A Port St. Joe couple have filed a writ in circuit court seeking to overturn the decision by the Port St. Joe City Commission to issue a business license to a funeral home in a residential neighborhood

A Port St. Joe couple have filed a writ in circuit court seeking to overturn the decision by the Port St. Joe City Commission to issue a business license to a funeral home in a residential neighborhood.

Through their attorney J. Riley Davis of Tallahassee, Chad and Lacy Mack, who live next door to the funeral home at 507 10th Street, filed the lawsuit Nov. 1.

The 10-page complaint argued that commissioners ignored the “intent” of the city’s land development regulations, ignored their attorney’s advice and ignored their prior decision to have an appraisal performed to adhere to the LDRs.

The city’s LDRs, the Macks argued, “specifically” addresses the issue; commissioners may issue a license for a funeral home in a residential zone only if they have demonstrated that property values for neighboring parcels are not impacted.

The Macks argued that the only information provided during meetings spanning from August 16 to Sept. 20 came from the couple and highlighted the negative impact an operating funeral home would have property values.

The city, they contended, offered no evidence one way or the other.

On Sept. 6, the complaint detailed, commissioners discussed going out for an appraisal, specifically tabling a decision on the license to do so.

Commissioner never got the appraisal, citing the expense.

Gulf County Property Appraiser Mitch Burke said he could not form an opinion.

At that same meeting, city attorney Tom Gibson informed commissioners they must follow the intent of the LDRs, the complaint continued.

On Sept. 20, commissioners, by a vote of 4-1 issued the license to Casey Whatley. Work is ongoing, and will be into December, the complaint detailed, to meet city building code and parking issues.

During that Sept. 20 meeting, commissioners noted that when they purchased their home in 2000 the Macks understood a funeral home operated next door; several people also voiced support for the funeral home.

The complaint detailed that commissioners also noted that the license would mean additional tax revenue, and commissioners offered no substantive evidence the Macks’ research indicating the funeral home would have a negative impact on neighboring property values.

While commissioners discussed the bar they had to meet at several points in the meeting, they nonetheless proceeded to a vote.

In their complaint, the Macks noted that when they purchased their property the funeral home operation next door was not full-service and consisted of showings and the occasional funeral.

There were no coolers, no bodies stored on site, no cremations.

The building, they argued, had been largely vacant since 2008 and the license for the funeral home, last operated as Whatley Funeral Home, had not been renewed since 2012.

The Macks are seeking to quash the city’s issuance of the business license.

Gibson told commissioners during their regular bi-monthly meeting Tuesday that Circuit Court John Fishel, who was assigned the case, will make a decision soon.

Should Fishel find no basis for the Macks’ complaint, Gibson said, the case would be dismissed and the license would stand.

If, on the other hand, Fishel finds there is a basis to quash the license, he would issue a show-cause order to the city which would require action and a reply on the part of commissioners.

Another question facing commissioners is who will be representing them whenever Fishel renders his decision.

Rish, Gibson and Scholz, the firm that has provided legal representation to the city for 50 years, has notified commissioners that as of the end of the year the firm would seek to end the relationship.

Commissioners wrestled again Tuesday with the language of a Request for Qualifications which was approved for advertisement.

The goal is to have final submissions back by Dec. 9 to be considering during a regular or special meeting the following week.

Lagoon trial

Commissioners heard the results, and received the proposed eye-popping costs of continuing, a pilot program addressing sludge and water quality in the wastewater lagoon.

Sea Today, LLC, out of Bay County, had been performing the trial at its expense to demonstrate the effectiveness of its biological/organic methods in helping to reduce sludge at the bottom of the pond and improve water quality.

And the results of the four-week trial, John Grosse of Sea Today said, were generally positive.

However, continuing after the pilot program ends in December would be pricey.

A 5-year contract would be $1.2 million, money, Commissioner Rex Buzzett said, the city simply does not have.

“We operate with an overall $14 million budget and you are taking nearly 10 percent of that,” Buzzett said.

Ward Ridge building

Commissioners broached potential repairs and costs for the Ward Ridge building now being used for meetings, but Buzzett said they should revisit whether to sell the property.

He suggested the city try to make a “good deal” with the owner of Emerald Dance Academy, which rents the back room of the building.

Buzzett said attendees for classes are now throughout the hallway during meetings and are a noise disruption for the audience, and a sight distraction for commissioners.

He also suggested the city approach the dance studio about not holding classes on the nights of city meetings.