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Palm Coast Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 1 month ago

Proposal to add 74 homes on Old Kings Road passes first hurdle

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The proposed 55+ community generated opposition from residents of The Woodlands.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

One of the nation's largest multifamily developers wants to put a multifamily 55+ housing facility on Old Kings Road near Utility Drive, but the neighbors — residents of The Woodlands neighborhood — showed up at a Palm Coast Planning and Land Development Regulation Board meeting Aug. 15 to say they don't want it. 

They also didn't want the board to recommend that the City Council change the parcel's zoning from neighborhood commercial to multifamily residential so that the project could move forward. But the board did so, with just one member, Glenn Davis, voting against. Another board member, Clinton Smith, abstained from the vote due to a conflict of interest. The matter will next go before the City Council.

Rich McFarland, of Blaine Drive, said he'd just moved in a little over a year ago, "and this proposal right here is just going mess everything up. We already had work done on Colbert [Lane] and it just destroyed the wildlife. … [developers]  don’t care about us, all they care about is what’s going into their pockets."

Developer The Richman Group of Florida is proposing to use the 6.3-acre parcel for three-story buildings containing a total of 74 homes, half of them one bedroom, the other half two-bedroom.

"This is what we are; this is what we do," said Mac Ross, representing The Richman Group. "We develop, own and manage these projects for the life of the project. … You’re going to get a member of the community; you’re not going to get someone who’s here to develop something cheaply and then flip it." He said The Richman Group is looking at putting $10.5 million in hard costs into the project and expects it to generate 300 construction jobs and four permanent jobs.

The city's staff is in favor of the change.

But Ida Meehan, a planner for the city of Palm Coast, did note that the property contains a city drainage easement that was granted by the current property owners, Palm Coast Holdings, to allow for stormwater retention for the Old Kings Road widening project phases one and two, which have already been designed, permitted and funded.

"Of utmost concern to the city is that the city’s permitting and funding approvals for this high-priority project not be delayed or jeopardized," a staff report states. "If the rezoning is approved, city staff will work with the applicant to resolve any technical issues during the site plan application process."

Residents' concerns were wide-ranging: More than a dozen people spoke, none in support of the project. Some said they worried that it would be hard to evacuate the proposed 74 homes in a hurricane, or that the additional homes would clog up evacuation routes for other residents. Others said they didn't want their views impeded by three-story buildings. A few questioned what would happen if the city moved forward with the zoning change, and then the developer backed out — raising the possibility that another developer could come in and propose low-income housing for the parcel. Residents said they thought that would raise crime rates. Some said they thought the new development would lower their home values. More than one said they'd had problems with nuisance wildlife — snakes and hogs were mentioned — that they thought were pushed into their yards due to development, and they thought the new proposal would make things worse. Still others worried that the development would destroy habitat for bear, deers and other critters. A number mentioned the neighborhood's drainage issues, and concerns that the development would worsen them.

But most of those concerns were far outside the board's purview — at least, in this particular meeting, where the board was tasked with the narrow job of determining whether the proposal met the city's criteria for a zoning change. 

Nancy Allen, a resident of Black Alder Drive, said, "I cannot fathom how you even would consider, without doing some major studies ... how you would even consider this.” She said she'd had to spend money having trappers remove venemous snakes from her yard already; she blamed nearby development and didn't want to deal with more snakes because of more development. “And Animal Control won’t come and pick up the venemous snakes, that’s on us,” she said. The city's animal control officers don't deal with non-domestic animals. "We are taxpayers too, and we matter," she said. 

A Bleu Court resident also said she'd had problems with snakes and worried about the project pushing more into her backyard. 

Another resident said developers see every parcel of land as a place to build, and meanwhile the traffic gets worse and worse, and there are enough people in the state already.

Another resident, Mark Peterson, said, "I think right now we're putting the cart in front of the horse," and the city should deal with Old Kings Road widening first.

George Carofine, of Black Bear Lane, said: "If you want to have this, why there? Can’t you do it somewhere else? I mean, I believe in affordable housing for people, but how come you don’t build it somewhere else?"

Multiple other people said much the same thing: Why that plot, they said, instead of, say, Town Center?

But snakes and hogs aren't a zoning change matter, board members said. And anyhow, they said, they're everywhere in Florida, and the proposed residential development wouldn't displace them any more than a commercial development would.

Environmental issues will be dealt with in the permitting process for the development if it moves forward. Drainage issues will be considered by the board, but during the site plan phase, which will come later.

Board members discussed some concerns about the project before their vote — in particular, quality-of-life issues and the proposal's potential impact on Old Kings Road — but determined that many of them could not be considered at the Aug. 15 hearing and would have to wait for site plan review. 

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