number of stores increasing to five to be considered a formula retail store and having 70,000 square foot as the review, or trigger for the City Council to become involved in the review and approval.
Planning Director Jim Jordan began his presentation by discussing the three issues associated with the current formula retile store regulations, which entail redundant review and approvals by both the Planning Commission and City Council, 50,000 square foot cumulative floor area review trigger and the definition of a formula retail store.
A total of seven new formula retail stores have been added to the city's inventory since the adoption of ordinance 06-222 in 2007. Five, of those seven, were approved by the Planning Commission. In 2016 two were required to be reviewed by the Planning Commission and approved by City Council because the applications exceeded the total floor area of 50,000 square feet.
As of March 27 there are 19 formula retail stores located on the island for a total of 52,737 square feet. Those stores include 7-Eleven (1521 Periwinkle Way and 2460 Periwinkle Way); Eileen Fisher; Everything But Water; FantaSea; Fresh Produce; Island Pursuit; J. McLaughlin; Mango Bay; Naples Soap Company; Norris Home Furnishings; Sanibel Olive Oil; Synergy Sportswear of Florida, Inc.; Tiki Jims; Wilford and Lee; Goodwill; Winds; CVS Pharmacy and Speedway.
City Attorney Ken Cuyler said the intent was never to exclude national chains, but rather maintain the City of Sanibel ambiance and the shopping atmosphere by keeping what potentially could be a national chain, or the second enterprise exceeding a certain cap without reviews. He said that cap was everything up to 50,000 square feet.
The reason the City Council has seen a few here lately is because the ordinance states that once 50,000 square feet is exceeded by any amount its a Planning Commission recommendation that has to be approved by City Council.
Cuyler said the larger franchises will always go through a review process.
Jordan said to address the redundant review and approval process, the City Council had asked to see alternative language to adjust the current 50,000 square foot review trigger, as well as forego any unnecessary reviews and approvals by both the City Council and Planning Commission.
In addition, he said they also looked at the definition of formula retail stores. Jordan said they looked at the exemption of stores that had not originated on Sanibel. Jordan said one of the issues of the definition is that formula retail stores located off island in many instances had one or two stores under the same ownership.
There were a few options Jordan presented to the council. Those included giving the Planning Commission complete authority to approve all new formula retail stores, increase the commercial floor area for all formula retail stores from 50,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet, as well as determining a specific number of existing off-island locations of the stores.
Council member Chauncey Goss, who is the liaison for the Planning Commission, said he believes the Planning Commission is perfectly capable of reviewing and approving the applications that come before them.
"I think right now anything over one store doesn't necessarily give us what we want," he said. "If there is a store in Naples and they have one other store, is that really formula retail? In my mind it is not. It is one other store. I think we need to make that number not one. I think it should be three, or five, or whatever we come up with. I think the intent of this is really to keep national interests out."
Council member Jason Maughan said the definition does not take into account humanity and reality.
"It is not unusual for people who want to try their candle, or soap shop, or whatever, to open up a small place in town to test their idea and see how it goes. The idea is they are not prepared to drop a huge amount of money to sign a five year lease somewhere on the island to find out that they actually have a successful business model. It is in my opinion not an accurate reality in the way that people usually act in commerce," Maughan said. "I would certainly say a minimum of having one shop off island making you a formula is unacceptable to me. It should be a minimum of two, so people can go off island try their idea and come home and not be punished because they didn't have enough money to start it here first."
Mayor Kevin Ruane said he would love to see the Planning Commission take complete authority.
In terms of how many stores, he pointed out that a long standing family owned business, Congress Jewelers, opened their second store on Sanibel. They now have four businesses in town.
"That's formula retail? Is that really what we had in mind? I would like for us to consider that the fifth be the trigger," Ruane said.
He said to Maughan's point, an owner goes into Fort Myers and has some success, and then they may go to Bonita because it is different demographics, again with success, before opening another location in Naples.
"I would like for them to come here too and have an opportunity to do something. On the fifth I would like to trigger," Ruane said.
Holly Smith, a Planning Commissioner, said over the past few years she has seen many applications that she considers as formula retail stores.
"We just recently had the passage of a resort wear property. It didn't have one, it didn't have two, it's a national chain. It has 96 stores. I consider that formula retail," Smith said. "I think I was the one person that voted against that. I think we have to look at the definition and where we want to go because any number of properties (that have) come around lately fall under, to me, a formula retail because they have many."
In term's of the square footage, Goss said he believes the number will go away if the number of stores was moved to five.
"I don't think you are going to find the number, 50,000, 70,000 is going to matter as much," he said.
Jordan said he believes if they go to five stores, some stores may come out of the current inventory, which would reduce the number to be less than 50,000. He said a formula retail store can not exceed 2,000 square feet.
"You could technically come up with 20 more stores before you hit the 70,000 square feet," he said.