Carrabelle may soon get another dollar store, this one smack dab in the heart of the city, and it’s not generating a lot of enthusiasm throughout the community.
A steady chorus of neighbors greeted city commissioners at their Nov. 5 meeting, nearly all speaking out against plans by Twin Rivers Capital, a real estate developer based in Charleston, South Carolina, to construct a roughly 10,500 square foot Family Dollar.
Even commissioners voiced concerns, but in the end, they voted unanimously to grant the proposal conceptual approval, mainly because as far as zoning rules and regulations go, the project appeared to meet them all.
“The property is zoned commercial, they can put in a retail building,” said City Administrator Courtney Dempsey, in an interview following the meeting. “It meets the parking requirements, it meets the setbacks, all of those. Right now, it’s just a drawing but it appears they can meet all of these requirements.”
But that’s not how the city residents who showed up to speak see it.
“My wife and daughter and I came to Carrabelle for the quiet charm of this community and its rich history,” said David Printiss. “Now we’re not quite so sure.”
He said “unspoiled charm is a favorite description” used by visitors, who adore the quiet streets and locally owned shops.
“I don’t care much for dramatics, but we stand at a crossroads. This will be a forever decision that will forever diminish our city,” Printiss said. “I’m firmly against it. It’s bad for local businesses and bad for the community.”
Skip Frink, a resident and local businessman, followed, and he said there’s not enough information, on such things as noise and lighting, for the commission to make an informed decision.
“People say ‘We came for the charm, for the harbor,’ not particularly for a dollar store right smack in the middle of downtown,” he said. “Is this really an appropriate thing to put in the middle of our town?
“We have an empty dollar store that’s available that’s 8,000 square feet. This projected one is 10,000,” Frink said.
Tamara Allen, speaking as program manager for the Carrabelle Waterfront Partnership, said the group had reviewed the plans, and had assembled its comments.
“We would say there are concerns,” she said, noting that the building is in the middle of a proposed district for the town center.
“We’re making some progress; some buildings are getting historical markers,” Allen said. “We urge it be built with architectural considerations, for the Florida cracker style, which is technically called the local vernacular. Like buildings in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. That’s our first consideration.
“The second thing is all consideration should be given to traffic to the building, and a shed for garbage. There’s no view shield for garbage cans,” she said.
“The third thing is probably most critical. We reviewed the Northwest Florida Water Management District map of Carrabelle and we would urge as they move forward, they need to take a look at that,” Allen said. “This shows this location, especially the front half is in the flood zone. We would urge them to take special care.”
She closed by noting that “we need a pharmacy but I have not seen any plans included for that.”
Mayor Brenda La Paz reiterated that concern, saying that “eastern Franklin County needs a pharmacy desperately. Between Eastpoint and Crawfordville we have no pharmacy,”
Carrabelle residents were not the only ones to speak out, as those from Lanark Village also appeared to make their views known on the city they often shop in and feel very much a part of.
James Putnal, a Lanark resident who vigorously opposed the creation of a dollar store adjacent to his property, a plan that the county commission ultimately nixed, spoke out.
“For the same reason we don’t want a dollar store in Lanark, we don’t need another one,” he said. “This is a Pandora box staring you in the face. We already have a naked building standing there.
“Next thing you know the hardware store will close, the grocery store will close,” Putnal said. “I was born and raised here. I can’t believe what’s happening to my hometown. I want to beg everybody who has an opinion to stand up and be heard now.”
Jim Chidester, also of Lanark, raised questions about the loss of parking spaces adjacent to the post office on Tallahassee Street, which will be the site of the entrance and exit to the store property. That’s because the Florida Department of Transportation has said no to allowing ingress and egress off of U.S. 98.
Butler says store would bring jobs, revenue
Cliff Butler, one of the owners of the property, which stretches roughly from the “World’s Smallest Police Station” to the post office, said the bank property relied on an entrance from Tallahassee Street “long before the city came in with striped parking.
“That’s always been an entrance,” he said. “We have unlocked it and allowed parking in there.”
City Attorney Dan Hartman read a letter from Butler in which he stressed the jobs that would be created, and the additional water and sewer revenue that would be raised, all contributing to growth in the Community Redevelopment Area.
“If not approved it will discourage other businesses from locating in Carrabelle,” Butler said. “As businesses die out and close, who will replace them? Don’t disapprove it because of public opinion.
“Since 1970, we’ve always placed great faith in Carrabelle,” he said.
“We as a company would prefer to have access on 98,” Collins Moe, Twin Rivers associate development manager, told commissioners.
In his remarks prior to the commission vote, City Attorney Dan Hartman said the developers do not have to provide answers to all the infrastructure issues at this point in the process.
“It’s not something you would have to submit at this stage,” he said. “The question is whether it’s a suitable site for conceptual approval.”
The commissioners heard plenty of opposition from neighbors, including Martha Murray, who said it would be “an eyesore and a deterrent to foot travel. It is totally unnecessary in my opinion.”
And from former city commissioner Gathana Parmenas, who said the increased traffic “would add semis to narrow roads,” adding that it would be “a lasting eyesore that would damage property values.”
Among those speaking was 19-year-old Hannah Putnal, who said semi-trucks could interfere with the movement of fire trucks. “It hinders them from doing their job,” she said. “And it would deter tourists, not many people would come. Nobody wants a miniature copy of where they came from; they’re trying to escape the hustle and bustle.
“St. George island visitors like Carrabelle because it’s quiet and secluded. They can come here and shop locally,” she said.
But after Frank Mathes moved, and Tony Millender seconded, a motion to accept the conceptual site plan, it became clear the city intended to work with the developers to have their aesthetic and infrastructure requests met.
Commissioners continue to have concerns
“This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” said Commissioner Cal Allen. “I sympathize with the beauty of the town (argument). On other hand the person owns the property and they have the right to sell it as long as it’s legal.
“I’m torn between those two options,” he said.
“It’s a difficult decision and I’ve listened very closely to everything you folks have had to say,” said Millender, noting that he’s received letters and calls at home.
“We have a mix of opinion; I think that’s great,” he said. “This is a conceptual plan and this is just the beginning. Some of these issues can be addressed and hopefully worked through. I feel confident we can do that.
“I have concerns as a lifelong resident,” Millender said. “Our community needs growth. We’re trying to do the best job we can. I think we can come out with a good plan. This is not the end of it as we do it tonight. It’s just the beginning.”
La Paz raised several concerns, in addition to the need for a pharmacy.
“It needs to be more harmonious to the downtown,” she said. “And by FDOT denying the 98 traffic, it’s forcing traffic flow to side streets. I don’t want traffic flow disturbing this area. Something has to be figured out as we move forward.”
La Paz said also she was concerned about the visual effect that Dumpsters would have.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions in nine years,” said the mayor, conceding that the developer appeared to have met all the land use regulations. She suggested that future consideration be given to developing an overlay site plan to address issues in the downtown area.
The commission also addressed the dates for a special election to replace former commission Keith Walden, who stepped down last month.
The election will be held Tuesday, March 2, 2021, with qualifying week between noon on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 and noon on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
“You can file early but you can’t qualify until those dates,” said La Paz.
“I feel like citizens need to choose who their representative is,” said Millender, who suggested the commission consider appointing a commissioner after qualifying week, who would then serve for six weeks.
Candidates must be residents of Carrabelle, and at least age 18, eligible to vote.
The commission also accepted a bid of $3,025 from the Lanark Village Association to lease property from the city in the village, to be used for storage purposes.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Carrabelle weighs another dollar store