A proposal for development of the former Highland View School site as an apartment complex has pitted the city of Port St. Joe and the Board of County Commissioners on opposite sides of the table.
How large the table becomes will unfold in the coming weeks.
The city’s Planning and Development Review Board on Tuesday afternoon approved zoning and land-use changes for the roughly nine acres at U.S. 98 and Redfish Street in Highland View.
Long zoned for public use as a school, the PDRB approved changes in zoning to R-4, largely consistent with adjacent property, some county, some city, and which allowed up to 30 units per acre.
According to the proposal, developer Zach Ferrell planned to construct 170 new residential multi-family units on the property.
“Mr. Ferrell has had several meetings with the city and made it clear he hoped to build an apartment complex,” said Ray Greer, who was representing Ferrell.
The proposal noted the advantages of the property for meeting pressing housing needs.
City Manager Jim Anderson said the project fit with a chief concern of residents.
“All we have heard about is housing and this falls in line with what the city has been hearing,” Anderson said.
One, well, really two, hurdles: the Board of County Commissioners and annexation.
Ferrell has applied for a voluntary annexation of the land into the city, which commissioners will first take up this Tuesday.
In a letter to the city and PDRB, attorney Jeremy Novak wrote that the county objected to the annexation pending a workshop with the city.
“The train has left the station,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond during a special meeting last week during which he asked the BOCC to approve formally objecting to the project.
The county believes it has the grounds for halting the project.
Novak said a 2005 interlocal agreement between city and county included a prohibition against future city annexation of areas of Highland View unless a referendum of residents was held.
A 2013 update to that interlocal, Novak added, specifically left that provision stand.
A workshop should be convened before the development moved further ahead; the BOCC agreed, Hammond added that city, county relations had improved.
But, the development, Hammond added, was too dense for the area and the annexation was sought solely because county building requirements would not allow the same density.
“There would be more people in that one area than all of Highland View,” Hammond said.
The increase in vehicular traffic alone would cause problems, Hammond said, noting congestion issues when U. S. 98 in Highland View as being prepared.
“A lot of times you can’t even make a left turn off of Redfish,” said Commissioner Jimmy Rogers.
But, PDRB chair Jay Rish said Tuesday, “We need housing and we need development.”
Regardless of the PDRB’s action, he added, the final say would be up to city commissioners and the question of annexation.
Interlocal on Triumph funds
Commissioners also approved interlocal agreements with the two cities and school district concerning disbursement of more than $4 million in Triumph Gulf Coast grant dollars to offset property tax losses.
The Gulf County School Board approved the interlocal agreement last Friday.
The county has the money in hand and will disburse the funds based on the numbers submitted for the original application.
That will mean more than $2 million for the county and school district and roughly $88,000 for the city of Port St. Joe.
“It was a godsend to get this money,” Hammond said. “We received nothing from the (Florida Legislature) so this is a shot in the arm.”
Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said the dollars will allow the district to adopt less of a “panicky” outlook.
As a result of the Triumph funds, the county will return the 4 percent of budgets from constitutional officers was returned to the general fund after Hurricane Michael.
Clerk of Court Becky Norris announced that years of work the Clerk’s office has established a software system to codify all county ordinances.
A bound copy of ordinances would be available at the Clerk’s office and will be updated each year with new ordinances or amendments of existing ordinances.
An online “copy” will be updated within a couple of days of approval of any ordinances by the BOCC.
“We are pretty excited about this,” Norris said.
The lack of a codified system for ordinances is one issue raised in an ongoing lawsuit from Taunton Sand.