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Gateway extension under scrutiny

Tim Croft
The Star

Port St. Joe commissioners want to hear a whole lot more.

From the Paces Foundation, which is proposing an extension of its existing Gateway Apartments complex, and from residents of the neighborhood most impacted by the addition of 26 new units.

During their regular bi-monthly meeting Tuesday, commissioners discussed at length a proposal from Paces despite deciding early on that a workshop would held, ultimately scheduled for next month.

Paces has requested three specific items before moving ahead with what would be a $4.7 million project.

The foundation requested a percentage reduction in impact and tap fees equal to the first 50 apartments, 25 percent, a reduction in the number of parking spaces from 2 per unit to 1.5 and no requirement to construct another entrance.

The hiccup from the get-go has been about an additional entrance, with commissioners insisting there needed to be one and Paces countering that construction of a new entrance would be cost-prohibitive to the project, particularly if delineated wetlands were involved.

The foundation proposes to add 26 new units, noting it has three dozen applicants currently on its waiting list.

There are also 16 units that are empty at this time due to water intrusion; mold abatement has been completed, a Paces representative said.

The foundation also conducted a traffic study, though commissioners and residents alike characterized it as seriously flawed.

Commissioners also expressed concern about the negative impacts of 26 new units, and vehicles, into the area without a new entrance.

“My concern is to move the project forward while having the least negative impacts,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman, adding that the people most impacted were in the two blocks surrounding the complex.

“We need to give these people a way to be heard,” Hoffman said.

Police Chief Matt Herring said that since Gateway opened it has been the most-frequent location for calls, mostly domestic issues.

But resident Tan Smiley, who shepherded Gateway into Gulf County as a county commissioner, said the issue is simple.

“We need the housing,” Smiley said. “We need those apartments.”

Another resident, however, noted that given the rental structure required due to the use of federal grant dollars in the project, many working people have too high an income to be eligible to live at the apartments.

Election terms

Commissioners acknowledged that Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon had informed them it was too late in the process to place the question of two- or –four-year terms for city commissioners on the ballot this spring.

Commissioners said they hoped to hear from the public about term lengths and could consider putting the question before voters in a future year.

Commissioners also decided to move forward with adopting a process by which a candidate for commissioner may qualify by petition or pay the qualifying fee; currently the city does not have a petition process.

Any change will not impact this year’s election: candidates must pay $516 to run for office.

“My intention is to get more people involved, not only in these meetings but in running for office,” Hoffman said.

“We should start as a community to open up the discussion on the pros and cons.”

Election 2020

Election Day in Port St. Joe will be May 12 with candidate qualifying beginning March 18 and ending March 25.

Hoffman (District 4) and Commissioner Brett Lowry (District 3) are up for re-election.