City's zoning rules lead scooter shop to hit the brakes
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.
Collin Austin said business has continuously improved since he opened New Scooters 4 Less six years ago, with the shop running out of space at the 3,500-square-foot location in the block north of Publix on North Main Street.
He wanted to open a second location in a high-traffic area that is far enough away from the current shop that it wouldn't cannibalize sales. The business negotiated a lease for a spot in Butler Plaza this spring.
“We thought that was a sure fit,” he said.
But when New Scooters 4 Less submitted the required zoning compliance application to the Gainesville Planning Department, it was denied. A provision within the 340-page land-use code equates scooters to motorcycles, an auto-oriented business that at the time was only allowed in the business automotive zoning along North Main Street and a few other specific locations.
Shortly thereafter, Austin, 31, was one of six people selected to speak at the May 13 forum hosted by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and then Mayor-elect Ed Braddy about how city government can better foster small business growth.
“There's one thing keeping my company from growing right now and that's this city,” he said at the forum.
By way of example, he said his business with a clean showroom and a maintenance area in the back would not be allowed in the same 34th Street Sweetbay Supermarket shopping center that includes an auto parts store.
Unbeknownst to Austin at the time, a competitor had already applied for a zoning change to allow scooter sales in high-density business areas such as those in and around downtown and some commercial corridors. The City Commission approved the zoning change at its meeting later that week.
Erik Bredfeldt, economic development and innovation director, said the code change process started several months ago after he met with the competitor and told him “the only way we could deal with the issue is to go to the powers that be and say, ‘Are you comfortable with us, with the staff moving forward on a change to the code?' ”
Bredfeldt said he also told New Scooter's Realtor Dave Ferro that changes in the works to the Butler Plaza Planned Development might allow scooter sales if the business could “hold out a little while.”
Even with the city trying to help, Austin said the process of government takes too long.
“That's probably the biggest issue I have,” he said. “Nothing takes a week. It's always a month. They have one meeting, talk about it and they follow up on it a month later, talk about it. Change doesn't happen quickly. It's a very drawn out, slow process which is most frustrating, especially when you're in a business like mine where things are moving quickly and we're ready for our next step.”
In the meantime, Austin said there is not a lot of available real estate in the urban mixed-use areas he has looked at and what is available doesn't work for the shop.
He is waiting to see what happens with an update to the city's land-use code that is in the works, but that isn't expected to be completed for another year.
“We're going to focus on doing what we do best and wait for opportunities to arise,” he said. “If it means another location here, fantastic. If it means another location in a different town altogether, that's OK, too.”