The developer who wants to relocate the city’s Family Dollar store to a wooded site on U.S. 98 on the western edge of Apalachicola isn’t giving up.
On Friday, Panama City attorney Robert Hughes submitted a notice of appeal of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Nov. 18 vote that gave a resounding no to a proposal to relocate the store from its current site adjacent to the Gulfside IGA to a lot that neighbors the Best Western Inn.
Hughes, who represents Blue Current Development LLC, the firm of Panama City Beach’s Brett Woodward, is alleging the city’s zoning approval process was riddled with errors and impropriety, and that the city should not be allowed to reverse its April 2012 decision that the lawyer says was a go-ahead for Woodward to move forward on the project and buy the land.
Hughes wants the city’s board of adjustment to reverse P & Z’s denial of the special exception request, and to direct city commissioners to grant the retail specialty store exception Woodward seeks in order to construct a more than 8,300-square foot store on 1.16 acres at U.S. 98 and Clairmont.
The lawyer argues P & Z’s unanimous vote in April 2012 to confirm that “the operation is consistent within the C-3 zoning district” led to Woodward spending about $302,000 on the project, including about $245,000 for the land, $24,000 for civil design work, $9,300 for legal fees, $9,000 for architectural work, $8,500 for surveying work, and $6,000 for environmental work.
In his recounting of what he says are the facts of the case, Hughes wrote that in April 2012 P & Z “of its own volition… voted unanimously to confirm that the C-3 zoning was appropriate and correct for the Family Dollar store.”
He cites City Administrator Betty Webb’s Sept. 19, 2012 follow-up letter confirming the vote as “justifiable reliance” upon which Woodward went ahead to buy the property a month later. He said Blue Current “worked diligently in late 2012 and spring of 2013 to develop its site plan in conformity with the city’s land development code.”
Hughes said the company “incurred extensive obligations and expenses such that it would be highly inequitable and unjust to now prohibit (Blue Current) from proceeding with the project’s development.”
He says P & Z Chairman Tom Daly’s comment at the Nov. 2013 hearing, that “the reality is we voted on something very quickly without really thinking it through at that time,” shows P & Z acted negligently, did not exercise sound judgment and was not “without wanton disregard for the company’s rights in the property.”
Hughes admits in this filing the city’s land development code does not include “published criteria” as to what constitutes a retail specialty store. But, he argues, rather than articulating the evidence that it relied on to makes its decision, P & Z relied on “improper, irrelevant, immaterial and inadmissible” comments of the public.
Among those comments at the Nov. 2013 hearing were those of Board of Adjustment Chair Carrie Kienzle, who Hughes cites as having said that allowing the Family Dollar to be built is “a slippery slope into a cement ghetto, so let’s not go there.”
The attorney also alleges that Kienzle voiced “a baseless opinion that the company somehow acted less than honestly and ‘tried to slip’ the issue of project approval during the April 2012 meeting, when in point of fact (P & Z) took action on that issue of its own volition.”
The motion argues Kienzle, therefore, cannot render an impartial decision on the matter, and demands that she recuse herself from the board of adjustment process.