Residents have opposed the paving of a path that travels behind local backyards.
Despite opposition from some locals, Palm Coast will pave an FPL easement that runs behind F-Section homes near Matanzas High School. The paved path is intended to give students and other pedestrians a safe way to traverse the area, which lacks sidewalks.
A proposal to delay the project and seek more information on the possibility of building the path along Old Kings Road instead of the FPL easement split the City Council, with three members voting June 20 against the delay and two voting for it.
The paving of a path along the FPL easement had been proposed a decade ago, but the project was scrapped after local residents complained.
Then the city, responding to other resident complaints after two Matanzas High School students were stuck and killed by cars in the area, began moving forward with the path again in 2017.
At a June 9 neighborhood meeting, residents complained that the path would pass along their backyards, and asked why it couldn’t be shifted to Old Kings Road instead.
The problem, city staff said, is that it would then have to be ripped up and replaced when that road is widened in the future — which could be in five years, or could be in 20. It would also be more expensive that using the FPL path — which would itself be about $185,000 — requiring the city to drop plans for a path along Sesame Boulevard. The Old Kings Road path also hasn’t gone through the design process already, while the FPL path has.
For Mayor Milissa Holland and council members Bob Cuff and Nick Klufas, that delay was too high a cost to pay in order to shift the path away from the complaining residents.
“What it boils down to is, ‘Not in my backyard,’ Cuff said. “Unless we can come up with a much quicker, much cheaper alternative that would allow us to put the path up Old Kings Road, I can see no reason not to pursue the FPL path and complete that.”
Although the rest of Old Kings Road will also have to be torn up for reconstruction, Cuff said, “That’s a sunk cost. It is not money that we’re voting to spend today; that’s the disadvantage to the Old Kings Road path. I agree that in the ideal world if we could build it in six months —fine, we spend the money and we realize it’s just money we have to spend for public safety. But when we have an alternative, which is the FPL path, I think we need to give that serious consideration.”
One downside to the FPL path is that adding lighting for pedestrian safety would increase the cost, and city staff couldn’t tell the council at the meeting exactly how much the increase would be. Councilman Steve Nobile called lighting on the path a necessity.
“There’s got to be lighting on that path,” Nobile said. “We’re going to have times when these kids are on their way to school and it’s going to be pitch black.”
Cuff agreed that lighting and perhaps other security measures would be ideal. But because students carry cell phones that include flashlights, he said, “maybe we could do without some elaborate security system.”
Nobile and Councilwoman Heidi Shipley both voted in favor of delaying the FPL easement path, and were also the only two council members who’d attended the June 9 meeting with F-Section residents to hear their concerns.
Shipley said that residents thought the city had tried to “pull one over on them” by moving forward on the path the neighborhood had already rejected.
“If that (FPL path) option wasn’t there, and Old Kings Road was the only option, could you make it happen?” Shipley said.
The city could, City Manager Jim Landon said, but not without affecting the Sesame path.
Klufas asked how many students are already using the FPL route. City staff didn’t know, but Landon said students are already using it, even though it’s not paved.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting opposed paving the FPL path, pointing out that it has limited access points, and that getting off anywhere between those points would require cutting through backyards. Some said they’d never seen kids back there, with the exception of track athletes. Others pointed out that the path is secluded, and therefore potentially unsafe.
But Holland wasn’t willing to delay the Sesame Boulevard project in order to shift the F-Section path.
“I just don’t see us taking part of our current plan and saying, ‘OK, now we’re not going to do this,’” she said. “This is not an easy decision. This is not one that any of us take lightly. We take it very seriously.”