One court fight avoided.
The Georgia-based developers proposing to build an apartment building along U.S. 98 in Highland View have withdrawn requests for annexation into the city of Port St. Joe and a zoning change that could have increased density more than four-fold.
“That is a positive thing for us and the community (of Highland View),” said County Administrator Michael Hammond.
“We will not have to get into a lawsuit with the city.”
Port St. Joe City Manager Jim Anderson said the requests had indeed been withdrawn by the developer after the city published the first of two advertisements this month required before the final annexation and zoning changes could be adopted.
City commissioners had already held the required first reading on both ordinances and the ordinances were up for adoption this coming Tuesday.
“They (the developers) said the development wasn’t financially feasible,” Anderson said.
The proposed development of 171 multi-family units at the intersection of U.S. 98 and Redfish Street was controversial from the start, which Anderson theorized might have weighed into the developers thinking.
“They don’t always like controversy,” Anderson noted.
The land on which the development was proposed to be built was the roughly nine acres of the former Highland View Elementary School site.
The developers sought a voluntary annexation into the city limits and a rezoning change that would take density limits from seven to 30 units per acre.
The city’s position was that following Hurricane Michael “workforce housing” as the development was characterized, was badly needed.
The development would offer long-term rental on two- and three-bedroom units as initially proposed.
The Board of County Commissioners was the first to weigh-in with dissent, threatening to file a lawsuit to stop the process based on an interlocal agreement with the city originating nearly 15 years ago.
County officials also criticized the proposed increase in density and the impacts to traffic and safety.
Had the city approved the rezoning and annexation at next week’s meeting the BOCC had instructed attorney Jeremy Novak to file for a court injunction to stop the development.
Many Highland View residents were the next to weigh in and they were no more in favor of the development in their “front yard” as county commissioners.
During a city meeting, a county meeting and a workshop with city and county officials, nearly three dozen residents of the community, uniformly and unanimously, spoke out against the development, the density increase and impacts to daily life the development, up to four stories high, would bring.
“We need to Barney Fife this and nip it in the bud,” said Doug Kelly, a Highland View resident and vocal critic of the development.
The controversy was underscored when Port St. Joe commissioners, by a slim 3-2 margin, allowed the proposed annexation and rezoning to advance to the Aug. 6 meeting.
In addition to the increase in density, county officials argued the development would have broader impacts.
Those additional people would bring more vehicles and more trips back and forth over an already busy artery and evacuation route.
County officials contended a turn lane will be required after a mandated traffic study and argued there would be no space to construct one.
“They are changing dramatically the geography and population of the community,” Novak said, adding the development would add at least 500 new residents to a city of less than 4,000.
The zoning change would be “setting precedent,” Novak has said.
Highland View Fire Chief John Strayer stated in each meeting held concerning the development that his department lacked the equipment and resources to handle fires in the proposed four-story structures.