Time is money. The phrase popularized in 1748 by Benjamin Franklin rings all too true more than 270 years later.
For the entrepreneur of Santa Rosa County, opening a business here continues to cost time and money. And lots of it.
We hear horror stories of site plans that went missing, of costly changes to already approved site plans that required costly additional inspections and of property owners having to double check the codes themselves to be sure the rules are followed.
What a mess.
In one instance, St. Michael’s Brewing Company was told by county staff they could use a property for the purpose of opening a microbrewery and sample room on Highway 87 in Navarre, so they bought the land. When they came in for their predevelopment meeting, county staff informed them that the Land Development Code said the property was too close to a church for alcohol sales.
Seriously? That’s negligent. This veteran decided to bet the farm on investing in bringing new enterprise to our community, and the county couldn’t be bothered to make absolutely sure his investment wasn’t squandered?
Fortunately, owner Mike Bares checked the code himself and discovered the county staff had been wrong in their calculation. He was cleared to build, but not before the county lost his plans at least twice and forced delays and extra costs. Evidently the county is unable to receive and properly process electronic copies of plans. Are we really stuck in the dinosaur age of floppy discs or microfilm?
On multiple occasions this newspaper has been told that the only thing that seemed to speed up the process and get things done was contacting County Commissioner Dave Piech to intervene. It took a commissioner’s intervention to get a pizza place open.
While we commend Piech for advocating for those businesses, that’s not a solution. Small business owners should not have to call on their commissioner to get county staff to do their jobs efficiently.
Holley Navarre Water System’s impact tap fee system is also not helping matters. The system must account for future growth through tap fees, but the fee calculations have exceeded actual use by thousands of dollars on small businesses in the past. Potential entrepreneurs have told our reporters they chose not to open a business in Navarre because of the projected cost of tap fees.
After a year of observing use, Ken Walters’s Grey Taproom was only charged 10% of the initially asked tap fee of $30,000 plus because actual impact was far less than the flawed fee calculation.
The utility’s board of directors have agreed to review the tap fee system likely at the end of this month. In the meantime, businesses suffer undue costs.
Between tap fees and the development office, it’s no wonder all we seem to get in Navarre is dollar stores and storage units. These businesses are notoriously cheap to set up, meaning they have a little more wiggle room for delay, delay, delay.
Perhaps the most unsettling part of the interviews conducted with business owners in the area is the unifying statement that, if given the opportunity to do it over again, they would NOT build in Navarre.
There’s the crux of the issue.
Knit picking details over the size of a tree after its already been approved is not as important as creating a well-managed system that communicates effectively with the business owners trying to make this county better. We say again: change the process in the building office and hold people accountable. Let’s work to get to the yes instead of finding a thousand reasons to say no or just losing the plans all together. It’s unprofessional, and it’s costing everyone involved.
Small businesses are the life blood of a community. If Navarre wants to improve quality of life through development of these enterprises (or any enterprises for that matter), our county building office needs to step it up.
As seen in the Sept. 5 issue of Navarre Press.
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