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Setting up shop to sell ice in Dunedin comes at a price

DUNEDIN — Richard Corley wanted to sell ice.

He planned to install a dispensing machine. It would take up three parking spaces off the Dunedin Causeway. Twenty pounds in a cooler would cost $1.50.

It was a simple plan, he thought. But Dunedin, like most cities, has its protocols. There are forms to complete, memos to send, officials to advise. Corley's ice machine became Application No. S/D 09-54.00 C.

Corley was new to the process, said Dunedin assistant director of planning and development Matthew Campbell, so officials held his hand. There would be applications, deadlines, a paper trail. If the city approved, Corley could begin to build.

But Campbell didn't sugarcoat it.

"I told him," Campbell said, " 'you have a 50-50 chance of getting this through.' "

Corley was undeterred. He discussed his idea with Campbell, another planning official and a zoning technician. He met with the city's Development Review Committee, a group of eight to 12 heads and representatives in the fire, parks, engineering, planning, building, zoning, stormwater and solid waste departments.

Corley's "Twice the Ice" machine would need only electricity and water to work. Still, there are city codes to keep to. Early oversight, Campbell said, is crucial.

"Sure, it might be an ice vending machine today, but it's unmanned, it's electronic. Down the road it could be a Coca-Cola vending machine," Campbell said. "We have to be real careful about that. If we open the door for this kind of vending apparatus, where do we draw the line?"

The talks began four months ago. Corley was required to submit a site plan, vending documentation, tabulations on how the filled parking spaces would affect the 12-acre shopping plaza off Bayshore and Causeway boulevards.

He paid for public notice in the newspaper. He sketched a map. He sent letters to dozens of residents within 500 feet of the 8-foot-wide dispenser, telling them what to expect. Many of them, he said, thought it was a good idea.

But as the months passed, Corley's plans shifted. The city arborist recommended planting two Robellini palms next to the machine. City officials opted for a blue canopy, instead of green. "I agreed to anything they wanted," Corley said. "I was fine with whatever."

After four months, 40 man-hours and up to $400 spent navigating the process, Corley was ready for business. Electricians and plumbers, he said, could get the $120,000 machine operational within days.

But the night before its approval before the City Commission, Corley's plan took a hit. Though Dunedin planners wrote the machine would fit all requirements, City Manager Rob DiSpirito didn't approve of its look.

"Upon further consideration," Assistant City Manager Harry Gross wrote, the machine wouldn't "fit the environment of the causeway as a whole, aesthetically."

The Dunedin Causeway Center Shopping Plaza features three thrift stores, a bingo hall, a British pub and a pizza shop. Corley's dispenser would have sat paces from an ice freezer already in business outside a Dollar General.

After "everything we've done, everything we've gone through … that just floored me," Corley said. "An ice machine!"

"It's not that (Corley) is applying for a liquor license. It's just ice and water," said Vijay Walvekar, the managing member of Walvekar Florida Properties, which owns the plaza. "Yet he has to go through all that hassle."

But the plan wasn't dead yet. The commission had yet to vote on the machine. City Hall would speak on it the night after DiSpirito's call.

But the agenda item was postponed. A commissioner was on vacation. The ice machine's fate would be decided in October. When speaking on another postponed item, Mayor Dave Eggers apologized.

"That's just the way city government works."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Setting up shop to sell ice in Dunedin comes at a price 08/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 8:36pm]
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