This week, Statesboro City Council received another revision of a proposed ordinance to regulate "temporary" vendors. It contained a provision to allow existing businesses such as Green Man's Corner and Ellis' Open Market to remain as they are, but no council member offered a motion to approve it.
At previous meetings, some members expressed objections to imposing new rules on businesses that, although called "temporary" because they lack buildings, have been operating in their current locations for months or years. They have heard from the people who operate the businesses.
"In some of our earlier discussions, there were some concerns expressed for those that are in operation as temporary vendors currently, what the impact of this regulation would be on those particular businesses and structures," said Planning and Development Director Mandi Cody. "So we've included a nonconforming clause."
The exemption would apply to vendors that have been at the same location for at least six months at the time the ordinance is enacted - if it ever is. If any structure or extension were added to an exempt business, the addition would then have to comply with the new regulations and other city laws.
But otherwise, things that would be required of new temporary businesses, such as an approved parking plan, and a lavatory with running water if the place is open more than two consecutive days, would not apply to the old ones.
If a nonconforming business closed for more than 30 days, it would lose the exemption. This had been shortened from 12 months in a previous draft. But there would still be no time limit on the exemptions.
'Green Man' and 'Blue Mile'
Councilman John Riggs mentioned "the Green Man" as one example of an exempt business and asked about others. "Green Man" Theo Lanier Sr. operates Green Man's Corner, from an open canopy in front of the former McDonald's on South Main Street. The building and lot are property of Frank Parker, the former city manager who has a lawsuit pending against the city and its elected officials over his dismissal last year.
"There are probably eight or 10 temporary businesses in town, maybe less, but I think that the Green Man is an excellent example," Cody said.
Councilman Will Britt questioned the wisdom of granting a permanent exemption.
Instead, the city might offer the business owners "a slow process," with six months to make some improvements, one year to install a restroom, two years to put in a permanent building, he suggested.
"But to say that we're going to allow a business to not conform to our rules forever after this draft is a tough thing to swallow," Britt said.
He noted that the city has been involved in redevelopment planning for South Main Street, envisioned as "the Blue Mile" from downtown to Georgia Southern University's main campus. Statesboro is a contender in the America's Best Communities competition for funding that could go to this work.
"We're talking about investing millions of dollars from here to Georgia Southern," Britt said. "And yet, we're going to allow a business to not have a bathroom, not have an office, not have a telephone, not have any (disabilities access), not have any real parking, not have landscaping, not have any of the things that Mandi spends every day doing."
Directing a remark to Councilman Gary Lewis, Britt said he doesn't want to harm businesses, but he doesn't like being locked into an exemption forever.
"Well, I don't like changing the rules in the middle of the game," Lewis said. "OK? They (the businesses) are there now."
"To me, it seems like we're attacking the bottom," said Councilman Phil Boyum. "There's property all over this town that's not being used properly and is not being taken care of, and we're picking on two or three people. I just don't understand it. I'd like to know where this even came from."
Cody and other staff members have repeatedly said they want an ordinance to clarify what is expected of temporary vendors and other businesses without permanent buildings. Council spent much of Tuesday's meeting dealing with detailed zoning requests for permanent commercial and residential buildings.
The city previously charged a $35 daily permit fee for temporary businesses, but it has no ordinance regulating them.
After the first draft was presented June 2, Mayor Jan Moore and the council instructed city staff members not to attempt to enforce permit requirements on temporary businesses already in existence until the ordinance is adopted.
Cody and interim City Manager Robert Cheshire expressed frustration Tuesday at the lack of a vote on the ordinance.
"We receive complaints from people with businesses that pay taxes and collect taxes and do all those things right beside these, and they're fussing just as loudly, but they're not willing to come and speak here this evening," Cheshire told the council. "And so we're hearing both sides, and we're asking, just vote. I don't care which way you vote, just vote, and then we'll know exactly what to do."
Noting that the moratorium remains in effect, Cody said that her staff has not reviewed any permit applications or taken any enforcement actions against temporary vendors.
"We need direction on how to permit and enforce these types of situations," she said. "You can take this in any direction that you want to go, but we need to be able to treat all of our applicants the same and know what to apply to anyone who comes into our office and asks for direction."
But after further discussion, Lewis and Britt agreed they were ready to go on to other matters.
"I am definitely for us not passing this piece of legislation today," Britt said.
The four members present voted to end the hearing. But they made no motion on the ordinance itself, and Moore did not call for one.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.