By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - City leaders are moving closer to finalizing an agreement that would help make it easier to start new businesses on the east side of town.
At a recent special meeting, the City Council discussed the Ridgewood Corridor Plan, a proposed plan to upgrade an aging three-mile stretch of U.S. 1 that extends from Dunlawton Avenue south to the Rose Bay bridge.
According to a draft of the Ridgewood Corridor Plan, the main objectives of city leaders are to make it more attractive, improve its economic position and minimize activities that discourage investment in property. The plan identifies several economic challenges plaguing the area - aging buildings that don't meet development requirements, small lots with inadequate parking and landscaping, and less traffic volume over the last decade.
While the west side of the city has seen a large amount of development in recent years, including The Pavilion at Port Orange and Altamira Village, the east side has remained stagnant. That's where the Ridgewood Corridor plan comes in.
Several residents and business owners along the southern stretch of U.S. 1 offered input to city leaders before a final plan was brought forward for the council's approval. One of them was Brendan Galbreath, owner of Aunt Catfish's restaurant, who restated many issues addressed in the plan as well as adding one of his own - the high cost of business development in the area.
He said business owners in the Ridgewood Corridor are subject to a "huge burden" of impact fees that business owners are responsible for before they're able to build.
"I think I'm going to be out $15,000 to $20,000 by the time I'm able to move some dirt and improve my property," Mr. Galbreath said, urging city leaders to consider lowering or waiving impact fees. "I would rather spend that money on the property than send it down to City Hall. That's something that really needs to be looked at."
Mr. Galbreath also recommended the city allow business owners to hold small-scale special events, such as fish fries and art festivals, to help generate activity in the area.
"They shouldn't have to come to city hall for a special event permit," he said.
One of his other suggestions was for city staff to take an inventory of all the city-owned land in the area and consider selling the land to private owners to stimulate business development.
Crime was also mentioned as a major problem with the area.
Responding to a concern from Councilman Bob Ford that the area needs greater police protection, Public Safety Director Gerald Monahan said the Ridgewood Corridor has the highest amount of self-initiated police activity in Port Orange. He said there were 3,853 calls for service in the Ridgewood Corridor over the last year, as opposed to an average of 1,858 calls in other parts of the city.
"There is a lot of (police) activity here," Mr. Monahan said. "... We're doing the best we can."
Different approaches were offered in making the area more aesthetically pleasing. For example, one citizen suggested easing the costs of improving the facades of existing buildings, while another said existing buildings should be demolished, not improved, to make way for new buildings.
Councilman Dennis Kennedy and Vice Mayor Bob Pohlmann both supported the idea of easing impact fees on the Ridgewood Corridor's businesses, such as building fees and upfront costs.
"The overall opinion is this is a salvageable area," Mr. Kennedy said. "... I think helping the businesses by reducing some of their expenses, trying to get some flexibility, will be a benefit to us."
Mr. Pohlmann also expressed strong support for more special events in the area.
"I do believe we need to have more special events in the city of Port Orange, (such as) fish fries, chili cook-offs and barbecues," he said.
Mayor Allen Green said the public input from citizens and business owners would drive the plan.
"It's going to take you people involved to get something that's doable and affordable," the mayor said. "Otherwise, it won't be successful. You've got to do something for this area."