After a debate reflecting the “high emotions” on all sides of the argument, Port St. Joe Rex Buzzett put the onus of healing on the community of North Port St. Joe.
As Buzzett characterized it, city commissioners did Tuesday, by a unanimous 5-0 vote, what the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition had recommended; approve a land-use change seen the foundation for economic development in the area.
But, now, Buzzett said, with city approval the task fell to the NPSJ-PAC and the broader community to cool those emotions and move ahead in a constructive manner, to, as Buzzett said, “Walk the walk.”
“The whole idea of this is to clean up the blight that is there,” Buzzett said before a vote was taken.
“When all is said and done we all have to work together. That is the only way we will get things done.”
The ordinance approved Tuesday, after a process that spanned more than three years, puts down the land-use foundation flexibility for an overall plan to re-zone the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. corridor and some adjacent lands.
The land-use change will be the springboard to creating overlay districts to increase the density and mix of commercial and residential units in the central hub of the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe.
Those overlay districts, city planning consultant Ray Greer noted Tuesday, will ultimately have to be brought before the city for final approval.
“This is not a zoning change,” Greer said. “The zoning will not actually change until the overlay districts (are approved).”
The Commission meeting room was standing-room-only, as it has been the past month as commissioners have considered comments during two meetings and a workshop.
The central theme of dissent remained an assertion that insufficient information was disseminated to impacted property owners.
Greer said the future land use amendment had been considered by the city’s planning board in a public meeting, city commissioners approved the plan and it was then transmitted to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The plan was sent back to the city without comment and commissioners were holding a second public hearing pertaining to adoption of the specific ordinance.
And all that took place after a publicly-noticed workshop during which commissioners were first presented the plan.
“The ordinance is ripe for a vote,” said city attorney Adam Albritton when asked if the city had leaped through all the necessary hoops, including public notice.
Greer added that the plan is posted on the city’s website as well as that of the DEO.
The plan can also be found at the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition website.
“I see no reason for you not to vote today,” said Marvin Davis, a resident and member of the NPSJ-PAC. “Everything has been followed.”
That, several speakers argued, was not the case and urged commissioners to delay any vote for at least 30 days.
Charles Givens, a NPSJ resident, said the problem was the lack of clear information within the community, adding not all residents track city meeting agendas or read the newspaper.
He generally supported the land-use amendment, but also said many residents did not have the correct information.
“The biggest problem in the community is communication,” Givens said, arguing the city should set specific policies and procedures for taking action on land-use or zoning changes.
Christy McElroy said the issue was not dissimilar to problems surrounding a proposed expansion of the 10th Street Ball Park which moved forward for months before neighbors of the ball park became aware.
“This is a global issue for our community,” she said. “We need policies and procedures that allow information to flow to the community.”
Chester Davis, president of the NPSJ-PAC, said the PAC started with a mission and the dissemination of incorrect information at the last minute was muddying the mission.
“Three years ago we started discussions about what was needed to redevelop North Port St. Joe,” Davis said. “It’s about bringing help to the community.”
The land-use amendment maintains the current mixed zoning which has been in place in the neighborhood for a decade, the last time the city updated its comprehensive plan.
A central tenet was preserving the historic and current mix on MLK; predominantly commercial areas between Avenues A and D and predominantly residential areas from Avenue D north.
What the land-use amendment paves the way for, added density, will make the area more attractive to developers.
“The plan aims to restore the street to what it was,” said John Hendry, who has worked with the PAC as a consultant. “We didn’t want a one-size-fits-all zoning so we could preserve what is there. We want to preserve the sense of neighborhood.
“The higher density will be more enticing to investors.”
Allowing a property owner to sell, rent or lease residential units on a second or third floor will render a storefront on the first floor more viable.
On top of the underlying mixed-use zoning currently in place, the land-use amendment paves the way for the creation of three “overlay” districts.
Those three zones would have specific land-use regulations dictating the residential/commercial mix within that district.
With city approval, the next stage is one so frustrating to many speaking Tuesday; the lack of understanding of what the future will bring.
And those next steps will rely on investors seeing the area as more attractive for investment.
Further, the plan was always directed at addressing blight that exists in an area of a community that does not tolerate it elsewhere.
“It is essential the neighborhood, the city and the county come up with the best way of eliminating this blight,” Hendry said.
“This needs the support of everybody. We want everybody to come together in a positive way to determine how to fix this.”
That was pretty much Buzzett’s plea Tuesday.