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Sunday, February 21, 2010

FWB panel: CRA board is bad for local business

FWB panel: CRA board is bad for local business

The City Council should take its place, report says

Daily News
FORT WALTON BEACH — A city committee has recommended eliminating the Community Redevelopment Agency’s board of directors.
The recommendation is one of 10 suggestions handed down by the five-member business retention panel, which the Fort Walton Beach City Council appointed in last year to identify ways to help make the city more business friendly.
“Everything was on the table,” said Barry Stafford of the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors, who chaired the panel. “It was like having a blank canvas.”
The City Council will discuss the recommendations at special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The panel spent six months studying the city’s permitting and development processes.
In its report, the committee said the CRA district is an important tool for revitalization, but that its board “has become something larger than originally intended by having the ability to review plans for development.”
The report also said the CRA board “has served to slow down or even inhibit development with the city.”
“They pretty much got into your business,” said restaurant owner Tom Rice, the panel’s vice chairman. “I think they’ve over-involved themselves in personal property.”
Stafford said eliminating the CRA board would save business owners time and eliminate a level of city bureaucracy.
Rice said his panel had found that it typically takes 105 days to get a building permit in Fort Walton Beach.
“It just seems like there is an awful lot of bureaucracy that could be streamlined,” he said.
Rice added that CRA board members are not qualified to approve site plans.
“The only person qualified to do it is the city engineer, so let’s leave it there,” he said.
City Councilman Bill Garvie, a former chairman of the CRA board, agreed that micro-managing the design of a project is not in the agency’s job and could slow the permitting process.
“That’s not what they’re there for,” he said. “Delays are an expensive thing to a developer.”
However, Garvie supports the CRA board. He said that having an extra layer of oversight can be helpful to the council.
“I always read what the CRA says about a (project),” he said.
Other recommendations in the business panel’s report include reviewing city policies to acknowledge the rights of private property owners and re-evaluating the fee schedule to allow for incentives or reductions for redevelopment or new development.
“I personally like white, clapboard siding on my restaurant,” Rice said. “The day I want to paint it blue, that should be my choice, too.”
The panel also has proposed that the City Council review its existing sign ordinance, which requires all businesses to conform by July 11, 2011.
“That’s going to be quite a financial burden on a lot of property owners,” Stafford said. “That’s not real friendly … when the economy is hit as hard as it is.”

A report issued by the Fort Walton Beach City Council’s business retention panel is available at http://www.fwb.org/index.php/agenda-a-minutes/636.html.
The City Council will discuss the plan at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Big City American Bistro 
171 Brooks St SE 
Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548

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