More time for research.
That is what a sharply divided Port St. Joe City Commission granted staff and their attorney after attorney Adam Albritton requested holding any decision on a proposed annexation and zoning change for land in Highland View until more research could be undertaken.
A crowd of Highland View residents, roughly a third of those who appeared at a standing-room-only city/county workshop last week pertaining to the development, left dissatisfied and vocal about it.
Also left hanging was direction from county commissioners to their attorney to seek a court injunction if the city moved forward with annexing the property, the former site of the Highland View Elementary School.
And city commissioners were none too pleased with each other just reaching a decision.
A motion by Mayor Bo Patterson to deny the annexation outright failed on a 2-3 vote with only Commissioner Brett Lowry joining Patterson.
Commissioners David Ashbrook, Scott Hoffman and Eric Langston followed by approving a motion to hold off on a decision pending additional legal review.
Patterson bitterly complained several times later in the meeting about the outcome of the votes, at one time lobbing unsupported accusations at the man who beat him in the most recent city election.
“Bo lost because he doesn’t respect the office or anybody who disagrees with him and this was just another example,” said Rex Buzzett, the next mayor.
Port St. Joe commissioners will next take up the annexation and land-use changes for the development during their regular meeting Aug. 6.
If, as the county position holds, a referendum must be held to determine further annexations into Highland View, as spelled out in a 2005 interlocal agreement updated in 2013, commissioners, county and city, received a vocal and negative referendum during last week’s workshop.
Resident after Highland View resident took to the podium and urged commissioners to put an end to the proposed development, which would vastly increase the density in the area.
Much as county officials have for several weeks, residents criticized the proposed zoning change that would allow up to 30 units per acre and the increases in people and motor vehicles it would bring to the “family-oriented community.”
“It doesn’t seem fair to me,” said resident Suzanne Lyon. “This seems very underhanded and I am very disappointed.”
Doug Kelly said, “People have the right to decide if they want this. We just don’t think it needs to go there.”
Safety was also an issue for residents, from the increase in traffic on an evacuation route to Highland View Fire Chief John Strayer stating his department lacked the equipment to fight a fire in a four-story structure.
The workshop also served to establish dividing lines among the city commissioners, with Patterson stating, “If the county is against this, then I am against it.”
The Board of County Commissioners, during a special meeting following the workshop, instructed the county attorney Jeremy Novak to file for a legal injunction to halt the annexation if it moved forward.
Novak appeared during the City Commission’s Tuesday meeting to implore commissioners and staff to do their research and listen to the residents of Highland View.
The residents of Highland View, he said, lacked standing to challenge any city action; therefore the BOCC must speak for them.
To allow the zoning change that would facilitate the apartment complex’s development, increasing potential density from 7 to 30 units per acre, the city would setting “Precedent for the city and the county,” Novak said.
City Commissioner Scott Hoffman said he believed the city held a differing interpretation of what the interlocal agreement holds each party to and said that was one reason he wanted to delay any decision.
He also said the workshop was about two separate issues: one the annexation and two the zoning changes increasing density.
Given the county’s stance of seeking a legal remedy, Hoffman said the city needed time to further analyze its position.
“Our staff needs time to review and decide if we are on solid ground,” Hoffman said. “We could be setting a (bad) precedent saying no to a voluntary annexation. We don’t want to rush to judgment.
“Give us time to consider this issue and how it may impact the city’s future.”