SAFETY HARBOR — Cognizant of the need to boost the local economy, city commissioners debated this week whether they wanted to invite new retail businesses on two important city roadways: McMullen-Booth Road and Main Street.
In the end, they decided to allow a produce stand in a tent on a vacant dirt lot on Main Street, though for a limited time, fearing the business model clashes with Safety Harbor's classy vibe.
But they weren't so open to favoring retail development at McMullen-Booth Road's secondary intersections. That road, labeled a scenic corridor by the county, now has substantial commercial development at only primary intersections like Enterprise Road and State Road 590.
At a recent meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board, members voted 6 to 1 for a more flexible approach on McMullen-Booth. They favored allowing low-intensity retail uses approved by the commission at secondary McMullen-Booth intersections such as Cedar Street.
But when that suggestion came to a vote at this week's City Commission meeting, it failed 3-2, with Mayor Andy Steingold and commissioners Nancy Besore and Cliff Merz voting against it and Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub and Commissioner Nina Bandoni voting yes.
Steingold said the Planning and Zoning Board might have been motivated by the industrial-looking appearance of a truck storage business now located near Cedar Street.
"I think the P & Z was thinking, 'Let's get something more attractive there,' " he said.
Community Development Director Matt McLachlan said the city gets regular inquiries from commercial developers who want to locate along McMullen-Booth, and he expects more in the future.
Following that discussion, the commission took up a request from Bill Bailey of Tampa to open a temporary produce stand and propane filling station on a vacant lot on the northwest corner of Main Street and Second Avenue N, in the heart of downtown.
Bailey, who operates a similar stand in the Westchase area of Hillsborough County, said he intends to eventually open a meat and seafood market in a building on Main Street — and put a wine bar on the second floor — but he said he wanted to open the temporary stand to start establishing himself now with the downtown crowd.
He asked the commission to extend the city's 90-day limit on temporary use permits so he could operate for at least a year.
Commissioners liked the idea of having fresh vegetables available downtown, but Steingold didn't like the temporary nature of the business and said if commissioners gave Bailey the permit, he should be required to show progress toward opening in a permanent structure.
Commissioners worried aloud about the propane filling station being unsafe or just not looking right on Main Street. Bailey said he would put a nice fence around the property.
Two residents spoke in favor of his proposal.
"The key in downtown is bringing people downtown," said resident Ted Williamson, who cautioned commissioners against saying they didn't want the new business.
On a motion by Ayoub, commissioners voted unanimously to allow Bailey to have a permit for his stand, but for six months, not a year. At three months, they will assess how the operation is going and will ask Bailey for proof he's making progress toward establishing his business in a permanent structure.
Diane Steinle can be reached at (727) 445-4184 or [email protected]