By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted unanimously to hold off on the adoption of a proposed ordinance that would have imposed stricter aesthetic and safety regulations on historic-district businesses.
The ordinance, which was up for second reading and final approval at the City Council’s Oct. 22 meeting, spells out numerous requirements relating to the interior and exterior of commercially zoned historic district buildings. Among the requirements are prohibitions against mold, rust or chipping paint on a building’s exterior, while the ordinance also stipulated that all siding and masonry joints of a historic-district building be weather-tight and resistant to rodents or other pests.
Several local business owners came forward to speak out against the ordinance’s adoption. Dennis Ray, the longtime owner and operator of downtown fixture The Little Big Store, was especially critical of the ordinance, which he said could put an “undue restraint” on business owners due to the costs associated with the sweeping updates called for in the ordinance. Furthermore, Ray said the still-struggling national and local economy had the potential to suffer if the ordinance was passed in that it might discourage new businesses from opening in the historic district.
“This ordinance, as it is written, is so tight and so hard to meet that I think we would discourage even some of the vacant from being purchased or turned into business because it’s almost impossible to meet some of the terms of this,” Ray said.
Tom Hutchens, the owner of Hotel DeFuniak, said the business owners downtown want their buildings to look good in order to attract customers and to preserve the historic beauty of the city, but they sometimes don’t have the money to make all the changes even they would like to. He suggested the Council consider putting together a volunteer committee to assess the historic commercial properties in question and to identify those that need improvement for safety’s sake or for beautification.
“Rather than making an ordinance, let’s work as partners,” he said. “Let it be resolved that the city council and the city will join hands with the local businesses in the historic district as partners, per se, to encourage the preservation and beautification of the historic district. Let’s not get at odds where you draw a line in the sands and say ‘Businesses, if you don’t do this you’re going to get fined or penalized.’ Let’s work together on this one.”
Ray, Hutchens and others petitioned the Council to hold off on a vote, a sentiment the board members shared to a man. Councilman Ron Kelley suggested that the other members read and review the ordinance before bringing recommendations forward at a future Council meeting. The Council also requested that City Attorney Clayton Adkinson review the ordinance, which he said will likely need to be redesigned to take into account more specifics regarding what will and won’t be considered “up to code.”
Discussion about that ordinance was only one of several major items on the agenda at the Council meeting, with much attention given to how the city should commemorate Veterans Day. The holiday is, according to custom, commemorated exactly at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, which usually doesn’t create a problem when it comes to the city’s public observance at Magnolia Cemetery. However, since Veterans Day falls on a Sunday this year, the Council originally proposed to hold this year’s program around 1 p.m. so as not to conflict with most local church services.
That proposal did not go over well with a large contingent of former military men and women who came out in support of the traditional 11 a.m. time. After hearing the overwhelming support from veterans for the usual start time, the motion was made to set observances for 11 a.m. on Nov. 11. While the motion passed when put to the vote, Councilmen Mac Work and Kermit Wright, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, opposed.
“I will never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…put country before God,” he said.
Several items regarding new construction projects at the municipal airport were all presented by City Manager Sara Bowers and all met with unanimous approval from the councilmen. First, the Council approved sending a draft of the master plan report to the Florida Department of Transportation and then Federal Aviation Administration, then the board members authorized Mayor Harold Carpenter to execute and adopt resolutions for the purchase of a refueling trailer and construction of t-hangar buildings. FDOT will incur 80 percent, or $268,000, of the total cost of the construction project, with the city’s local 20 percent match coming in at $60,000.
The Council also voted 5-0 to move forward on the sale of 30.54 acres of right-of-way along U.S. 331 to FDOT for a total amount of $586,650. FDOT agreed to purchase the land in order to have the city’s utilities pipes removed from the right-of-way as part of the project to four-lane U.S. 331 south of DeFuniak Springs. The purchase should go through in May 2013, and with construction to begin the following year, though the city will have to bear the expense of relocating its utilities lines, the expense of which will be partly covered by this sale.
Councilman Mac Work got approval from the Council to have the city attorney begin drawing up an ordinance prohibiting the sale of pornography within the city limits. The motion for the ordinance came after Work was informed by a citizen that a local store sold not only pornographic material but also some drug paraphernalia. The particulars of the ordinance will be patterned after the city’s existing sex offender and public nudity ordinances.