Gilbert is in the midst of determining how much say it should have over new pawn shops, tattoo parlors, check-cashing outlets and smoking lounges.
Town officials will decide soon if more of these so-called "nontraditional" businesses should be allowed in town and where they will go if they do come.
The Planning Commission couldn't reach consensus on the issue last month, so residents are invitedto a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesdayin the Town Council chambers of the Gilbert Municipal Center, 50 E. Civic Center Drive.
Candidates for Town Council, who will probably have the ultimate say on the question, are split on the issue. But it's hard to say when the council will vote on the issue because the Planning Commission has yet to make a decision.
The biggest sticking point is whether the businesses should be required to get a conditional-use permit, which involves a $1,590 fee and a hearing in front of the commission. If a business appeals the decision to the Town Council, that's another $490.
The proposed ordinance focuses on separation requirements geared to keeping nontraditional businesses from clustering. They would have to be at least 1,200 feet away from the nearest similar business and 500 feet away from a different business also considered nontraditional.
Tattoo/piercing parlors and smoking lounges would have additional distance requirements from schools and religious sites. Tattoo shops would have to be 500 feet from schools and churches and smoking lounges would have to be 1,320 feet away.
Town Council candidate John Sentz, a current Planning Commission member, was among the commissioners who said all nontraditional businesses should be required to get a conditional-use permit.
He said his stance hasn't changed, and residents should have a chance to know these kinds of stores are coming in before the fact.
"I just think we're trying to be family-friendly in Gilbert, and I don't think these are appropriate," Sentz said.
Sentz added he'd like to lower permit fees for all businesses to promote the town's economic climate. At the same time, the council is wrestling with a $12 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The idea for a nontraditional business ordinance originated with the council. Councilwoman Joan Krueger, who is running for re-election, had indicated she didn't see a large enough market in Gilbert for pawn shops and tattoo parlors for them to cluster. But she said this week her thinking has changed a little.
"As our economic situation has changed, I think it's something that deserves a closer look," she said. "In this environment, when it comes to rental space, owners are willing to rent space to people they wouldn't rent to otherwise."
But the separation requirements should be enough regulation, and requiring such businesses to also get a use permit could be bureaucratic overkill, Krueger said.
Candidate Jenn Daniels said the proposal hasn't been a big topic of discussion among the voters she's talked to, and she's not certain the additional regulations are needed.
"Is there actually an increase in crime around these nontraditional businesses? I'd like to see some hard data," she said. If there is a proven correlation to crime rates, lower property values or other ill effects, the additional restrictions may be warranted, Daniels said.
The fourth council candidate, Erin Scroggins, said she is also skeptical about the need for Gilbert to regulate these types of businesses since there are so few in town, and most voters seem more concerned about other issues.
"I think we should be spending our time right now on the regulations we currently impose on businesses and streamlining those to attract business, especially when we're in an economic crisis," he said.
Gilbert currently has about six check-cashing outlets and two tattoo parlors, all on the northern edge of town. They would not be impacted by the new ordinance.
Zack Mishkin, store manager at 1-Stop Check Cashing at Cooper and Guadalupe, said he wouldn't object to the separation requirements.
"Basically all they're saying is they don't pollute the street with the same type of business," he said.
One of his strip-mall neighbors is a cigar shop that includes a smoking lounge.
Town planner Mike Milillo said the proposed ordinance's "stand-along smoking lounge" category is geared to hookah bars and other outlets where smoking is the main focus of the business. But cigar shops that have a lounge, permitted under state law for customers to sample products, probably wouldn't be considered a nontraditional business, he said.
Mishkin is a little less eager to see every new check-cashing outlet be required to get a conditional-use permit.
"In Gilbert they have a lot of regulations already, like they make it tough for me to advertise. My sign holder isn't allowed to walk," he said.