Jacksonville, FL (November 22, 2022) – This evening, City Council unanimously passed Ordinance Bill 2022-766, introduced by Council Member Danny Becton, that modifies the Certificate of Use (COU) requirements, after several years of work and collaboration with industry professionals and private business owners. The COU requirement for businesses has been one of the top frustrations and complaints due to the requirement that any new tenant of a leased or occupied space must go through a formal review of zoning, building codes, and fire codes before being allowed to open. While this seems reasonable, what really happens is that many small businesses who are just changing their corporate name or their ownership without making any changes to the physical space triggers this requirement. In times of great demand in the building industry, the professionals that need to be hired to help navigate this process are not available, and when they are, it’s at great expense. This is also true for the government departments which oversee this requirement. It is not uncommon to hear about this process taking 3 to 6 months to complete. During this time, many business owners have signed leases, are paying rent, and, due to this typically unknown requirement being mandated, they are not allowed to proceed in opening their business to generate income.
This formal COU process does not exist in many cities across our state. In replace of this formal requirement, all businesses are regulated routinely by the City’s Code Enforcement on Zoning and Building Codes. If, during inspection and issues are found, the business must get these problems corrected and come into compliance or face citations. As for fire codes, the Fire Marshall has great authority over these businesses based on annual inspections or inspections based on consumer complaints. On any given day, if a business is found Out-of-Compliance or has serious violations of fire code, the Fire Marshal has the authority to cite or shut down the business until all problems have been corrected.
Bill 2022-766 modifies the Ordinance Code regarding requirements that businesses under certain circumstances must obtain for a Certificate of Use (COU) permit and helps in making the process more efficient by providing time periods for which requirements are communicated. The bill modifies Chapter 656 of the Ordinance Code in the following manner to reduce regulation and provide common sense changes:
- Allows under certain circumstances, a business to forgo the formal COU requirement, as an example, an ownership change, or a name change that has no physical modification to the premises. Instead, these businesses will only be required to provide a name change COU without the need for the formal review,
- Provide for specified number of days for application comments and inspections,
- Provides for appeals where a denial was issued for applicants to be heard by the Building Codes and Adjustment Board,
- Allow for a conditional Certificate of Use where state and local law allow, subject to conditions approval by the Zoning Administrator, for up to 90 days to allow a business to operate and get into compliance, and
- Provides for and adds the term “Demised Premises”, which is, by definition the property or tenant space under which a tenant holds a leasehold interest pursuant to a lease agreement.
The idea to reform this process came about back in 2019, when Council Member Becton, along with invited top city officials, met with area stakeholders, and business owners to hear their concerns about how frustrating and costly, the COU process had become. From those concerns, Council Member Becton sprang into action, forming a collaborative team of industry officials and business leaders to look at how to resolve these issues plaguing this requirement.
In hearing those concerns, the COU mandate catches, most business owners by surprise as in most leases the landlords place the burden of City requirements and regulations on the tenant. Further, in some cases the landlord may not inform the tenant of the COU requirement, and only when the tenant is issued a Business License by the Tax Collector, they are told, they need a Certificate of Use as well.
The biggest requirement causing the most difficulty is from the need to have a “Life Safety Plan” on file approved by the Fire Marshall. This requirement is a “certified” site plan, only available to be issued by a licensed architect, showing the space layout and entrance and exit locations. While this again seems reasonable, the difficulty is the time and expense for which it takes to have this requirement constructed. During times of heavy demand on the building industry, this expense has been known to cost over $10,000 and to take many months to find someone willing to do it and then having it completed.
As previously mentioned, many cities do not have a formal COU requirement. It should be noted that, per the ordinance code, any business in existence prior to May 29, 2006, does not need to comply in having to have a COU permit on file and therefore are “grandfathered” into compliance.
One amendment, filed by Council Member Becton and with the support of the industry, further clarified that business name and ownership changes without space modifications were exempt from the formal review but only required a Name Change application to be placed on file, stating the following:
A certificate of use review, pursuant to Section 656.153 below, shall not be required in connection with changes in name or ownership, provided that the use is the same before and after such change in name or ownership. This provision does not apply when the change in name or ownership occurs with alterations or changes to the use of the property. In addition, this provision does not apply to businesses that are regulated by state law and are required to obtain licenses in the name of the license-holder. In the case of a business name change or a change in ownership, the certificate of use shall be filed to reflect the new name of the business or change in ownership. For businesses that require a change in business name or ownership and are currently exempt from the certificate of use requirement, so long as there have been no alterations or changes to the use of the property, the business shall only be required to obtain a certificate of use that will be placed on file, without the necessity for a review pursuant to Section 656.153 below.
Upon passage, CM Becton stated the following:
“The passage of this bill reflects the hard work and collaboration of many different individuals and industry organizations that I would like to recognize as together, we have accomplished this reform of the Certificate of Use process. First, I would like to say thank you to the Northeast Florida Builders Association (NEFBA) and its representatives Jessie Spradley and Austin Nicklas, along with Ramon Day and Mike Herzberg, and the many others who participated along the way. Also, I want to thank, the administration’s Planning & Development, specifically, Director Bill Killingsworth and Ellyn Cavin, Chief of Development Services, Josh Gideon, Chief of Building Inspections and Kevin Jones, Chief / Fire Marshal for the City of Jacksonville for their participation and cooperation in making this a universally accepted bill.
It was together that we worked to reform this section of our code that will now help small business owners by reducing regulation and removing unnecessary government interference from this process.
To my fellow Council Members, thank you for supporting this bill, by your unanimous approval tonight!”