Port St. Joe commissioners said Tuesday they would listen but nothing they had yet heard was going to cause them to slow down.

Commissioners held a first reading on ordinances pertaining to the annexation of the former Highland View School site and zoning and land-use changes that would allow a project to move forward on to what the developer is calling “workforce housing.”

Before they conducted the formal reading of the ordinances, however, commissioners expressed willingness to workshop with the Board of County Commissioners concerning the project.

A workshop is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. ET May 30 at the Emergency Operations Center behind the County Courthouse.

“We need to go ahead and hold that workshop,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman. “I am all for setting a workshop anytime to discuss an issue.

“But my concerns are what the best interests of the city are.”

The county formally requested the workshop in a bid to try to prevent any litigation over the project.

As explained by Ray Greer, a representative for developer Zach Ferrell, the goal is to construct an “apartment complex” with a maximum of 170 units with no building more than 40 feet high.

“Height is not an issue,” Greer said.

If ultimately adopted, the land-use and zoning for the 9-plus acres would change from public use, appropriate when a school site, to R-4, allowing for a maximum of 30 units per acre.

Greer said the current plan would work out to about 18 units per acre; the next less-dense zoning, R-3, limits the number of units to 15, hence the desire for R-4.

The only area of the city where R-4 is currently allowed, Greer noted, is land immediately adjacent to the acreage in question.

Greer emphasized the goal was construction of long-term rental “workforce housing.”

County officials, however, have expressed concern about the density of the project, which would not be permitted if the site remained in the unincorporated county.

The units, and what Greer estimated would be 360 new parking spaces, would create traffic, safety and other problems to Highland View, county officials expressed during a recent special meeting.

County officials also believe they can legally stop the annexation which would be required for the development to continue as planned.

Based on a 2005 interlocal agreement which was updated in 2013, the county can prevent further city annexation into Highland View unless the city conducts a referendum of residents.

Before the housing plan was taken up and approved by the city’s Planning and Development Review Board last week, the city received a letter from county attorney Jeremy Novak requesting a workshop.

Commissioners agreed to talk, but, as Commissioner David Ashbrook said, “We should not stop moving forward.”

He made the motions to continue with moving the ordinances ahead, given that the city already paid for the public advertising, while noting a first reading binds commissioners to nothing.


Boat docking agreement

The city is hoping to bridge a temporary breach in the relationship with the St. Joe Company during its regular meeting June 4.

Scheduled to appear at the meeting is a representative of the St. Joe Company to discuss with commissioners a proposed agreement to allow several charter boats to dock at Jetty Park.

Earlier this month, commissioners tabled a draft agreement submitted by St. Joe after months of waiting, taking issue with the tone and terms.

While tabling the agreement, commissioners pledged that any permit St. Joe sought for development of the Port St. Joe Marina would be denied until a viable boat docking agreement was reached.

In the days immediately following the meeting, St. Joe pulled the marina development plans from consideration before the PDRB despite having publicly advertised the special hearing.

Commissioner Scott Hoffman, the most vocal critic of the draft agreement, expressed his happiness that St. Joe was to meet with commissioners.

“I think that indicates St. Joe agrees this did not start off correctly,” Hoffman said, adding that plans went off the rails once the attorneys were involved.

“Both parties are willing to partner on a project in our future. I am in full support of hearing directly from them.”

Hoffman added that Clifford Sims Park and First Street/Marina Drive would remain in city possession, regardless of what St. Joe has planned for the marina.