NORTH PORT — The outcome must wait a few weeks.
Facing a decision that could bring a 24-hour 7-Eleven store to Cranberry and W. Price boulevards, city commissioners mashed the brakes in Wednesday’s wee hours after finding that neighbors hadn’t been notified legally of a public hearing on the issue.
A meeting that included the matter on its agenda started Tuesday evening and ended more than seven hours later with no resolution.
Public notices must run in newspapers and get posted in other public venues. Notices are also mailed to those most affected by a potential project. Though such notices had published and got mailed in February for a North Port Planning and Zoning meeting on the same topic, second notices weren’t sent for Tuesday’s commission meeting, Mayor Debbie McDowell learned from city staff when she inquired. She lives near the proposed development and had not received a hearing notice, she said.
City lawyers and attorneys for the builder decided that reconvening in June was best.
That decision came shortly after midnight Wednesday, however, after the city’s lawyer, Amber Slayton, had examined the mayor’s concerns and huddled up with the developer’s lawyers from Venice’s Boone Law firm.
Commissioners at their 6 p.m. start time had wrestled with land issues at the West Villages in North Port and other agenda items before jumping into the 7-Eleven issue, which several neighbors oppose.
It is “probably the best course of action,” Slayton said of the delay until June 15.
Jeff Boone, a Venice attorney for Weedon LLC, the 7-Eleven developer, agreed, to “pick back up where we left off,” he said of moving to June.
Tuesday’s hearing was to examine waivers to the builder. The undeveloped corners at West Price and Cranberry are zoned Neighborhood Commercial High Intensity, meaning restrictions apply.
Boone on behalf of his client, for example, had wanted zoning exemptions at the proposed 7-Eleven, on more fueling stations, a car wash, and to allow the store to operate 24/7.
Planning and Zoning commissioners in February had recommended all but the 24-hour request. The developer had also offered North Port half of the four-acre parcel, as a buffer between and to use as the city saw fit.
The opposition was there Tuesday, some by voice only, some in letters read by city clerk staffer, and one projected onto an online video platform. It is COVID-19’s doing: guests in cloistered video boxes that light when they speak, all of them fidgeting, sometimes not un-muting their microphones or fighting for focus after hours of staring at a desktop screen.
But those side visuals vanished as things played out. When one woman got her 45 minutes to argue against the project, for instance, Boone objected to a slideshow queued on the screen. The hearing was quasi-judicial, a court-like event with sworn testimony and evidence. The slideshow had not been submitted as is required, he argued, five days in advance.
So, Stacy Tracy, who has led a petition effort that claims a couple hundred signatures, went ahead with her arguments, citing potential gas spills, privacy invasions and crime.
“Does it (7-Eleven) really belong there?” she asked. “The answer is no.”
As Tuesday’s hearing slid into Wednesday, the issue of sending public notices surfaced. Eventually, at 12:48 a.m., McDowell closed Resolution 2020-R-11, pushed the hearing to the exact point it ended, which will be 9 a.m. June 15, likely still the new normal on video conferencing.