So close, yet so far.
During last week’s regular meeting of the Port St. Joe City Commission, city manager Jim Anderson notified the board that the Paces Foundation, which operates out of Smyrna, Ga. had failed to secure federal housing tax credits it would use to leverage funds for an affordable housing complex that would bring approximately 70 single family homes to Port St. Joe’s North side.
“The property is still viable for affordable housing, just not with Paces right now,” said Mayor Mel Magidson. “We have the property, we just need someone to come and develop it.”
In August, Paces President Mark du Mas presented his plans to commissioners during which he said he would apply for a tax credit program that would require the foundation to go to Tallahassee to compete for housing credits.
Once awarded, Paces planned to sell the credits to banks in order to fund the structures.
While Paces did not receive the housing credits, they would be able to reapply next year.
During the meeting’s Fair Housing Workshop held by Bruce Ballister of the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, Ballister commiserated with commissioners over the setback. Ballister said that he knew of other foundations that may be able to help get affordable housing into Port St. Joe if Paces was unable to do so.
“Florida coastal affordable housing is notoriously difficult,” said Ballister. “It’s to be commended if you can make it happen.”
While Magidson welcomed the recommendations, Anderson said Paces was exploring other ways of funding the project.
Also making news was the Golden Arches of David Costa’s McDonald’s at First Street and U.S. Highway 98. The sign is still in violation of the city’s sign ordinance and must be replaced with one much smaller.
Commissioner William Thursbay led off what has been an ongoing discussion with a motion to extend Costa’s deadline from Dec. 31 until the following year.
Magidson countered Thursbay’s motion asking why they should give Costa another year when he’d already had years to fix the sign.
Costa was in the crowd and took the podium to provide his side of the story.
Costa said that he had purchased the McDonald’s in January 2011 and was not told by the corporation that the sign was in violation.
According to Costa, a corporate representative had been sent to previous commission meetings and the information was never passed along.
“We’ve tried to be good neighbors, making this building something you’d be proud of,” said Costa.
A regular sponsor of the annual Scallop Festival, Costa said he was donating $50,000 to help remodel four kindergarten buildings in Gulf County.
The original deadline for the sign to be brought into compliance was Oct. 1, but a previous extension gave Costa until the end of the year. The business owner said that if he knew the sign was an issue, he would have replaced it during a large remodel.
“We’ll do what we need to do to comply, but consider the time period,” said Costa. “We’d prefer to use the money to put it into the schools.”
Magidson read Costa the meeting minutes from two years ago when commissioners first began talks with McDonald’s corporate about the sign.
“I resent that you can give to schools, but you can’t follow the rules,” said Magidson to Costa. “I think you need to go to McDonald’s and get your money back.
“I just don’t think another year is appropriate.”
Thursbay changed his motion to a six-month extension for Costa and Commissioner Rex Buzzett agreed that it was reasonable.
Buzzett said, “I appreciate your contributions to the city, but it takes all of us working together to make the city what it is.”
After conversation ended a 3-2 (Magidson, Buzzett dissenting) vote awarded Costa a six-month extension.