Cup Cakes Get Their Day in Court as Palm Coast Agrees to a Hearing on Home Bakeries
FlaglerLive | May 29, 2012
For the fourth time in as many months, the Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday debated the vices and virtues of home-based commercial bakeries, and this time decided to let the public decide whether to allow such small operations in residential areas. The council is scheduling a public hearing on the matter, likely in June.
The issue has taken on a magnitude disproportionate to its origins. Just two people—a Palm Coast couple, Cheryl Sheppard, the baker, and Rick de Yampert, her business manager—have shown any interest in starting a home-based bakeries. They brought the proposal to the city, asking for a small change in a local land use rule that would bring it in line with a new state law making allowances for home-based bakeries. In February, the council, on a 3-2 split, agreed to move ahead. The next month the Palm Coast Planning Board unanimously approved the change. (The vote was 4-0, with three absences.)
By April, when the issue returned, in more formal language, to the council, Mayor Jon nets, who had been the swing vote in favor of the initiative in February, switched sides. He agreed with council members Bill Lewis and Bill McGuire that the proposal was more problematic than he’d initially thought: McGuire considers home-based bakeries potentially unsafe, because the city cannot regulate them, though the state does, if from a distance. Lewis had issues with the absence of oversight and the potential for disruptions in residential neighborhoods.
Council members Frank Meeker and Jason DeLorenzo were all for the proposal, saying the safety issues are overblown—people bake for each other all the time without triggering food-poisoning crises—and the disruption to neighborhoods was a flat-out invention: Sheppard had made clear from the start that she had no intention of selling her products from her house. She wants to sell them to businesses and at city events, to farmer markets, art receptions and the like. The rule just as clearly lays out limitations, such as a $15,000 annual gross-sales cap, which would inherently restrict activity.
The issue crystallized an ongoing debate on the council: how to foster small business in the city—a primary goal of the council—without stifling its innovative fringes. Council members, including McGuire, have spoken favorably of start-ups and incubators. Sheppard and de Yampert see themselves as incubating a small business, but needing to do it from their home because there is no commercial kitchen they could rent in town, and they couldn’t open a store front from the get-go. Starting from home and reaching that $15,000 cap is their first step toward, eventually making their way to their own storefront.
All of which would appear to fit with the city’s stated goal of supporting small businesses. But the hang-up was safety and liability. Even if the state is responsible for home-based bakeries, if something were to go wrong, the public would blame the city, not the state, because the operation is under the city’s aegis. That’s the Netts and McGuire argument.
When Netts switched side, he triggered a fuming response from de Yampert at a subsequent city council meeting, when de Yampert accused the council of arbitrarily deciding the issue without hearing from its sponsors. “It seems you’ve already decided this issue, and this is key, Cheryl and I did not even have any chance to address you, the council, before you decided,” de Yampert told the council. He convinced the council to schedule the issue for yet another workshop, at which de Yampert and Sheppard were invited to make their case. They did so earlier this month, stressing that the state’s new law is not unlike other states’ similar approach. The presentation didn’t seem to sway the council members’ positions—two in favor, three against.
But when the matter was brought up again at this morning’s workshop, Netts appeared to have found a way to diminish his final judgment. City Manager Jim Landon and council member Frank Meeker were suggesting the matter could be debated in a public hearing. Call it a punt or a compromise: Netts was willing.
“I still have my reservations because we are totally dependent on the good intentions of the purveyor or the producer of these foods,” Netts said. “We have a whole list of what is permitted and what is not permitted. But that’s a slippery slope. Pretty soon you’re making Boston cream pies and selling them, and the only way you’re going to get an inspection is if there is a complaint, and that complaint probably will be generated by some sort of food-borne pathogen. All that being said, I think Mr. Meeker and Mr. Landon both raise an interesting point. This issue was brought to us by one or two residents, and we’ve discussed it, and planning board discussed it. The residents of Palm Coast have not had an opportunity to hear it and discuss it. So I’m willing to suggest that we move forward, put this on the agenda, we can vote it up, we can vote it down, but with the appropriate notice we’ll give the community the opportunity to give this their two cents’ worth.”
Meeker reminded the council that the planning board had approved the issue. “They’re a pretty good barometer of the way the public feels about this, too,” Meeker said.
But that only gave Lewis another chance to restate his opposition.“Having been on the planning board I don’t always agree with you on that,” Lewis said. “But at any rate, staff also know the people. They do a lot of research, more so than the planning board, dig deeper down into the ways and the wherefores, so I kind of have to lean in the direction of staff. Staff have to deal with things I don’t. Neither does the planning board.” The city administration is recommending against approving the initiative.
To DeLorenzo, opposing home-based bakeries verges on discrimination. “I don’t see this any different from any other home occupation,” he said. “We don’t regulate insurance companies in the home, tutorial services, we don’t require background checks to ensure that we’re protecting children. This is just another home occupation.”
“I think we do,” Netts countered.
“For tutorial services?”
“I don’t know about tutorial services,” Netts said.
“For day care, I’m sure, but not for tutorial services, I don’t believe so,” DeLorenzo said.
DeLorenzo is right: there is no local oversight for tutorial services, but there is oversight for day care centers—from the state. In that regard, the regulation of day care centers and home-based bakeries would be somewhat similar, though day care centers, to be licensed, are inspected at regular intervals. Home-based bakeries are not necessarily inspected, and would be the subject of investigations only subsequent to a complaint.
Nevertheless, the council was in agreement over a public hearing, with McGuire remaining unusually silent throughout that discussion.
“It’s not necessarily a compromise. It’s kind of like the way we’re supposed to work,” Meeker said.
“Then why are you bailing on us?” Netts said, a reference to Meeker’s announcement last week that he is resigning from the council (by November) in hopes of winning a county commission seat. At roll call at the beginning of the meeting, Meeker had described himself as present, “for now.”