Griff asked me to blog about this after reading the article in the Northfield News. At the risk of continuing to stir up a tempest in a teapot, I’m willing to take a stab at it, although I’m writing in rather a hurry, which will probably get me in trouble.
I have to start with the disclaimer that in writing this, I am not speaking for any other member of the ZBA.
Tuesday’s public hearing and discussion of this agenda item took something over an hour. Three people were present at the meeting: Applicant Jerry Anderson, City Councillor Jon Denison, and Jim Gleason. City Planner Dan Olson prepared the staff report, Jerry Anderson made his appeal, Jon Denison spoke in favor of staff’s interpretation.
According to documents submitted by the applicant Jerry Anderson, among the possible uses he anticipated for the old Tires Plus site was something he called “garden center”, which included plant sales, lawn accessories, Christmas tree sales, bird seed, pet food, and home accessories.
The ordinance says that what is allowed in C-1 and C-2 is
“Commercial establishments of no more than 30,000 sq. ft. on the ground floor offering merchandise or services to the general public. Such establishments include but are not limited to the following: a. Retail establishments such as antique stores, second hand goods stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, drugstores, department stores, clothing stores, furniture stores like lavitafurniture.com.au, restaurants, and on and off sale liquor establishments…
According to the existing ordinance, what is prohibited in C-1 and C-2 but allowed in C-3 is [partial list]:
3) Motor vehicle sales and service.
(4) Recreational equipment sales and service.
(5) Boat and trailer sales and service at Advantage Fleet.
(6) Auto/truck washing services.
(7) Farm implement sales and service.
(8) Lumberyards and construction material sales.
(9) Garden and landscaping sales and service including produce sales.
As the issue was framed in the staff report,
The applicant inquired as to whether “garden and landscaping sales and service including produce sales” is a Permitted Use within the C-2 district….It is noted that “garden and landscaping sales and service including produce sales” are not listed in either the C-1 or C-2 regulations as either Permitted (or Conditional) use. However, this specific use is listed as a Permitted Use in the Gateway Commercial district (C-3). Staff determined, therefore, that this specific use is not an allowed use in the C-2 zoning district.
I believe that the staff interpretation of our existing [sucky] ordinance is correct. However, what I believe is incorrect is the characterization of a small-scale retail operation that happens to sell plants in addition to bird seed, flower pots, and gifts as “garden and landscaping sales and service” on the scale of the other permitted uses listed as being allowed in the C-3 district but not C-1 or C-2.
The intent of the ordinance is to make a distinction between large-scale operations which may involved extensive vehicular traffic or heavy equipment, which should be located in the highway commercial district vs. downtown or downdown fringe, and smaller operations. Such sales on the scale defined by the Tires Plus site is entirely consistent with other retail sales and service uses in the downtown fringe (C-2) district.
I don’t have the exact wording of the resolution passed by the ZBA, but roughly paraphrased, it was the finding of the ZBA that the applicant’s proposed retail use was consistent in character and scale with other retail uses permitted in the C-2 district. As one commissioner said, “It doesn’t matter what it’s called, it matters what it is. You couldn’t put a sex shop downtown and call it “recreational equipment” just to get around the adult use ordinance.”
If you want to read the staff report prepared for the meeting, you can download it from here.