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City approves affordable housing expansion

By Tim Croft
The Star

After months of discussion and debate, the Gateway Apartments in Port St. Joe will be expanding. 

Port St. Joe commissioners, during their regular bi-monthly meeting Tuesday, approved a development order for the Paces Foundation to construct a third building at the apartment complex. 

That will increase the number of affordable housing units to nearly 80. 

Paces and the city agreed to three key compromises which have been discussed over the course of six months. 

One was reducing the parking-space ratio to 1.5 per unit from 2 and another was to fix and put back online 16 units damaged and uninhabitable since Hurricane Michael. 

Those units have been completed. 

Another component of the agreement was the city reducing by 25 percent impact fees for the project, which commissioners approved upon the new building receiving its certificate of occupancy. 

Further, the entrance will be widened with an island to assist traffic flow: commissioners were assured that any emergency vehicle would be able to enter via Clifford Sims Blvd. 

“I think it’s fair,” Commissioner Scott Hoffman said of the agreement. 

The city’s Planning and Development Review Board approved the project last week leaving the ball in the court of the Commission. 

Frank Pate Park gazebo/pier 

Port St. Joe commissioners decided to rebuild the pier and gazebo at Frank Pate Park

The court of public opinion was clear. 

And commissioners listened as they decided to proceed with rebuilding the pier and gazebo at Frank Pate Park, one of the most iconic landmarks of Port St. Joe before Hurricane Michael. 

Commissioners put demolition of the site and reconstruction of the pier and gazebo out for bid, and after receiving the bids the low bidder was the same on both components of the project. 

Until this week, commissioners had approved only the demolition but held off on replacement due to costs. 

On the city’s Facebook page, comments were overwhelmingly in support of replacing the gazebo and pier. 

And following a budget workshop that illustrated they had some flexibility, commissioners decided to jump on reconstruction of the pier and gazebo while the contractor was on site. 

The city engineer noted the price of wood alone had jumped in the past week and the price in the winning bid might be as good as the city would get. 

And with the contractor on site, anyway, eliminating mobilization costs, why not complete the job, commissioners unanimously decided. 

The gazebo and pier post Hurricane Michael

New police chief 

As previously noted, Police Chief Matt Herring will be leaving the city Oct. 1 to assume the position of county Emergency Management Director upon the retirement of Marshall Nelson. 

“Matt has done a wonderful job for us,” Mayor Rex Buzzett said. 

The hope from the announcement of Herring’s departure was to have a replacement in place quickly to ensure a smooth transition. 

Commissioners did that Tuesday by announcing Lt. Jake Richards would be taking over as chief. 

Richards, who has been a police officer for 23 years, 17 with the Port St. Joe Police Department, is a native of Highland View, a homegrown son. 

“I think he’ll make a great chief,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman said Richards was an example of an individual who learns from his mistakes and doesn’t make them twice. 

“I gratefully and humbly accept the position,” Richards said. “I am just going to try to keep everything on track, everything on the right path.” 

Commissioner Brett Lowry noted he had known Richards nearly all his life and congratulated Richards. 

“If you don’t want to hear the truth about something, don’t ask Jake because he’s going to tell you the truth,” Lowry said. 

Proclamation for BCC owner 

Commissioners issued a proclamation declaring a day of prayer for Jason Tunnell, the owner of BCC, the city’s solid waste vendor. 

Tunnell was involved in an accident and has yet to emerge from a coma. 

The proclamation urges a “speedy recovery” and a day of encouragement for Tunnell’s family.,