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Palm Coast Wednesday, Sep. 9, 2015 3 years ago

City considers easing land development code requirements

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Some of the regulations could drive businesses elsewhere, city staff members told the City Council.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

If a business buys a 55,000 square foot commercial lot in Palm Coast, it can expect to be able to put up a 7,600 for building on that lot after setbacks, buffers and landscaping features required by the city eat up the rest. But in New Smyrna Beach, Ormond Beach, St. Johns County and Sarasota, that same business would be able to put up a building larger than 10,000 feet.

Some businesses interested in moving here, City Manager Jim Landon said, will note the disparity, “And they’ll start looking at their computer and going, ‘Eh, I’m not sure I’m getting the return on my investment that I am somewhere else.’” And they’ll leave.

Now, the City Council might change those codes.

“We all, including internal staff, would agree that there are some provisions of that land development code, the landscape section of it, that are difficult to administer, difficult to actually interpret, and needs to be updated and improved,” Landon told council members at a City Council workshop Sept. 8.

The meeting was preliminary: The council heard a presentation, but will not take action until city staff creates a plan of action and presents it to the city’s Planning and Land Development Review Board.

At the meeting Sept. 8, Charlie Faulkner, of the Flagler County Association for Responsible Development, told the council that the disparity between the size of a building a business could put in a Palm Coast lot versus a lot in another city is a major concern in the business community.

“For 10 years, this is the biggest complaint that I hear: ‘We can’t put our normal template footprint on a normal lot in the city of Palm Coast, because our coding makes it impossible,’” he said.

“I’m not sure I want to look like Ormond beach,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts replied. “But if we modify our code to make it more like Ormond Beach, what would be the changes?”

Some of them, Falgout said, would be setbacks and loading zones: Palm Coast requires rear zones loading zones even for small shops, and many other cities don’t — an issue businesses have complained about.

“I would like to point out that city staff ... is seeing this too,” Landon said. “There is common agreement that this is very worthwhile taking a look at.”

The city might also amend its landscape requirements to take into consideration how foliage grows.

“Landscaping needs to contemplate the future,” Netts said. “That clearly is an area that needs to be addressed, because we’re seeing the complications as the foliage matures.”

City Councilman Bill McGuire asked how the city’s requirements compared to Flagler County’s.

Landon said that wasn’t a useful comparison, because so much of the county is rural, and doesn’t attract the same kinds of business.

The city couldn’t require existing businesses to make changes to meet an updated code, Landon said, replying to a question from Councilwoman Heidi Shipley.

Councilman Steve Nobile said that a letter from FCARD listing issues and concerns about the current code — including setbacks and buffer requirements, tree placement, landscaping and irrigation requirements — “is dead-on to 90% of the complaints I get. I mean, they’re all listed here,” he said. “And I want to maintain that that these things do need to be fixed, while maintaining our overall infrastructure and structure of a beautiful place, making it fair to both sides — for the residents, for the businesses.”

Landon said the code was due for a revision.

“You can write the codes, and you think you know where you’re headed, and then you go out and actually implement them: That’s part of the learning process,” he said. “This isn’t going to be a simple, ‘Oh yeah, everybody agrees.’”

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