Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Editorial: St. Augustine's deal with 7-Eleven was the best way out of a rock and a hard place
Posted: May 12, 2015 - 11:12pm

Although posterity may recall that it was City Manager John Regan who turned the phrase (sic)(No -- it was Ed Slavin, March 29, 2014 letter to the editor in the St. Augustine Record) “Oh thank heaven, there’ll be no 7-Eleven,” we’ll wager it was on the minds of city commissioners and staff simultaneously Monday night — along with a collective sigh — when the vote to buy out the Sultan of Slurpees came down.

The commission gathered in a “shade meeting” to discuss legal options in its turf war with 7-Eleven, prior to its regular public meeting. In it, commissioners, staff and legal-types decided that the fight to keep the convenience store off the corner of May Street and San Marco Avenue would better end in a buy-out rather than a protracted legal fight.

In this case, it seems pretty clear that discretion was the better part of valor.

We’re already hearing the moans from the peanut gallery: The city blew $1.4 million of taxpayer money giving in to the giant chain.

The city got out of an untenable (sic)(wrong) legal position, in addition to a potential load of billable attorney hours (sic)(wrong): Our cleanest exit strategy.

The main criticism aimed at St. Augustine is that it “should have known” and nipped the thing in the bud earlier on, prior to 7-Eleven (quietly) buying the property. (sic)(wrong)

The truth is that, under the zoning regulations at the time of the sale, the city had no legal grounds (sic)(wrong) to stop the convenience store from setting up shop. It was able to use some entrance corridor lingo to tie the deal up in terms of turning radii and other legal maneuvers. (sic)(wrong)(these are mandatory laws, as is Florida's "pending ordinance doctrine -- eleven (11) legal grounds to halt the deal

But once 7-Eleven complied, there was nothing the city could legally do to stop it (sic)(wrong): Though it tried by reversing a building permit which was, for all practical purposes, a bluff. (sic)(wrong)

But any card player knows how tough a bluff is to pull off, when you don’t have the cards and the opponent is holding a legal flush — in addition to a stack of chips immensely bigger than your own.

The property is on a commercial corner of two state roads. It was zoned accordingly. Should the city have known that a mega-convenience store might purchase the property? Of course not. It would be much more likely that a private developer or local real estate folks would have recognized the commercial value of the corner and snapped it up — which, by the way, is exactly what happened.

And, officially, this isn’t a total loss for the city. It can, and may, rezone or otherwise safeguard the parcel from a 7-Eleven-type project. (sic)(wrong)(We won!)

It could then sell it off and recoup at least part of the buy-out price, though it’s unlikely to be worth the $1.4 million price with commercial restrictions attached.

More likely the property will be combined with that owned by the FDOT nearby, in order to develop some type of improved intersection on the site. And that will be a true public use of the investment.

The city’s looking hard at outdated zoning laws currently. According to Mayor Nancy Shaver, staff is doing an admirable job. But they’re not fortune-tellers.

And the fundamental truth of all of this is that the city can try to create certain types of spot-zoning all day long, but the private owners who bought and paid for adjacent property based on the older — yet 100 percent legal — zoning codes will have a perfect right to do what 7-Eleven did: Litigate, and leave the city on the hook to buy out private property rights for its “taking.”

In this country, the individual isn’t subordinate to the whim of political expediency. But when public good is clearly more important, the public pays just value.

You can’t have it both ways — ever.

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