Port St. Joe commissioners finally brokered an opening gambit with the Paces Foundation on Tuesday, but the ensuing parts of the deal will serve as tale of the tape.
After two public meetings and a lightly-attended workshop of potentially impacted residents, commissioners approved allowing Paces to move ahead with an additional 26 units at Gateway Apartments on Clifford Sims Ave.
Calling it a “Hurricane Michael Recovery Project,” the foundation would use federal housing dollars to fund the project.
Paces proposed constructing one additional building, 26 units, at the complex but the proposal quickly came under fire from commissioners, who were particularly focused on one provision of an agreement.
That provision would allow the status quo as egress and ingress to the complex, a deal-breaker from the outset for commissioners.
A proposal to reduce the number of allowable parking spaces from 2 to 1.5 and reduce the impact fees paid to the city by 30 percent was also part of the Paces package.
Commissioners did not object to the parking space change, though they voted that the 30 percent reduction on impact fees come on the back end, at the completion of the project.
But the entrance/exit issue, particularly as it pertained to traffic onto Broad Street, the main street on which complex traffic travels, proved a sticking point and meetings and workshops followed.
Paces argued that adding an entire new entrance/exit would add $400,000 to the cost of the project, reducing the scope and units.
Commissioners argued adding more traffic to the area was not tenable.
The compromise approved Tuesday would have Paces create one-way roads of the exit and entrance to the complex, diffusing traffic.
“It’s doesn’t solve the traffic problems, but it will help,” said Commissioner Eric Langston. “You are showing me that you are least trying to fix that problem.”
In addition, there was considerable debate over the 16 units, as of Tuesday 14 units, which were not occupied due to damage from Hurricane Michael.
Residents wondered if 26 additional units were indeed needed, what about the damaged units.
A common thread during more than six weeks of discussion was the lack of affordable housing.
“We need the housing,” said resident Tan Smiley.
What constituted affordable housing was also an issue as Gateway Apartments have a sliding scale of rents linked to household income.
Commissioners said they will have several requests when Paces returns for a development order for the project.
First, commissioners want the foundation to provide, free or at a discount, two apartments for law enforcement, one for the Port St. Joe Police Department and another for the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office.
A long-standing issue in the entire county is workforce housing for law enforcement, first responders, teachers, etc.
“I would think there is a value in seeing their presence,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman.
Police Chief Matt Herring said Gateway is the source of more calls than any other location in the city, primarily for domestic issues.
Commissioners also requested that part of the development order will be completion of repairs to the more than a dozen apartments currently vacant due to damage.
A Paces representative said the foundation was not waiting on insurance reimbursement to move ahead with repairs and said the proposal was “fair.”
“We want to increase construction, we want to see the increase in rents and revenue,” said Michael Bauer with Paces.