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Date of Issue: October 25, 2007

HB planning commission revisits zoning request

A request from LaPensee Plumbing to rezone a Manatee Avenue office building received a split decision the second time around the planning commission.

Last month, the Holmes Beach Planning Commission recommended the city commission rezone 401 Manatee Ave. from Commercial-1 to C-2 and grant a special exception to allow LaPensee up to four service vehicles at the site. C-1 is generally for office, C-2 for office and retail and C-3 for office, retail, and more intensive commercial uses.

Last week, the planning commission revisited the matter on the recommendation of chair Sue Normand and the opinions were split on the rezoning application. Two members of the board, Mike McCaleb and Gary Hickerson, found the rezoning was in compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan. Three members, Normand, Sylvia Harris and Michael Snyder, disagreed.

The planning commission will submit a memo to the city commission, which was expected to review the application for rezoning during a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at city hall.

LaPensee Plumbing co-owner Mike LaPensee approached city officials late this summer about his interest in purchasing the property at 401 Manatee Ave. as a new site for his business, currently housed at 5362 Gulf Drive and making use of an off-site lot for parking the business’ service vehicles.

LaPensee told officials that to make the purchase, the Manatee Avenue site would need to be rezoned because the plumbing company plan for the site seemed not to fit in definition of C-1 zoning. The company plans a showroom, design center, administrative offices, delivery operation and service center.

With what seemed like a warm response from city hall, LaPensee Plumbing proceeded with the application for rezoning.

In September, the planning commission reviewed the application, the land-development code, the zoning map and the comprehensive plan, and decided C-2 with a special exception allowance would be more appropriate than C-3.

Normand submitted a Sept. 21 memo to the city commission stating, “Although we generally do not believe spot-zoning is a good idea, the planning commission did agree that, pending approval of the city commission, a rezoning of the subject property to C-2 with a special exception to permit overnight parking of the vehicles on the subject property, with adequate screening in place, would be more in keeping with surrounding land use (than C-3) and would not be inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.”

But by an Oct. 9 city commission meeting, new questions and concerns were raised. City planning consultant Bill Brisson said that, in his opinion, a C-2 rezoning would not work for the project and that C-3 might be inappropriate for the site, endangering the Manatee Avenue corridor by enticing more requests for zoning changes and heavier commercial uses. Faced with the new information, the city commission postponed a vote on the application until this week.

The delay provided the planning commission with another opportunity to review the application on Oct. 17.

Normand told commissioners she wanted the meeting because they didn’t have enough time to review information for the first meeting and members were too eager to help LaPensee Plumbing.

“We were trying to help,” Normand said. “But we failed to keep our eye on the ball. We didn’t look at the big picture.”

Normand said she later studied the case and concluded that rezoning the property would be in conflict with the comprehensive plan because of the proximity to C-1 and Residential-4 multi-family zoning. “It would be smack in the middle of R-4 and C-1,” she said.

McCaleb said he considered the rezoning in compliance with the comprehensive plan’s commercial and economic goals. He said the property “has always been halfway sitting idle” and is “a funny piece of property with a funny access.”

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” McCaleb said. “I think C-2 is reasonable.”

The planning commissioners did not vote on a motion last week, but rather stated their positions.

While they split on the rezoning issue, they agreed unanimously that the city commission should work to help LaPensee Plumbing move into the Manatee Avenue location.

“My only recommendation would be to see if the city commission could let their business into a C-1,” Normand said.

Addressing the planning commission, both Mike and wife Karen stressed that their business would result in less traffic than a nearby bank permitted in the C-1 zoning and other businesses in the area.

“I just don’t feel it would be that great of an impact on that area,” Mike LaPensee said.

Karen LaPensee said she doubted city commissioners would consider allowing the business in a C-1 category. “It’s not a possibility,” she said. “That’s why we are here.”

LaPensee’s attorney, Charles Webb, also defended the rezoning application, stating that a change would not be “spot zoning” because the nearby CVS drug store is zoned C-3 and “the remaining uses along the south side of Manatee Avenue are intense commercial uses.”

The planning commission’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at city hall.

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