by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Unlimited Biking Sanibel applied for a conditional use permit in February to operate its rental business in the Islander Center, 2407 Periwinkle Way. Sanibel Planning Commission unanimously denied the application with concerns over the location, safety aspects and the need to address the definition or interpretation of formula retail.
Land Development Code Section 78.1 defined a formula retail store as a type of retail sales activity or retail sales establishment, with three or more store locations, that is required by contractual or other arrangement to maintain any of the following:
Standardized Business Name, Standardized Business Signage, Standardized Architecture, Standardized (formula) Array of Merchandise, Trademark, Logo, Uniforms.
Unlimited Biking is a national company with several locations in New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C., and offers franchise opportunities. Although, Unlimited Biking Owner Hakan Ugdur told Commissioners in February none of the locations are a franchise.
Director of Community Services Keith Williams said city staff felt Unlimited Biking Sanibel qualified as formula retail upon initial evaluation.
Williams explained the applicant had stated very strongly Unlimited Biking Sanibel is not formula retail because it is not “contractually obligated,” as stated in the definition, to operate under the same name or in the same manner as Ugdur’s other locations.
Attorney Steve Hartsell argued Unlimited Biking is not a retail business, but a rental one; therefore, it is not formula retail by definition. And rental businesses are not listed on the exclusion list for formula retail.
Williams further explained there are no general prohibitions for formula retail, just an island-wide square-footage cap of 60,000 before an application goes before city council. There is currently a total of 49,025 square feet in the formula retail inventory across Sanibel.
City staff recommended the definition of formula retail be updated so businesses like Unlimited Biking Sanibel would qualify then placed in the inventory.
The Land Development Code Review Subcommittee, comprised of the seven planning commissioners, directed staff on March 9 to draft an ordinance amending the definition of formula retail for planning commission to review and recommend to city council.
City Planner Craig Chandler presented the proposed changes April 13 to the commissioners. His memo stated, in part, Unlimited Biking Sanibel “emphasized a caveat in the formula retail store definition in an attempt to circumvent required conditions typically reserved for retail businesses with at least three locations.” That caveat was the wording “required by contractual or other arrangement.”
The proposed revised definition states:
“Formula retail store means a type of retail sales activity or retail sales establishment, with three or more locations, that maintains any of the following, which are distinctive to, or standardized among, some or all other locations: name of business, business signage, exterior design or architecture, array of merchandise, trademark or logo, uniforms.”
Commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance amending the formula retail store definition be recommended to city council.
Other Discussion in the April 13 meeting:
Commissioner Laura DeBruce said while the revised formula retail definition closes the intended loophole, she would propose it go further.
Planning Commission currently considers four to five of the 10 conditions listed in the LDC Section 126-102 for a new formula retail conditional use permit application. The remaining conditions are not considered until the 60,000 square-foot threshold was met. DeBruce suggested all 10 conditions be considered by city staff and commissioners before that.
She pointed out many local business owners are part of the community and give back in several ways. “I think there is a lot to protecting our local small businesses from formula retail that helps our island and isn’t simply protectionist,” said DeBruce.
Sanibel resident and On Island Owner Kate Sergeant said she wanted to see formula retail regulations be more strict. She also spoke to the community involvement of local business owners and their difficulties in the wake of natural disasters on the island are worse than on a large retail chain.
Josh Stewart, another Sanibel resident and owner of Adventures in Paradise, spoke about how locally-owned businesses are a part of what makes the island special.
City Attorney John Agnew said there is a procedure in place and any changes may produce unintended consequences. Chandler added that DeBruce’s proposed change would require an in-depth analysis by city staff. And Williams pointed out an existing 2,000 square-foot threshold for any commercial space could be grounds for denial.
This may be discussed further in future LDC Review Subcommittee meetings.