How to become pro-business

Citrus County Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith

Many people have said “we need you to get business here” and they assume that there is a list of companies we can call and work with to get businesses​, to come.
But the challenges that go into getting business here and being pro-business are many, from workforce issues, workforce housing, taxation and the struggles of getting through the process of government.
We are working on it. I know from discussion on the board during meetings most of us believe in a better business atmosphere and most every other leader I have talked to has the same mindset.
We need to look at the core of why business struggles here in Citrus County. First, when it comes to chain retail stores (think box stores) they over built locations in the past, drove up the cost of doing retail because of that and now with the online shopping, the long awaited retail bubble has burst.
So, we must work to change how we look at those and other businesses and how our regulations in the future will help business and guide them to success instead of stop or delay them. Key to this is understanding the Comprehensive Plan and then changing the Land Development Code.
The Comprehensive Plan was created to guide the creation of the Land Development Code that tells us in great detail what we cannot do, it has little in the way of incentives to what can be done. This has limited county staff that deal with it, not having a good understanding what the current elected leaders who get input from the people to what they want done.
Under the leadership of the chair the board is working to change all of this. I feel that my part of supporting the actions needed to change things is to focus on the land development code discussions and offer suggestions to my fellow board members for debate.
Three areas that I personally feel needs to be researched and changed.
  • A Mixed-Use section needs to be created.
  • We need to allow more conversation or repurpose of current buildings.
  • Define better and smarter use of lands for business development.
An addition of a proper “mixed​ used” chapter to the land development code, would allow for business people to not separate business locations by use or have to ask for a variance to combine some use, but instead say if the area and building stays within the look and feel of Citrus County, then use it as you wish. (Within​ reason)
If a business plans a stand-alone apartment section, they can offer amenities to those living there, such as health clubs or a gym, yet cannot make money by offering​ access to the general public.
So, if a business owner wants to take full financial advantage of a location and have a for profit spa or gym in the same complex as an apartment our land Development Code doesn't allow it. (Chapter three section 3430)
A true mixed use section would focus more on how it should look and less on what can go where, would streamline the regulations, which would help show that we are smart in supporting business, fighting sprawl, reducing the cost of housing and keeping the look of our community.
The issue of change-use or repurpose of current buildings and flexibility with current property is just as important. The area of Hernando where I spent time as a child has had very little in the way of business growth.
If you look at the old buildings there, it has potential, but how easy is it to convert buildings into better locations? One motel there needs to do upgrades, but new codes are causing an issue and the new requirements for their RV lots would have them reduce the number of spots, which would reduce the ability to make a profit and so it has languished for a very long time.
That location should be allowed to stay the same size. With the current move to tiny homes, it would seem that people are ok with a smaller size. I am sure that our codes can be changed to allow for them to do it and if not we need to find a way to help allow them repurpose and make money or we will simply watch another business die because of government.
Actually, there is a form of revitalization in the area. Two old buildings have new owners and have repurposed them into a restaurant and one possible bait shop. How do we make it easier for more people to duplicate this is a question we must ask.
Let's look at strip malls, could we allow for them to be converted to residential rental units? They would have to reduce the parking, change the landscape and buffering requirements and again  we need to allow for the repurpose of those locations or we are going to continue to be hamstrung by regulations as usual.
Last is use of the lands. If you own a piece of commercial land that is 1000 feet deep, you can develop the first 400 feet with no variance, but to go past that you must ask for a variance and the planners will also make strong suggestions of additional things you may need to do.
How about we change that and say you can have use of 800 feet, but then you will have to use the last 200 feet to either have a buffer or something that doesn't just place a commercial development directly up against a residential.
So, we could set the guidelines beforehand, not this administrative back-and-forth with the planners, which takes time and money and is a disincentive to getting business going.
In the end a mixed use will allow us to keep the look of the community, have less sprawl (and impact to our environment) and support a stronger business sector.
Change of use or better facilitating the repurpose of strip malls and blighted buildings will boost the economy throughout the county.
And creating a smart plan for development, by changing uses with how much of their land they can develop will have more businesses​ looking at Citrus County as the place to be.
But as always, this is about getting more discussion going, thinking about what can be and I hope people will start looking at every page of every​ regulation and say now is the time to build the community our children need for their future.
This is my opinion and I hope you will reach out with yours.

Jimmie T. Smith,
Citrus County Commissioner, District 3