America the Messy Yard Police State
Government is the problem, not the solutionIt's interesting that in almost every example where they talked to government nannies they put part of the problem back on the store owner, not on the governments idiots that created the silly law.
Businesses to Gilbert: Regulations need an overhaul
by Katherine Greene - Aug. 20, 2009 07:49 AM
The Arizona Republic
Gilbert needs to speed up its permit process and relax its sign regulations if it wants to help small businesses settle here, said members of the Gilbert Small Business Alliance.
The current system is tough for busy entrepreneurs to navigate. And the information given to them by town staff is inconsistent, members said.
And to press its point, the alliance led town officials, including Town Council members, state legislators and town staff on a tour of Gilbert Wednesday, stopping at several businesses and shopping centers to point out the challenges small-business owners face when dealing with town bureaucracy. Jenny Oaks, owner of All Things Embroidered at Val Vista Drive and Elliot Road, said she became so distraught by the complicated process that she burst into tears.
"I'm a rule follower. I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly," she said. Still, the applications and approvals required for a sign was too complicated for her to sort out, and town staff only directed her to its Web site for help.
Understanding the process is the town's job, not hers, she said.
"That's not what I do. I embroider, and I'm really good at it," Oaks said.
The Fieldhouse sports bar owner Phil Hollman echoed her when he told the caravan about the struggles he faced when he wanted to open a patio for smoking customers. The paperwork just to apply for the work was so cumbersome, the contractor walked away from the job, he said.
The application required him to provide information about the slant of the shopping center's roof, and trees that grow in the area, among other things, he said.
"I know how to run a restaurant. I don't know this," he said. "And the only time I've met anyone from the town, it's because I've done something wrong."
Business owners have no option other than to meet the demands of town staff, which causes it to behave at times like a monopoly that treats customers badly, said Councilman Les Presmyck.
"We have great staff but we need to empower them" to help business owners through the permitting process, he said. "We can't forget that we're in a people business."
Mayor John Lewis told the group he'd gone to the permitting counter in the municipal building at 90 E. Civic Center Dr.
He made up a business so the staff could guide him. It was an imperfect test, he allowed, but it gave him a chance to see what businesses must do.
The experience wasn't bad, he said, but he was helped by a town staffer recently appointed to act as an ombudsman to help applicants through the process.
Republican State Rep. Laurin Hendrix, who represents as well as lives in Gilbert, said he wouldn't open a business in the town.
"I don't make that decision based on where I'm happy. I do that on where I can make money," he said, calling signage and permit regulations in Gilbert too restrictive and costly.
In the Heritage District, Laura Bergeson told the group about her struggles to manage the four properties she owns. Getting one building to comply with the fire code cost $50,000, she said, including $750 for a single sprinkler head in a closet.
"I understand rules and I understand why laws are made, but sometimes in the practical application to businesses it's just difficult," she said.
Fire Marshal Dan DuBois pointed out that the $750 spent now could save the entire business in case of a fire. Still, he admitted, the cost of that sprinkler head is pretty high. The town isn't responsible for providing those materials to businesses, so a contractor or supplier would have been responsible for that price. [I guess what Fire Marshal Dan DuBois means is don't blame us! We just made up the silly and expensive rules! You have to pay to obey the rules! It's your fault!]
Another businessman facing code issues is Gerard Marzocchi, owner of American Auto Lube & Repair at Gilbert and Guadalupe roads.
He explained he doesn't have enough spaces for parking on his lot because of the space he's required to give up to the town for an easement at the intersection. Instead of parking spaces, it's filled with landscaping.
That doesn't do his business any good, he said. He can't repair more cars if people can't park them there. [So the city of Gilbert steal part of his land for an easement and then puts him out of business because he doesn't have enought parking spaces?]
"We can't solve all these problems, but we can help solve part of it," Councilwoman Jenn Daniels said. [Don't blame us! We are just royal government rulers!]
She cited the problems smaller businesses face when an anchor store leaves a shopping center. She suggested the town find a way to create an ordinance that requires those large stores to find someone to fill their space before they leave. [Way to go you royal government idiot! Pass another silly law to make the problems worse!]
State Senator Thayer Verschoor said that plan may be so punitive, it would block new large businesses from moving in.
He suggested the town create a way to find out why businesses leave. In the current system, anchor stores in strip malls don't report that they're leaving town. Often, the decision to close down or move comes from a corporate headquarters far away.
"Are we trying to discover why they leave? Or are we just assuming?" he said.
Lisa Rigler, co-founder of the business alliance, saw her business fail after the anchor moved out of her shopping center at Warner and Lindsay roads.
She said town policy didn't force her business to fail. But as a business community leader, she spends a great deal of time helping new businesses navigate Gilbert's applications. The alliance has volunteered to become an official partner with Gilbert to help all business owners figure out how to open here, she said, but there's been no word on whether that will work.
"At least we know right now the process isn't perfect," she said. "But we know where the pitfalls are."
Most business owners present agreed that if they could sit down with a town staff member and have the applications explained, meeting regulations might be easier, they said.
The challenge, Town Manager George Pettit said, is providing that staff member. The town cut staff earlier this year because of its tight budget, and helping business owners takes time away from other staff responsibilities. [Hmmm.... Just what are those other responsibilities? Surfing the web? Drinking coffee?]
"That's part of the fundamental challenge in terms of what you can afford to do," he said. "It's something you're constantly working on."
Entrepreneurs face many challenges when they first start their businesses, but in Gilbert, many complain of strict sign regulations and complicated applications. Here are some issues raised by businesses on the tour:
When dealing with town staff, it's sometimes difficult to understand what's required of you, several business owners said.
While the town can't afford the liaison that business owners suggest Gilbert should hire, fixing the town Web site so it's easier to navigate might be a starting point, town Manager George Pettit and Councilman Les Presmyck said.
"If we're part of their failure, we haven't done our job," Presmyck said.
Gilbert codes sometimes create a situation where businesses can't be seen through the landscaping on the street, owners say. During the trip, Presmyck pointed out that no business signs could be read from the street at a shopping center on Gilbert Road.
Fieldhouse sports bar owner Phil Hollman said his hidden sign means potential customers don't even know he's there.
"Everybody that eats here says we've got the best food, the best wings. But we can't figure out how to tell people," he said.
When a large anchor store, such as a Walmart or a Bashas', leaves a shopping center, the small businesses left struggle.
Councilwoman Jenn Daniels said she'd heard Flagstaff requires anchor stores to line up a tenant to fill a space before they leave it, but state Sen. Thayer Verschoor , R-Gilbert, said that may cause big businesses to choose cities that have no such ordinance.
All the businesses on the tour cited town signage laws as a major nuisance because they are inflexible.
American Auto Lube & Repair owner Gerard Marzocchi said the town forced him to take down some flags he'd hung to show his support for a local Boy Scout troop.
"We'll continue to do the best we can to streamline the processes," Mayor John Lewis said.
- Katherine Greene
The Gilbert Republic | gilbertrepublic.com