Palm Coast Toughs: Fake Pot Banned, Garage Sales Watched, Woodlands Development a Go
FlaglerLive | September 18, 2012
The Palm Coast City Council’s five men played the tough guys Tuesday.
With almost total unanimity, the council on Sept. 18 conclusively adopted a series of ordinances that now prohibit the sale of so-called synthetic pot in Palm Coast, more strictly regulate and track garage sales in the city, and open the way to a vast and high-rising commercial development on the green edges of the Woodlands, along Colbert Lane. Four of the five ordinances were approved on second reading, making them the equivalent of local laws. The fifth is assured similar treatment in two weeks.
Aside from two brief comments–one of them by a man suggesting that the logical place to address the issue was by state legislation–the ordinance banning the sale of synthetic pot and so-called “bath salts” drew little public interest. The council heard a presentation it had heard before at a workshop, from a school deputy, who reiterated numerous statements about synthetic marijuana that were more provocative than proven: the cop himself acknowledged that much about synthetic port is unknown, though specific chemicals used to manufacture the packets that go by names like K-2 and Spice have been banned by federal and Florida law. Manufacturers get around the bans by combining new chemical cocktails. The results can be either benign or dangerous, based on the mix, though cases of dangerous exposure to synthetic marijuana are few and mostly anecdotal. The issue has not yet drawn more than tangential attention from the Centers for Disease Control.
“This is a big deal and it’s far worse than marijuana would ever be,” council member Bill McGuire said, his statement no more conclusively demonstrable than those that had preceded it. (Details on the synthetic pot issue here and here.)
The unusual feature of the ordinance was Palm Coast’s willingness essentially to prohibit legal products from sale in the city, by legally established merchants. Violators would be asked to remove the stuff rom their shelves by code enforcement officers, or face a $300-a-day fine. Last week in a workshop the city manager told council members that legal challenges were possible but unlikely, and the mayor, Jon Netts, said he’d welcome a legal challenge. The ordinance passed, 5-0. It must be approved again in two weeks before it takes effect.
The remaining four ordinances—three of which were related to the same development along Colbert Lane—had this in common: they were mostly opposed by the public, but, with one exception, wholeheartedly supported by the council.
One was the ordinance regulating garage sales. Council member Jason DeLorenzo had reported to the council that he was receiving word from residents complaining of chronic garage sales on certain lots. The city bans more than two garage sales per lot per year, but had no mechanism to enforce the ban. The new ordinance requires lot dwellers to register their garage sale with the city, which will then publicize the garage sale on the city’s website, but also keep track of sales held each year. Initially the city was going to require a $5 registration fee. Public opposition compelled the council to drop the fee, but keep the permitting system in place.
The ordinance passed on second reading, 4-1. Council member Frank Meeker was the lone dissenter. He argued that the very few problem lots could be addressed and tracked by the existing system. He was not pleased by the city’s broad-brush, Big Brother approach. (Details here and here.)
The three other ordinances related to the so-called Grand Living development, by Jim Cullis, the developer of Grand Haven, who’s looking to build an assisted living facility and a commercial strip on the southeast flank of the Woodlands in Palm Coast—between that old subdivision and the northern end of Colbert Lane. Some 25,000 square feet of commercial space aside, the development would potentially result in about half a dozen buildings, some of them 60 feet high, with more than 200 residents plus their support staff. The development is strongly opposed by Woodlands residents on many grounds, as well as residents outside the Woodlands, some of whom raised issues with the legality of the way the city went about reversing its own land regulations: some of the land is being rezoned from conservation to commercial, in exchange with the developer adding more conservation land elsewhere. But the city’s long-range land-use maps had given Woodlands residents the impression—the legal certainty, in the residents’ eyes—that the conservation land in question would remain in conservation in perpetuity.
Matt Hathaway, a Woodlands resident who’s led the opposition, raised questions about Palm Coast’s assertion that the land-use changes for the project had been approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District. “I’d like to make it very clear,” Hathaway said, “the letter they went over was always brought to us as an approval from the district. It is not an approval.” He said the letter was an outline of the guidelines to be followed, “not a blessing.” The district, he said, “is willing to listen to our concerns.”
“They too share our concerns in relations to flooding, specifically in the Woodlands, and also have extreme interest in the current flooding that’s occurred recently in the Woodlands,” Hathaway said. Large tracts of forested land paralleling Blair Drive in the Woodlands—land the development will rise on—is currently under water, as it usually is during the wet season. That area would be filled in by the development, with enormous volumes of fill. Woodlands residents fear that the water pooling in that area will inevitably wash over their neighborhoods, which are also prone to flooding now.
The project has its supporters, especially among elderly residents or Realtors who see a need in Palm Coast for more assisted living facilities. But the facility Cullis is proposing would be, like most such facilities, high-end—that is, charging residents $2,500 to $4,000 a month, more when they have special needs—money that must be paid out of pocket since neither Medicaid nor Medicare cover residency in assisted living facilities. Only wealthy residents are capable of affording the rates.
The project drew more than opposition from one Palm Coast resident—Dennis McDonald, who just ran unsuccessfully for the county commission, and who announced at the meeting that he would be launching a campaign to amend the city’s charter and, by referendum, call for replacing the city manager and the mayor with a “strong-mayor” form of government.
“We will present the questions for referendum as soon as I can have [a] lawyer review the terminology,” McDonald said.
The Grand Living ordinances all passed unanimously.