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To Spur Town Center’s ‘Innovation District,’ Palm Coast Eagerly Gives Developers
What They Want

| May 30, 2019

Developers have been stirring and churning ground in Palm Coast's Town Center. (c FlaglerLive)

Developers have been stirring and churning ground in Palm Coast’s Town Center. (c FlaglerLive)

You can excuse Palm Coast city officials for their relief lately–if not their eagerness– as they finally see Town Center begin to look a little more like the town it was intended to be. The eagerness was on display last week as city officials and developers broke ground on an apartment complex on Bulldog Drive.

It was on display again earlier this week–not in so many shovels, but in regulatory and map amendments as planners were seeking to expand the city’s so-called “Innovation District” and its incentives to developers to facilitate what may become a 90-home development in the northwest quadrant of Town Center, not far from Publix.

To make that possible though, the expansion of the district was tied to an elimination of certain size restrictions controlling development in the district. For example, single family units right now must be built on lot sizes of 50 feet or less, in part to encourage innovative, affordable housing concepts. The prospective developers may need 70 feet. There’s no actual proposal yet, but the city wants to be accommodating. It’s all part of what it calls its kick-start program, which expires in 2020.

“There is some verbiage in our initial kickstart program that had limited the types of residential projects that had come in,” Wynn Newingham, head of innovation and economic growth, told the city council Tuesday. “But now that we have this fluid use of multi-family, single-family, affordable housing, that we are moving the restrictions around what types of residential developments that would qualify for that program, just removing that verbiage to allow for additional projects to come in.”

To that end, the city is expected to update its “Community Redevelopment Plan” early next month, eliminating restrictions on residential sizes and types of residential development may be built in Town Center.

There was more caution than objection, and from just one council member: Bob Cuff, an attorney whose years of experience with ITT make him the council’s point man on land development. “Since this is supposed to be innovative housing and commercial development,” Cuff said, “I don’t want to incentivize 2,200-square foot, three-bedroom, single family homes with two car garage, I don’t think we need to incentivize those, certainly not in this area.”

The proposed rewording of the ordinance council members would be approving next week is explicitly, boundlessly permissive: it would be approving “the innovation kick start program’s expanded boundary and unrestricted lot sizes.” The elimination of the restriction would apply to all acreage in the innovation district, potentially making the city vulnerable to a developer’s demands that the lot sizes Cuff fears be accommodated.

Newingham did not speak of that sort of scenario. She said the accommodation planned for the new parcel to be added to the innovation district would be part of the larger mix that the district is spurring into existence: she’s holding out hope that the district will meet its goal of “incentivizing” 1,000 new residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space by the time it reaches its expiration date next year. That would be a substantial achievement in light of Town Center’s much dimmer history. But it is clearly predicated on the city making very generous concessions to developers–and continuing to do so as potential development plans are submitted.

The city’s eagerness is the product of a decade of dashed hopes.

Ever since it leveled nearly 1,600 acres of scrubland and created what became known as Town Center around 15 years ago, Palm Coast has dreamed of that rectangular expanse as the heart and soul of a city that had neither. The acreage was platted. Streets, sidewalks, parking spaces and trails were built, streetlights planted and lit every night like a vigil to an imminently bright future.

Instead, the housing market collapsed and the economy suffered its worst recession since the Depression. Town Center’s streets to nowhere became one of the recession’s most emblematic postcards. Aside from the brisk business of new shopping centers on the periphery and a few of errant buildings within, City Hall and its ill-timed plunder of capital dollars not least among them, little else happened. Not for several years. The original Town Center dream of 2,500 apartments, condos and town houses, 3.4 million square feet of commercial space and 1.4 million square feet of office space remained just that: a dream.

Then little by little earth stirred, with a couple of apartment complexes rising, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s grounds adding a more permanent soundtrack to the activity, until suddenly in the past year or so earth started not just stirring but shaking, with the nucleus of Town Center a construction zone: Last week developers and city officials broke ground at 470 Bulldog Drive for an 88-unit apartment complex called The Palms at Town Center, at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Bulldog Drive.

Within a sparrow’s flight east of the movie theater, a much larger apartment complex that may total five buildings and 233 units is in preparation. It’ll likely be called The Venue. “And then we have some others in the works that we’re not at that place to share just yet,” Newingham said. Two projects, “nothing in concrete,” would be commercial.

Palm Coast issued the above photograph of city officials and developers breaking ground at the Palms apartment complex last week.

Palm Coast issued the above photograph of city officials and developers breaking ground at the Palms apartment complex last week.

The University of North Florida has its eyes on a Town Center campus. Not long ago city officials told Tom Gargiulo, the artist who’s leading the effort to create a sculpture garden in Central Park, to be prepared to rethink the location of some planned sculptures, to make room for expected development.

“With this new apartment complex and the promise of more development to follow soon, we’re on our way to making Town Center a hub for innovation, technology and growth,” Mayor Holland said at the Palms groundbreaking. “Our vision is clear: a mix of high-tech companies, amenity-rich residential areas, the park, cultural arts, coffee shops, entrepreneurs and retail in a walkable neighborhood with well-designed indoor and outdoor spaces.”

Town Center was created somewhat controversially in early 2004 as a so-called CRA, or community redevelopment agency. (Controversially, because the city stretched the definition of “blight” to suit its ambitions: there was barely any blight to speak of in a fraction of the acreage Palm Coast was largely withdrawing from the county’s tax rolls: well over $1 million a year in property taxes normally owed the county now remain in the CRA’s coffers.)

CRAs were intended to help cities with blighted neighborhood reinvigorate themselves economically by drawing a boundary around the CRA and ensuring that almost all property taxes generated within that boundary would remain in the zone, reinvested there to spur further development. The tax incentive was directed more at local governments than at businesses or developers, though businesses and developers could bank on operating in an area that presumably was benefiting from committed government investment in infrastructure and other amenities. It worked to a limited extent in Town Center: the zone certainly looked manicured, but it did not draw the number of developers the city was hoping for.

So the city created yet another incentive, this one targeted almost squarely at developers. It called much of Town Center its Innovation District, and set up the so-called Innovation Kick-Start Program, a new incentive within the original CRA. The heart of the incentive is the equivalent of a tax break (or a fee break), affecting impact fees, the one-time levy on developers that local governments use to defray the “impact” of development on roads, parks, water and sewer services, and so on. Developers in Town Center’s innovation districts may get a credit of $5,000 on utility impact fees for every 1,000 square foot of development. The incentive is capped at 500,000 square feet of commercial space or at 1,000 residential units, and it runs out in 2020.

It’s a lot of money to give away, a considerable subtraction from city revenue–or, more specifically, from revenue within the Town Center zone. But the subtracted revenue by way of incentives is itself intended to be a short-term reduction for long-term gain. For example, the 117 Brookhaven apartments built a few years ago (impact fees were deferred) added nearly $10 million in taxable value, increasing revenue to the CRA’s tax base by nearly $1,000 a year. By 2034, around the time when the CRA is to end, the city expects the complex alone to have added $1.73 million in revenue, to $14,775 per unit, or three times the value of current incentives. (That’s in current dollars, without taking property value appreciation into account.)

“We know The Palms at Town Center will serve as a catalyst for more development – to bring in more restaurants, retail and employers.”

But Town Center’s history is also a cautionary tale that may not have turned its last page: every project, including the movie theater and City Hall itself, has been termed a catalyst to the sort of development that would allow Town Center to live up to its name. Reality has not been as encouraging, though neither had been the number of real projects lining up for construction until the kick-start program.

Correction: Winn Newingham was mis-indentified, in an earlier version of this story, with an employee who no longer works with the city.

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23 Responses for “To Spur Town Center’s ‘Innovation District,’ Palm Coast Eagerly Gives Developers
What They Want”

  1. FishFlats says:

    It seems to me that the voters should decide when impact fees are waived. When I built my house I had to pay the impact fee. If there is a law on the books it should apply to everyone, not waived for some Mayoral or County Commissioner pet project. Clearly development drives infrastructure cost. If you don’t want to pay for infrastructure, go somewhere else!

  2. Fishflats says:

    How about we turn the whole area into a green space; resident garden parcels, park, bike path, tennis complex, pool complex? Then we can get rid of at least 5 management level salaried employees and legal fees that have been consumed over the decades on this fiasco.
    We need zero of the junk being pushed.

  3. Max says:

    This will be the beginning of more section 8 houseing and a huge increase in crime, wow, palm coast will look like holly hill in 5 years!

  4. snapperhead says:

    Call it what you want and try as they may, “Town Center” will never feel like a traditional downtown.

  5. Percy's mother says:

    The property is designated for low income and workforce (low income) housing. The developer gets incentives for building this type of property as opposed to building a property geared to people who can afford to pay for quality accommodation.

    Rents will range from $234 a month for a 1-bedroom to $1101 for a 3-bedroom.

    The developer makes out like a bandit.

    What type of demographic is looking for low income housing do you think? People who don’t work and don’t take care of property. Give it a couple of years. The crime rate will soar in that area.

    Thanks again Mayor.

  6. Steve says:

    It should have been modeled as an entertainment District first sinilar to European Village with Housing, Business shops Restaurants etc. Ruined your chance to have another destination in PC because you have a bad plan.

  7. Doug says:

    Just what this area needs…more housing to draw more a$$holes here.

  8. Fuggetaboutit says:

    I’m going with Doug on this one

  9. Laura says:

    Excited to hear honestly! I always thought one of Palm Coast’s greatest flaws was the lack of affordability in living. Proles need places to stay, you know, and Palm Coast has essentially been only one sprawling suburb.

    I always wonder when people talk about low-income families being lazy or worthless – where do you think janitors, trash men, fast food workers, and other people we neglect to pay their worth go? You’ve gotta give the butcher his share. And maybe they wouldn’t need to resort to crime if we gave them ways to sustain themselves, rather than paying people the unadjusted minimum wage (or sometimes less, if we ‘expect’ tips to make up for it) and hoping they can maek it.

  10. Mary Fusco says:

    How about education. Minimum wage jobs have historically been for kids in school or retirees looking to supplement their income, not to raise a family. As for crime maybe people need to stop having kids they have no interest in caring for. 12 & 13 year olds are roaming around at night breaking into cars. I have 2 dogs and I would not hesitate to let them loose if anyone’s brat is trying my door at night. Just saying

  11. atilla says:

    Why are the city council members in such a rush to increase our over populated city???????????????????

  12. James says:

    Traffic is going to be even more of a nightmare on OKR in my opinion… it was already bad with all the I-95 people using it as a cut-through. With the added traffic flow and all the curves, that stretch from PCPWE to 100 is going to get rough.

    I suppose they’ll eventually require another exit to ease this congestion… which will probably isolate the rest of PC from this new “town center.” Which if really successful will then probably drive real estate prices down elsewhere in PC… looks like everybody will eventually win, the developers, the politicos and the real estate folks.

    Perhaps, they’ll find room for a new sheriffs office as well.

  13. Agkistrodon says:

    Well at least the people who will live there in the future have street lights………………..Lots and Lots of Street lights. There are none on my street in Palm Coast, and my rent is much much HIGHER.

  14. joe says:

    “What type of demographic is looking for low income housing do you think?”

    Just maybe some of them are people who work for employers too cheap to pay a living wage.

  15. James says:

    Hey, now that I think about it, I guess eventually they really will reduce truck traffic on Florida Park Drive!
    At least after all the moving vans are gone… mine included.

    And one more thing… if you google map PC, you’ll perhaps notice that the old golf course should have been the site geographically of any “town center” project… or any such new “city hall.” Just my opinion.

    Btw, we are a “city” aren’t we? So why call it “Town Center.” ;)

  16. Willy Boy says:

    Bing’s Landing on steroids.

  17. Tina says:

    I’m more interested in UNF campus being built there, now that would be great!

  18. palmcoaster says:

    Lets do not be so concern and pessimist about affordable housing being built in Town Center…that is the perfect place and I have to support Mayor Holland on this one. That location close to thye hospital, and all the shops at walking distance can be afforded to those young workers or retairees that lack transportation of their own or can no longer drive. Is needed…because most jobs around Palm Coast are retail, service and minimum wage ones and those workers need a place to live. Please do not fear so much this type of housing as built in around town center will be properly maintained for the best interest of all the businesses located there.
    There are already some affordable condos next to the Chevy dealer in Rte 100 and they are very nicely kept. They look so much better than some F section rentals were slumlords profit but do not properly mantain those eyesore houses. Most times you see these houses being sublet to be afforded by tenants and we have to endure too many cars parked allover the street overnight or even the lawns as well.So lets think positive and support residents like Laura above.

  19. weldon ryan says:

    I’m all for upgrades but what this seems to be is a future nightmare for the present residence of the area. Traffic is already a nightmare. There has to be more to this plan in terms of better employment. Retail doesn’t do much for the tax base and financial growth. The developers get rich with super deals given to them as an incentive and the tax payer pays fee’s. We’re small fish for the big fish to gobble up. I foresee parking fines and ridiculous fleecing of the citizenry in our future. This doesn’t balance out. I thought the plan was to bring corporate and tech jobs to this place to help keep our youth (our only good investments) from leaving. This is more of the same!

  20. Roy says:

    Nothing says “kickstart” like a high density low income, subsidized housing project.

  21. Mary Fusco says:

    @Joe, Palm Coast is a bedroom community. Therefore, you have to commute if you want to earn a living wage. My family and I lived in a bedroom community for 25 years in NY. Hubby traveled 70 miles each way in order to make a decent living. If you’re too lazy to travel, move or see what McDonalds’s has to offer. We sold the house in NY for a profit, paid cash for our home in FL Plus raised 4 children and put them through college. The big secret is don’t spend $10.00 when you only have $5.00. Be very careful what you wish for!

  22. rjs508 says:

    City officials want more people just so they have more power.

  23. West says:

    The town center was a bad idea from the get go, the city voted to not create the city government building, the mayor built it anyways. This is the New York style government trans planted from the North. There is natural flow where things should be, this location is just wrong, its hard to get to, and not visible from 95. With all the development in Daytona, Palm Coast missed the boat. They got the CRA part correct, this place will be blighted and full of section 8 housing and lots of crime and empty buildings.

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