A plan to rezone the business corridor on the north end of the city of Port St. Joe was recently given the okay by state officials.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a letter to the city, said it had completed an expedited review of the changes to the comprehensive plan and had no additional comment.
“They gave us the green light,” said City Manager Jim Anderson.
The state action arrived nearly two years after the rezoning proposal gained first light after a series of public meetings hosted the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition.
The city’s Planning and Development Review Board and Commission have both approved the plan.
The plan is considered a key to unlocking economic development in a part of the city badly in need of forward momentum.
The plan builds on an update of the North Port St. Joe Master Plan originally approved in 2006 after a community redevelopment agency boundary was established which included much of the North Port St. Joe neighborhood.
In broad brushes, the proposed rezoning, crafted by consultant John Hendry, would involve maintaining the current underlying mixed-use category under which most of the corridor is zoned.
On top of that, though, rezoning would create “overlay” districts, three zones which would have specific land use regulations dictating the residential/commercial mix within that district.
A central goal would be preserving the historic and current mix on MLK; the predominantly commercial areas between Avenues A and D and predominantly residential areas from Avenue D north.
“We didn’t want a one-size-fits-all zoning so we could preserve what is there,” Hendry has said. “We want to preserve the sense of neighborhood.”
The plan provides elements to create workforce or affordable housing within the neighborhood and provides a framework to expand lodging and dining options for both visitors and residents.
And, Hendry emphasized, the rezoning plan along with the master plan, are pieces in a puzzle to address the blight in North Port St. Joe and along MLK, conditions in stark contrast to the revival that had taken place along Reid Ave before Hurricane Michael.
“It is essential the neighborhood, the city and the county come up with the best way of eliminating this blight,” Hendry said. “There will have to be a coherent and integrated plan for this.
“This needs the support of everybody. We want everybody to come together in a positive way to determine how to fix this.”
Since city approval of the plan, the city’s planning consultant Ray Greer has worked along parallel paths.
He held a workshop for impacted property owners and conducted a formal survey of more than 100 impacted property owners, assessing community support.
The city also undertook an assessment of infrastructure needs should the plan’s increase in density limits be approved: as proposed, density limits in some areas of the rezoned corridor would increase from 15 to 25 units per acre.
Another major change would be increases in height limits from 35 feet to 60.
“The height and the units per acre, those are going to be your big changes,” Greer has said.