GREEN COVE SPRINGS – In the months of planning to spend $1.4 million to buy and renovate the old Fred Davis Buick dealership building, Paul Holman’s business plan bumped into the city’s Gateway …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – In the months of planning to spend $1.4 million to buy and renovate the old Fred Davis Buick dealership building, Paul Holman’s business plan bumped into the city’s Gateway Corridor ordinance.
First approved in 2007 and updated in 2012, the Gateway Corridor was designed to improve the city’s aesthetic appeal and reduce blight along Orange and Idlewild Avenues. Corridor guidelines govern the types of businesses allowed and prohibited in these areas of the city. At a town hall meeting held April 29, attended by about 70 residents, business owners and city council members, concerns were raised about one Corridor regulation that prohibits businesses from having outside displays. Others in attendance urged the city to look at more ways to make the city more visually-attractive.
“I’m all for the looks of it – the shrubbery, the greenery, I want it to be nice looking. We work on expensive cars, $300,000-to-400,000 cars. Very expensive cars, so I don’t want somebody pulling up to something where their car costs more than my shop,” said Holman, owner of Visual FX Custom Paint and Body, who plans to close on the property in June.
Holman, a Lake Asbury resident, wants to consolidate his current Orange Park and St. Augustine locations into one central location downtown. In planning his new shop, he said he wanted to have a good relationship with city hall, but he also questions whether the strict regulations are hurting business.
“When I came to the meeting, everybody’s biggest concern was that it’s a body shop – the noise from my body shop,” Holman said. “Everybody stood up here – noise, noise, noise, noise – that’s all I heard. Well, all the doors face a busy road [Orange Avenue]. Now, I’m going to turn them around and I’m going to face them to all the people that live back here. These are the kind of rules that make it difficult. It’s going to cost me $30,000-40,000 or more just to move these doors.”
He said he would also like to have an outside display to be able to showcase some of the automotive and boat restorations he and his crew complete. He envisions a professionally-designed concrete pad with landscaping where passersby could gawk.
“We have a ’69 Camaro – its’ a $150,000 car. No outside displays. We’re not talking about an old car on blocks out front. Whether you like cars or not, most people can appreciate old cars. Those are some of the things I think we can tweak [in the ordinance],” Holman said.
Lifelong Green Cove Springs resident Rick Beseler – former Sheriff of Clay County – said he has had trouble renting his commercial property to businesses since the Gateway Corridor was established due specifically to the rule governing outdoor displays of merchandise. However, he was eventually able to rent the property after requesting an exception from the city. Like Holman, Beseler suggests the Gateway Corridor ordinance be “tweaked” or modified to address the issue.
“The beautification part of it, I’ve got no problem with, I think everything needs to be pretty,” Beseler said. “And you can do that with a gun shop or a car dealership or whatever, but I think we should look at relaxing some of the standards that were put into place because I think the vision was at the time was ‘let’s have boutiques and tea rooms and coffee shops and stuff like that’ and that’s all great, but this is a rural community.”
Describing the Gateway Corridor ordinance as onerous, Beseler said he believes it is keeping some businesses out of the city that should be here.
“Let’s have a can-do attitude instead of when you walk in and say we want to open a business – here’s five reasons why we can’t do it – let’s have five reasons why we can,” Beseler said.
After Beseler spoke, Mayor Pam Lewis said the town hall was being held because a number of residents and business owners had raised various concerns about the Gateway Corridor. She said the council wants to hear “what people want.”
Not every attendee spoke out against the Gateway Corridor. Green Cove Springs resident Edward Gaw, owner of the fishing gear and tackle distributor Hi-Liner, complimented city council for having passed the Corridor ordinance. He pointed out that “there are very few municipalities that don’t impose some type of limitations and restrictions within their bounds.” He said the city should stick to its plan.
“We currently have a fairly well thought out and well vetted and defended planning and zoning code for the [Gateway] Corridor. As we have seen recently, this code includes the possibility of exceptions that grant exemptions to this code. I would contend that this is exactly the wrong time to be lowering our standards,” Gaw said.
Gaw cautioned attendees that the forthcoming First Coast Expressway is going to be “a game changer” for the city of Green Cove Springs.
“In light of the current state of the economy, robust appreciation and greater area infrastructure improvements, we must be careful of the future we wish for,” Gaw said.
Janis Fleet, development services director for the city, said the comments at the April 29 town hall meeting will be put together in a report she will present to city council.
“We’re going to synthesize the information – go through it – and then at some point in time, we’ll present it to the council with the recommendations. It’s really up to the council to determine what they want to do,” Fleet said.