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10/10/2013 at 3:52pm

Times SquareLPA Discusses Downtown Proposals
Photo by James Royce

Town Hall was filled Tuesday morning as the Local Planning Agency (LPA) listened to two proposals that could change the way business is done in the downtown area - one that would create a new Entertainment District overlay in the commercial part of the island and the other a new ordinance governing outdoor displays of merchandise in and around Time Square.

After welcoming new member, Chuck Bodenhafer, a letter from the President of the Marina Village Condominium, Ken Turnburg - was read so that he and his residents' concerns about the proposed Entertainment District could go on record.

"Our building was built 32 years ago before any of the bars and restaurants, and we ask that our building not be included in the proposed district," the letter read. "We are concerned because the current levels of music and noise are already bothersome.”

Jim LaRue of LaRue Planning and Management Services then gave the presentation on the viability of creating an Entertainment District.

"This project was initiated in April after the council held a workshop where the idea of a downtown entertainment district was introduced, and from that came this presentation where we looked at issues such as the noise ordinance, alcohol, etc.," he said, explaining that advantages to having such a district are that it creates a synergy in that folks are attracted to one place, increases walkability and makes laws easier to enforce.

LaRue said his firm conducted interviews with 14 or 15 individuals including business owners and the President of the Beach Chamber of Commerce to gather their thoughts and concerns, as well as studied the current noise ordinance, rules for alcohol consumption, special exceptions and business' hours of operations.

"We also looked at the Comprehensive Plan and found no conflicts," he said. "We do think that the maximum allowable noise levels should be increased - just within the district - with a lower level set at the areas of the District that border on residential areas.”

The LPA then took public comment.

Nervous Nellies owner Rob DeGennaro said he's owned businesses from Key West to Maine. He advised the board members to figure out exactly what they are looking to create.

"What does Entertainment District mean?” he said. "It's retail, art, cafes, that's what we're looking for - make it a destination for people to come to."

During the LPA's discussion, Joanne Shamp said she has concerns about easing restrictions on the noise and that she believes the map of the proposed area goes to far south (Ohio Avenue).

"I think it should stop at Crescent Street," she said.

Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel said the current noise ordinance is hard to enforce.

"The Sheriff's Office could go out and take the complaint and the readings, then report to us where it would become a code enforcement issue - we think that would be more effective," he said.

Fluegel then presented the ordinance concerning outdoor displays of merchandise, explaining that Council asked Town staff to create such an ordinance because the Town's Comprehensive Plan governing outside sales of retail items and food is too ambiguous. Staff has been working with area merchants to craft a new ordinance.

"The new ordinance basically states that outdoor display would no longer be allowed on patios - ground level areas that are paved or wooden - but would be allowed on raised porches that have a covering,” he said. "And businesses could basically treat the porch areas almost like the interior of their store in that there would be no limits on tables and displays, but the business would have to get an annual permit for their outdoor display.”

Durrett said he believes the ordinance should be Town-wide and that there should not be a specific ordinance directed at the downtown area alone.

During public comment, Shipwreck owner John Richard said this ordinance encourages owners to improve their property and put in porches.

Robin Thurston, who has operated several vending carts in the open area between Dairy Queen and Beach Bazaar since 2006, said this ordinance would completely shut her down since none of the carts are on a raised, covered porch.

"I came to a workshop but was not picked to be one of the merchants who got to work on this ordinance,” she said. "I don't understand how we could have been here all these years and now we're in violation. This is how we make our living!”

Councilman Dan Andre said that 90-day extensions have been granted until this issue has been resolved.

Jane Plummer talked about a place in Hawaii where they are tearing down a marketplace filled with little kiosks - much like Robin's business - to put up a Saks Fifth Avenue store.

"Do we want a big building in that space?" she said. "I'm having a problem with this because people like things like that and I don't want to take away people's livelihoods."

Durrett agreed, saying it's hard enough to operate business on the island it is, and recommended that another stakeholder workshop be held to discuss what could be done for businesses like Robin's. Bodenhafer agreed, and the LPA voted 6-1 to schedule that workshop and continue the ordinance until the November meeting.

Keri Hendry Weeg