Leader Blues

Saturday, October 20, 2007

TOP STORY >>City eyes business landscape

IN SHORT: A new ordinance requires greenery when the cost of remodeling is more than 25 percent of the assessed value.

Leader staff writer

Businesses remodeling in Jack-sonville will have to spend more green on the green as the city council tightened its landscaping ordinance Thursday night.

The old ordinance required businesses that remodel to include a landscaping plan if the cost of the remodeling was 50 percent or more of the assessed value of the building.

Now, landscaping will be required for any remodeling that is 25 percent or more of the assessed value. The new ordinance does state that landscaping costs will be capped at 7 percent of the remodeling costs.

Alderman Bob Stroud pushed for the change after a business in Jacksonville recently spent $1 million in renovation its building and zero on landscaping. “They found a loophole in our current ordinance,” Stroud complained.

“Technically they followed the ordinance, but they violated the spirit and intent of what we are trying to do here,” he added.

Ron Newport, chairman of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, suggested the council require all businesses that remodel to have to landscape. “The 25 percent threshold is just a Band-Aid,” he insisted. “Any business that requires a building permit or a license must meet all landscaping requirements right there and then.”

“We can’t be that strong,” Mayor Tommy Swaim said. “We would lose businesses by the dozen. Let’s not go helter-skelter on this.”

Alderman Terry Sansing was concerned about moving the threshold from 50 to 25 percent. “I don’t want us to discourage businesses from making renovations. We could be shooting ourselves in the foot here,” Sansing said.

The mayor told the council that the developers for Office Depot, which will occupy a portion of the old Kmart building, went before the planning commission last month asking for a waiver.

“Under the ordinance, they would have been responsible for landscaping all of the property even though two other businesses moved in without landscaping,” the mayor explained.

“Our commission was forward thinking in capping the developer’s expense to about $80,000. Without doing that we would not be getting that business,” the mayor said.

Alderman Bill Howard, who is also on the planning commission, said the commission doesn’t mind looking at landscaping issues on a case-by-case basis.

In other council business:
- In a 7-2 vote, the council passed an ordinance requiring the council and planning commission have an annual joint meeting with an outside facilitator for the purposes of long-range planning for the city.
Alderman Reedie Ray, who voted against the measure, said, “I don’t need a law to tell me to be at a meeting. Just tell me when it is; I’ll be there. You don’t have to order me.”

- The council passed an ordinance allowing the county to collect the city’s millage for 2008. The mayor explained that nothing has changed in the ordinance, but the council was required to reauthorize it every year.

- The council approved spending $25,000 of the $205,000 it has received in one-time state turnback money. Aldermen authorized spending $20,000 to buy two lots of land to expand the Reed’s Bridge Civil War Battlefield and $5,000 to build a pavilion at the new recycling park off Marshall Road.