County, city at odds over annexation
For the second time in as many years the Board of County Commissioners and the Port St. Joe City Commission are at loggerheads over annexation.
The land in question this time is a five-acre parcel at the corner of Field of Dreams Ave. and U.S. 98 directly across from the Gulf/Franklin campus of Gulf Coast State College.
City commissioners were to take up first readings of voluntary annexation and zoning change during their regular bi-monthly meeting Tuesday.
However, a representative of the applicant annexation asked the matter be tabled.
That action came mere hours after the BOCC met in special session and the subject of the proposed annexation was forcefully brought forward by Administrator Michael Hammond.
Hammond said he was at his “wit’s end” and fatigued of the city lobbying over what he said was developers shopping density requirements between county and city and pursuing annexation into the city, which carries higher densities.
The issue echoed last year’s controversy over plans to annex the former Highland View school site and rezone the land to allow up to 40 units per acre.
The annexation and zoning proposal before the city Tuesday would include the construction of a convenience store on two of the five acres, and rezone the land from county agriculture to city commercial.
Hammond said there was no reason to annex the land into the city if not for what might be planned for the other three acres and the county should protect a “way of life.”
He said city commissioners “do not have a problem with high density” and county commissioners must once and for all put a stop to what Commissioner Ward McDaniel characterized as the city’s “hop-scotch” approach to annexation.
“Annexation is fine but we need to have no more density that we have in the county,” Hammond said.
“Now is the time to stop the spread of high density in the county.”
Hammond added that the county was not being the aggressor; the city was moving ahead on annexation involving land that was in the county.
From the city’s viewpoint, the annexation was about expanding the tax base with a $500,000 project that would also add 12-15 jobs.
Hammond noted the BOCC asked for a workshop with city officials late last year with annexation among the topics and were rebuffed, using an adjective a few notches down from that used which rhymed with “found gland.”
County commissioners at that time charged Hammond and attorney Jeremy Novak to proceed with litigation if the city proceeded with the annexation, Novak noted.
“Once we give up our control it’s gone,” McDaniel said. “I think the dollar store is a front for something else.”
County commissioners approved a motion that the BOCC would oppose any annexations on the part of the city until the city removes from its land development regulations the two residential zoning classifications, R-3 and R-4, which allow densities higher than the county’s four units per acre.
As the annexation was tabled by the applicant during Tuesday’s city meeting, despite apparent assurances an hour earlier that the developer wished to move forward, Port St. Joe commissioners had no discussion on the issue.