Faced with a long line of unhappy Seminole Woods residents, all but a couple opposing the city’s decision to close tiny Slow Way in Seminole Woods–a blip of a road connecting County Road 325 to Slow Drift Turn–the Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday didn’t quite reverse course but tabled the issue until input from residents and an engineer was considered and analyzed anew.
For a tiny stretch of road in a relatively out-of-the-way neighborhood at the south end of the city, the street closure kicked up a bit of a storm among residents that took both council members and the city administration by surprise. But it also underscored the gap between what a local government imagines to be proper public notification on an issue of concern, and what the public thinks is an appropriate level of notification. On that score, the public was not satisfied with the city’s interpretation, though the audience began applauding when the council voted to table the issue.
Ironically, the city was repaving a part of Slow Way this week even as the council was considering closing it permanently.
The city administration had concluded earlier this year that closing the road was the safer alternative. It had previously contacted some 40 residents of the area by email ahead of a “neighborhood meeting” held on a corner of Slow Way, to brief residents of the city’s intentions and hear their concerns. Only two people showed up, signaling to other residents–when they found out–that the city had not done enough to ensure that the proposal was sufficiently advertised.
The problem was reminiscent of an issue at the County Commission a few weeks ago, when the county administration sought to donate a strip of right of way and a boat ramp in the Hammock to two adjacent property owners. The county had failed to notify the neighborhood at large ahead of the commission meeting where that proposal was to be voted on. Newly-elected Commissioner Andy Dance found the approach wanting, asked for the matter to be tabled until sufficient notice was disseminated in the neighborhood, including with a big sign near the land in question, advertising the coming discussion–the way local governments are required to do ahead of land use hearings. Once a much larger number of people responded and took part in the discussion, the county reversed its decision, abandoning plans to give away the right of way.
The city, whose council has been quite responsive to public wishes, appears to be heading in that direction on Slow Way, though it may be several weeks before the matter is brought back to the council.
The city had planned to shut down Slow Way by installing a locked barrier, to which law enforcement and firefighters would have a key so they could go through during emergencies. The barrier would also have a small opening for pedestrians and cyclists, but not motorcycles. The city administration justified the closure after receiving complaints about speedy traffic that was using Slow Way as a cut through from U.S. 1, about yards being torn up and schoolchildren being placed in danger from traffic.
The complaints had spiked for several months when a segment of Seminole Woods had closed for months because of a severed, collapsing pipe. The closure forced a lot of traffic through Slow Way and the Seminole Woods neighborhood around it.
“Yes, it’s unfortunate that those people’s yards got tore up, and that’s probably why it came, I’m assuming, to such a head,” the resident who had alerted the city about the collapsed pipe told the council Tuesday evening, “let’s make their yard right, let’s make it right for those people, let’s do something beside shut that road down, because I don’t know how long you guys have lived here, because I was a resident in Flagler County when we had those fires. You get a call, you’ve got to go. You can’t be blocked, you’ve got to get away from the fires.” (Seminole Woods had been devastated by the fires of 1998.) He noted, too, that the council members liked doing things “by the book,” though no city employees did so much as count traffic on Slow Way after Seminole Woods was fixed.
The resident of a house on the county road side of the intersection with Slow Way this afternoon described the closure of the road as more of a “scorched-earth policy,” and said speed bumps would resolve the problem without being so extreme. But the city has often had an aversion to speed bump in neighborhood streets.
Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director, said the resident who had initially contacted him about the traffic issues recently referred to contacting city official several years ago. The city didn’t respond at the time (perhaps sensing the politically sensitive nature of such things: road closures inevitably divide residents). DeLorenzo said the city engineer did observe traffic patterns and found in his opinion closing Slow Way was “the best way” to address the situation. But he said he was not sure how long the traffic was observed there.
“Obviously, there’s unanswered questions,” Mayor Milissa Holland said.
The engineer also spoke with public safety agencies to ensure there would be no issue with response time, which originates from the north on U.S. 1, not from the county road–and that emergency access would remain.
DeLorenzo spoke after the long stream of people voiced its opposition.
“People come here, you bring concerns, that’s what we hear for, to listen to your concerns. Today we have one concern in favor of closing, and 16 concerns in favor of not closing it,” Council member Eddie Branquinho said. “I never heard those concerns before. It’s the first time I hear them today.” Holland had to gavel down grumbles in the audience. “For me that was one concern that needed to be satisfied, because if anybody spoke at the beginning, it was me, I was concerned with the safety.” But then he referred to an 86-year-old resident’s worry about adding miles to her trips to the mailbox, “that’s a concern to me.” He said he was uncomfortable to vote on the issue and needed to hear more about the issue.
Council member Nick Klufas–who spent time at the corner, observing traffic–seconded, though he said he still believed the closure to be a safety issue. Council member Victor Barbosa said he’d spoken with the Sheriff’s Office and been told that there was little respect for traffic rules at that corner, and had himself seen vehicles encroach on yards as they drove through. Council member Ed Danko had also observed the scene and seen traffic issues.
“I had not heard that this was an issue in the four years I was mayor,” Holland said, nor had she heard of it being an issue in 36 years of living in Palm Coast, including six years when she was a county commissioner. But she supported tabling the issue “until a time when we can bring it back and have further information to some of our questions.”
The vote to table the matter was unanimous.
The opposition to closure had been varied and intense.
One resident said the closure of the road during a hurricane would be dangerous. Another, speaking on behalf of her mother, said her mother’s mailbox is half a mile from her house, but would be six miles away if Slow Way were closed. “For the last couple of years of her life she’s going to have to change her address or something?” she said. Another resident speaking for her mother as well, and for herself, spoke in similar terms, worrying about having a way out in storms or emergencies. One resident said an extra mile and a half distance to normal trips would unnecessarily add up in time and gas costs.
“People who live on County Road 330 and 325,” a man said, “you cut off that road, you basically leave only one way out of that area, and the one way out is that roundabout on U.S. 1, which is dangerous and shouldn’t have been built from the beginning. My mother is afraid to go on that road because she’s been almost hit by numerous times by semis going 65 and realizing it’s now 20 on U.S. 1, to get around that roundabout. She avoids it, so she takes Slow Way.” (The resident was overstating the issue of the roundabout, which was built because that intersection was one of the deadliest in Flagler County, in terms of traffic fatalities and severe crashes. Since the roundabout was completed in 2019, it has not been the scene of a severe crash, nor of a fatal crash.)
Several residents said they had not been notified by the council considering closing the road. She said the city contacting residents only by email was insufficient, considering that only two residents attended what was dubbed as a neighborhood meeting held by the city, on a corner of the road in question. “During the workshop meeting on the Slow Way closure, why did the council discuss emergency response time to the White Eagle, which does not require going through Slow Way, instead of a response time to our neighborhood,” a resident said. “During the workshop meeting it was noted that the traffic from the White Eagle Bar uses Slow Way to leave the bar. Why did no one on the council recognize that this information no longer applies since the White Eagle has been closed for over a year?”
“And why should I have to get off my bicycle and walk through those barricades, at my age,” a woman using a walker said, asking the city to reconsider its decision. “There’s a whole community back there,” a man who described Palm Coast as a “strange little city” that lacks its share of through streets, said, “and if you do close that road, you’ll basically be punishing the many for just the actions of a few, and we shouldn’t sit here and make permanent decisions off of temporary emotions.”
On they went, young residents, a resident using a walker, residents speaking for their parents, a father of six and others as they suggested slow bumps or other measures to keep the street open. The first nine people who spoke were all opposed to a closure.
Then came a woman who identified herself as a resident who lives at Slow Drift and Slow Way–not the person who instigated the closure effort, but a supporter of closure. “Daily, daily, I see this daily,” she said: “Delivery trucks. Amazon. Fedex. UPS. Commercial vehicles. They all cut through. All day long, beginning early in the morning into the night. Did anybody ever think how much they’d enjoy having a 53-foot-long trailer go by their house several times? Because that’s what happens. There’s also the matter of what I call the riffraff that comes up from Daytona, I hear them. They come through there to come up here to cause problems. That’s an easy access for them to get back to Daytona.” She described the road as “a danger” to the people near it.
But the woman was right when she described herself as being “the minority.” One other woman and her husband at first seemed to say they favored closure only for the woman’s husband to then say it should remain open for safety’s sake. Out of some 15 or 16 people who spoke, all but one–possibly two–asked for the road to stay open.
“I do think we need to do a better job notifying people when there are issues like this,” Holland said just before the vote, echoing Dance’s comments to his commission colleagues and the county administration a few weeks ago. Email is fine, she said, but “if it’s something that’s going to change their quality of life and add additional time, we have to do I think an extra step, and that’s either notification by mail as well, it’s easy to do, maybe expand the geofencing a little further to get additional residential input.”