Members of Apalachicola’s city commission will hear an appeal by Family Dollar March 11, the latest chapter in an effort by the retailer to overcome neighbors’ objections and relocate to a wooded site on U.S. 98 on the western edge of Apalachicola.
In January, Panama City attorney Robert Hughes appealed the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Nov. 18, 2013 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, sought to have the action overturned by the Board of Adjustment, claiming the city’s zoning approval process was riddled with errors and impropriety.
City Attorney Pat Floyd last month reviewed Hughes’ filing, and determined that the proper avenue would be for the developer to go directly to the city commission, after paying a $500 fee. At the city commission’s Feb. 4 meeting, it was agreed to hold the appeals hearing on Tuesday, March 11 at 6 p.m. in the commission chambers at Battery Park. An appeal to the city is a prerequisite if the developer should go to circuit court, and seek to recover damages.
Hughes wants the city to reverse P & Z’s denial of the special exception request, and to direct city commissioners to grant the retail a specialty store exception found in the C-3 commercial zoning. Woodward wants 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 cited City Administrator Betty Webb’s Sept. 19, 2012 follow-up letter confirming the initial P & Z 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.
P & Z “capriciously blocked (Blue Current) from actually developing the property after the company purchased the property in reliance on the of-reco0rd actions of (P & Z) and the written assurance of City Administrator Betty Webb,” Hughes wrote in his filing.
According to the filing, Blue Current, if granted permission, would develop and construct the store, and then receive rental income arising from lease arrangements between Blue Current and Family Dollar Stores, Inc.