It looks like Carrabelle will be getting a dollar store in the heart of a downtown that some residents want to have preserved as historic.
After a lengthy, heated discussion at the March 5 meeting, city commissioners voted unanimously to grant approval to what City Attorney Daniel Hartman termed “a preliminary site plan review.”
“It’s not a final development order,” he said. “The applicant does not want to spend the money, unless the commission gives him the go ahead on a level 3 review of the preliminary plan.’”
The specifics of what was being approved regarding the proposed plans to construct a 10,500 square foot Family Dollar by Twin Rivers Capital, a real estate developer based in Charleston, South Carolina, was at issue in the discussions.
A group of opponents argued the city had not completed several necessary steps in reviewing the developer’s plans, and so should not move ahead with approval.
“The city must analyze if this complies with the land development code,” said Angie Printiss, a Carrabelle resident who, along with husband David, had spoken out last fall when the first set of plans were presented.
“The burden is on the applicant; this can’t be approved based on an incomplete application,” she said. “This is about doing what is right and sticking with it.”
Printiss presented commissioners with a petition opposing the Family Dollar, which she said had 248 signatures.
Commissioner Frank Mathes was quick to ask if they lived outside the city. Printiss said 91 of the signatures were of Carrabelle residents.
“That’s still not half,” Mathes replied. “When you get 51 percent, I’ll listen to you.”
David Printiss said the problem with the process is “it is not the same site plan originally approved by the city. It is clear that the land development code sets out the process for review.”
A key reason why the site plan changed was based on recommendations presented by the planning and zoning board and the city commission, both of which have been cautious supporters of the proposed dollar store.
City Engineer Russell Large said that at the October planning and zoning, and the November commission, meetings, “there had been much opposition about truck access to Tallahassee Street. The questions were asked ‘Why not access to US 98?”
Large said to mitigate these concerns, the engineers spoke with the Florida Department of Transportation and asked them to allow access to U.S. 98, and close off an area next to the post office.
Mayor Brenda La Paz said she had requested the egress from the post office be closed. “We could have a U-shaped driveway around the post office and not share egress with the post office. They would come in from the north and exit on diagonal parking on the south side,” she said.
Large said re-striping would present four additional parking spaces.
“They felt like that particular plan would benefit their delivery trucks and make it easier for them to get in and get out,” said Commissioner Tony Millender.
Collins Moe, representing Twin Rivers, shared drawings of the proposed structure, and said the company had come back with “a dramatically different plan. “
“We’re excited about it, I think it is really, really good,” he said. “This is a new protype building that just recently came out.”
Millender, a retired forester, asked that oak trees on the northwest corner of the property be spared. “Is there any way to save those two old oak trees?” he asked.
“If it’s possible we would very much like to do that,” Moe said. “The main issue is going to be stormwater for sure. When we go from conceptual, there will be slight changes to the plan.
“I hope we can work together instead of opposing every single slight change,” he said. “An engineer is going to spend hundreds of hours designing, and there will be reports and soil testing once the process is kicked off.
“There’s got to be some kind of good faith that this isn’t going to be a nitpicking type (process),” Moe said.
“These are not demands,” replied Millender, “They are things I would like to ask you consider. Also, on the perimeter landscaping, there are a few really nice palm trees. Some of that could be utilized and made to look very nice.”
La Paz said she too had concerns with landscaping, but liked that the Dumpster would be well concealed, and there would be ample security lighting.
“The most upgrade we can afford is what you’re seeing,” said Moe.
La Paz said her research had discovered that West Park Florida had a Dollar Tree, the parent company of Family Dollar, with a pharmacy in it. As it stands now, Carrabelle plans do not include a pharmacy.
Several speakers spoke out in favor of the project, including former Apalachicola City Clerk Lee Mathes, a 30-year Carrabelle resident.
“I am excited to see that going into our downtown district,” she said. “I am really excited to see something that’s actually going to be used, instead of a vacant lot grown up with weeds.”
Carrabelle resident Steve Allen, who holds a master’s in architecture but is not licensed in Florida, said he would like to see the building placed so that it is keeping with the existing streetscape.
“The most offending thing about the site plan is the angle of the building doesn’t fit with the grid and layout of the street,” he said. “If the building was rotated 45 degree to the right in a clockwise direction, and a variance granted for building all the way against Tallahassee Street it would align with other buildings and fit better with the community.
“It would present that sort of zero lot line,” Allen said. “It would make the building fit more into the traditional way that street is addressed.”
Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper said she had concerns about the city saying no to a project that appears to fit with the existing zoning regulations. The two acres are being sold by Cliff Butler, who acquired it as part of the family’s holdings when they operated Gulf State Community Bank for many years.
“I’m not definitely in favor of the store coming in,” said Skipper. “But if this store meets the land use code, then it should move forward. What frightens me more than this dollar store is my rights being taken away, that tell me I can’t do something that’s zoned (for it).”
The meeting heated up with remarks by Michael Pace, president of the newly created Carrabelle Historical Preservation, Inc, whose board also includes Patricia Tabuchi and Bo May, owner of Rio Carrabelle, which is adjacent to the site.
“The public confidence has been severed in this process. Trust in the local government is critical for it to operate,” said Pace, who contended the process “lacks critical analysis (and) does not meet the minimum standards (and) is rife with confusion.”
He said Hartman had provided commissioners with “tortuous and misleading jury instructions.”
Pace’s words prompted Greg Kristofferson, La Paz’s husband, to speak out, citing his wife’s nine years of service to the city.
“Her integrity and that of this board is not what you think it is,” he said, addressing Pace. “You get up and run for one of these positions. They go by what the law is. They are not lawyers and they are servants of this city.”
Butler waited to speak until others had commented, arguing that while they had the right of free speech, he had property rights.
“This has been commercial for 50 some years,” he said. “This is the first project that has come along that would use that site.”
Butler went on to warn that “you may be restricted of using your property as you see fit if this is allowed to be done today.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Carrabelle OKs downtown dollar store