Newberry passes first reading of big box store zoning in progress 

Newberry Commissioner Monty Farnsworth, talking at a recent meeting, voted in dissent of the an ordinance to create a Zoning-In-Progress for big box retail stores.
Newberry Commissioner Monty Farnsworth, talking at a recent meeting, voted in dissent of the an ordinance to create a Zoning-In-Progress for big box retail stores.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The Newberry city commission voted Monday to approve the first reading of an ordinance to create a “Zoning-in-Progress” for big box retail stores. 

The commission first discussed zoning regulations for big box stores at its regular meeting on March 11. Commissioners approached the topic with varying ideas on how to regulate the stores and eventually determined it would be beneficial to hold a workshop on the topic. 

Staff first brought the item to the commission in the wake of a groundbreaking for what is rumored to be the largest Publix in the county. Though commissioners and the mayor have spoken positively about the new Publix, they have also acknowledged that it will likely bring other chain stores to the area. 

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Staff told the commission in March that it wants to give the commission an opportunity to consider amending the Land Development Regulations (LDRs) before any large-scale retail developments begin filing applications. 

After commissioners displayed support for varying levels of restrictions, they agreed that a town hall of some sort would be a good idea and requested examples of how other towns have dealt with the issue. The commission also asked for more data on big box stores’ impact on a community.  

Staff said Monday that Alachua County chose to define a big box store as 100,000 square feet and treats them as planned developments, while the city of Alachua picked 20,000 square feet and treats them as special exceptions. 

The first reading, passed 4-1 in Monday’s meeting with Commissioner Monty Farnsworth dissenting, would not enact any restrictions, but would warn potential developers that the commission is considering its options. 

Farnsworth said he opposed the ordinance out of a concern that it could discourage businesses from coming to town. City Manager Mike New said the risk of that is “very, very low.” 

“We do not intend to disrupt anything, but more publicly notify people that we’re gonna have a conversation, and there may or may not be regulation that comes out of that,” New said. 

According to New, this type of notification is considered best practice for a possible regulation. 

The ordinance, if passed on second reading, would expire automatically after six months or upon the passage of a regulatory ordinance. 

In the meantime, the commission would hold a workshop to determine details of a regulatory ordinance, if it decides to proceed in that direction. The details would include the square-foot definition of big box stores, which currently sits at 80,000. 

“I think what I hear is, staff is saying it’s gonna take about six months to build consensus up here, and really that depends on you,” Mayor Jordan Marlowe told the commission. 

The commission also discussed possible topics for an upcoming joint meeting scheduled with the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). 

Commissioners Ricky Coleman and Monty Farnsworth both said they would not attend the meeting because they did not want to deal with a repeat of last year’s five-hour discussion. 

Commissioner Tim Marden said he would attend, but wanted to keep the meeting limited to presentations of updates on things such as sports and roads, the same topics the county asked to discuss. 

“That’s a pretty vanilla topic, it doesn’t even warrant any discussion from us, other than just receiving a report, if I’m not mistaken,” Marden said. “So we can check the box and try to move on. To some extent I’m tired of fighting because… we’re not getting anywhere with it, so it is what it is at this point.” 

Commissioner Mark Clark said he would normally attend, but will be out of town on the day, and without his participation the commission would lack a quorum. 

Without a quorum, Marlowe gave the commission two options for how to proceed: either find a new date that would work for a quorum or turn the updates-only meeting into an update email. 

Clark urged his colleagues that it is their duty to attend these meetings, even if they do not want to. 

“We got some grant money [through the county] …those things are still going to help this community,” Clark said. “So we need to do whatever we can, regardless of it, to be able to get some of these extra funds to help our community, too.” 

Marlowe agreed that joint meetings with the BOCC are tiresome, but that Newberry needs to continue putting in an effort to work with the county. 

Marlowe said he would send an email to the BOCC presenting it with the options of looking for a new meeting date or receiving the updates in an email. 

“The requirement for the county to meet with the city once a year is just to sort of stay in touch,” Marlowe said. “And I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job of staying in touch without the use of a meeting, which costs us a pretty good bit.” 

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