The planning board approved a variance for a commercial property on Old Kings Road, and asked staff to draft an ordinance easing setback requirements in the area.
Local dentist Gregory Johnston, a member of an LLC that owns a property along Old Kings Road, has had that parcel for sale for eight years. Time after time, would-be buyers have pulled out, citing Palm Coast’s restrictive code and setback requirements.
Now, with a sale pending, the city’s Planning and Land Development Board has both approved a variance that would waive landscaping setbacks the potential buyer said it wouldn’t be able to deal with, and asked city staff to revise its requirements and present an amended Land Development Code to the City Council.
Real estate agent Carol Bech, one of the realtors handling the property, said the current codes have made it near-impossible to market the property.
“I’ve marketed it to several nation al chains, all with the same result,” she said. “The setback requirements, the landscaping, the buffers and everything else would impede the development of the lot, particularly for the type of building that they would bring here. Every national chain has a site — you can go online and look at it — ‘These are our requirements for our building, these are our parking requirements.’ We never got as far as we did with this current buyer, but they all walked away for the same reason.”
Johnston and his attorney, Michael Chiumento, did not say what business is considering moving onto the parcel: They’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement not to.
But, Johnston told planning board members at a Sept. 16 meeting, “It's a national chain. ...It would be very beneficial for the residents on this side (of Interstate 95) to have this.”
Landscaping setbacks on commercial land in that area are set at 35 feet.
The LLC that owns the land — Old Kings Road, LLC — wanted a variance to have only a 20-foot buffer, something they said was consistent with the other businesses in the area, many of which built before the city implemented its current Land Development Code. With a 35-foot buffer, the company that wants the property wouldn’t have adequate space for parking for its expected number of customers.
“We're not asking to put the building any closer,” Chiumento told the board. “All we're asking is that the variance be granted to allow a 20-foot landscape buffer, consistent with the other buildings.”
The property had been developed under a 15-foot landscape buffer initially imposed in 1993, Chiumento said, and most other properties along the Old Kings Road corridor have setbacks of about 20 feet. Many were build before the city’s incorporation, under Flagler County codes that required building setbacks of 35 feet and landscape setbacks of 10 feet, he said.
City staff had recommended that the planning board deny the variance application, in part because the LLC hasn’t given the city a technical site plan for the property.
But, Chiumento countered, “A technical site plan requires significant engineering. ... Before anybody would invest into a final technical site plan, they'd want to know that a variance would be granted.” So, he said, the LLC has given the city conceptual site plans.
The larger issue of setbacks and other Land Development Code requirements scaring off businesses that might otherwise move here is one the city is already looking at, Bech reminded the board.
Businesses, she said, perceive that “We’re just very difficult to do business with. The fact that the City Council is now going look this makes this a very timely affair. …This is the type of thing that we want in Palm Coast: We want businesses to move here. We want to create the jobs. We want the growth, we want the tax base. So I think this is a very timely issue. I think that the fact that the City Council recognizes this is a problem, I think this is a good place to start, to allow this variance to let this business come into Palm Coast.”
City Planner Ray Tyner told the board that city staff, in recommending against the variance, had limited options: It had to follow the city’s code.
“As staff, we don't have that flexibility to say, ‘Oh well this is good for the community to have a business here,’ he said.
The board weighed its options: Members said they’d like to have a business move in, but worried about what the city might be getting itself into if it approved a variance without a technical site plan.
Board member Glenn Davis motioned that the board deny the variance, but ask staff to amend the Land Development Code; once the change was approved by City Council, Old Kings Road LLC could reapply.
No one seconded his motion.
Another board member, James Jones, made a new motion: that the board approve the variance, conditional on the applicant making no substantial changes to the conceptual site plan, and that it request staff to put together a new ordinance amending landscape setbacks in the Old Kings Road development area. The ordinance would go before City Council for approval or denial. The motion passed, 4-3.