Friday, January 23, 2009

Outcome of our first full meeting

In my previous post, I noted a few issues that were to come up this week that I thought worthy of some discussion. I would like to recap the issues and my thoughts.

Our first vote was to rezone a property at the intersection of 9th, Langley, and Tippin to C-2 zoning. The rezoning was requested by the property owner. He had built a new building two years ago, and now, in this economy, has been unable to rent it. A group approached him about putting in a bingo parlor. There was some dispute about the zoning rules, but the general consensus of staff and the planning board was that it would be allowed in C-2.

I was very hesitant to vote for this change. This intersection is a pretty main thoroughfare in our community. While this bingo hall will be tucked back, in a pretty decent building, C-2 zoning opens that property up for a lot of other uses, like used car lots. Part of the argument for it was that this parcel is bordered by county parcels which are zoned equivalent to our C-2. Hence the pretty unappealing strip in that area.

However, in the end, I voted for the change. Here's why:
  • The actual impact of bingo in terms of traffic is not much different from even a restaurant. So the change to a bingo hall will not have a dramatic change on the use of the area.
  • In my mind, I typically imagine ugly sheds housing bingo. In this case, though, it is a nice building (at least for a strip mall) that was originally designed for retail. So the appearance should not degrade the location.
  • The owners have been trying to lease the building for a couple of years. A vacant building is not attractive. I hope that as the economy improves that area will have more demand for retail tenants.
  • State law mandates that bingo benefit charities, and a portion of the profits from this hall will go to charities. Currently bingo can be played in churches and other venues in our community, and there has not been a large outcry about bingo in those locations.
  • Finally, there were no compelling arguments against the change. There have been comments, even by the council at the meeting, that bingo is not what we'd really like. However, no neighbors or others complained that it could become an eyesore.
I do not believe that this change will lead Pensacola to becoming the bingo capital of the world. I anticipate that soon we will have a demand for retail at this location. In the meantime the business will bring activity to a vacant parcel.

When dropping my kids off at school on Friday, a couple of the other moms asked how my new job is going. I mentioned the bingo issue. They said, "What we want to know is, when will we get recycling?" I had good news for them.

Thursday night we instructed staff to draft a plan for instituting city-wide, mandatory recycling. One of the hurdles is finding the money, but staff seems confident that it can be found. Expect to hear more about the plan in the next month or two.

Pensacola Community Improvement Programe (PCIP)
Another issue that was discussed at length at the committee meetings was the PCIP grant program. These are grants to neighborhoods for neighborhood improvements. With the tight budget situation we are facing, the staff chose to hold back some funding. Requirements for different pots of money were unclear to the neighborhoods, and some were recommended to receive no funds. I initially was not supportive of the motion to just give those neighborhoods the money they requested because we need to decide where the money will come from. However, I chose to support it in the end because we need to ensure we deal fairly with neighborhoods, it is a great program for getting a good bang for the buck since neighborhood have to match the funds, the neighborhoods know best what they need for their neighborhood, and it is a small amount of money compared to our total budget.

In all, it was a good meeting, I think, with the four newbies getting a better sense of the process. Even some of the returning council members were in new roles as committee chairs and had a few stumbles. I do hope our future committee meetings won't all last 5 hours.

Coming up... Next on our schedule is a workshop on Wednesday at 4 pm to discuss the maritime park. I added on the blog a Google calendar, which I have also made a public calendar on Google calendars. You can download such calendars, I believe, into Outlook or other programs. Thought it might reduce effort--fewer people have to reenter the data.

As always, feel free to email me with your thoughts on these or other issues.