The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday approved the site plan for a nine-building, 300-unit apartment project to be built off the northwest side of Pine Lakes Parkway, on 35 acres just south of the Indian Trails Sports Complex.
The buildings will rise 43 feet. The two-bedroom apartments will consist of around 1,100 square feet. The project will have only two-bedroom apartments, intended to be affordable. Rent will be set between $1,100 and $1,300 a month.
The 3-2 vote approving what will be called Pointe Grande Apartments reflected opposition from some council members who raised concerns about density and traffic issues the development would entail, though the land has long been zoned for apartments and a traffic study showed the project would not alter the level of service on Pine Lakes Parkway despite adding upwards of 1,600 vehicle trips a day–what would increase traffic on Pine Lakes by 40 percent.
The council first considered the application two weeks ago. A motion to approve the application died, putting the project at risk. Council members agreed instead to call for details on a traffic analysis. That was approved. The application was presented on Tuesday with the analysis, though it again teetered on the verge of being rejected.
“We are not here today to debate the merits of whether or not apartment should be on this property. That ship has sailed,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann said, cautioning the council against turning down the project at this stage, as it could invite litigation.
Council member Nick Klufas’s motion to approve the application had trouble getting a second until Reischmann elaborated on his caution and Mayor Milissa Holland spoke of the fact that “this property has been zoned since before the city was incorporated in 1999 for multifamily housing.” She added: “What I heard last meeting were concerns about traffic. It went back and addressed the traffic study to look at additional capacity on the roadway, if it would cause an increase of cars in a way that we would have to recognize adding additional lanes to this roadway. The study does not deem it necessary at this time.”
The zoning history swayed Council member Ed Danko, who offered a second, and the motion passed, with Council members Eddie Branquinho and Victor Barbosa opposed.
The project is the work of San Diego-based Miral Corporation, to be developed by the Matthews Design Group of St. Augustine. The apartment acreage is part of a 158-acre parcel Miral owns, parts of which are to be developed in the future, and much of which is wetlands that will not be touched. It is zoned for mixed commercial and residential use, and for conservation. Much of the conservation land will be used to buffer the development from its surroundings, limiting its visual impact from without. The developers had vested rights of up to 385 residential units.
The complex’s parking amenities will have 100 garage spaces and 500 regular parking spaces, plus 20 spaces for the clubhouse and 12 spaces for people with disabilities. The main access to the complex will be off Brushwood Lane, while the apartment complex itself will be set back 400 feet from Pine Lakes.
When the developer held a required neighborhood meeting for residents surrounding the property–on March 9, at the Days Inn–no one showed up, signaling that opposition, potentially intense when apartments are planned, would be muted. No members of the public attended the city’s planning board hearing on the matter, when it recommended approval of the project by a 7-0 vote on March 17. The board found the project in compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan. The city has yet to review the project’s technical site plan and building permits, steps that could not be accomplished before council approval of the project.
The developer will pay $542,700 in transportation impact fees that will feed the city’s capital improvement coffers, paying for projects that will address alleviation of traffic growth or safety improvements on the road. (The city has no impact-fee zones, meaning that the fees generated from a project in one particular geographic area doesn’t have to be spent in that area.)
Holly Walker of Jacksonville-based Chindalur Traffic Solutions outlined the project’s expected traffic impact. (Currently, Palm Coast Parkway sees an average of 12,900 westbound vehicles and 19,400 eastbound vehicles per day. Belle Terre is between 14,800 and 15,800 vehicles per day. Pine Lakes Parkway, a two-lane highway, sees about 4,100 vehicles per day. The project is expected to add 1,632 daily trips, which would not degrade Pine Lakes Parkway’s traffic level as calculated by transportation officials: Pine Lakes is at Level C–stable but busy traffic flow. Turn lanes and crosswalks would be added to facilitate traffic at Brushwood Lane and another entry point at the north end of the project.
Two weeks ago Barbosa had spoken of concerns that the 300 apartments would add 600 people. “What are we going to do about the safety,” he said. “We keep on building all these apartments, and we’re not giving more deputies. Are we going to have a problem one day with the security, with the safety?” He added: ” I don’t want to turn this into like Newark, New Jersey.” Barbosa was not accurate on several counts: there is no evidence in Palm Coast showing that apartments are more prone to crime than residential neighborhoods; just since his election in November, the city has issued 865 single-family and duplex residential home building permits; and the city added five deputies in 2017 and three more this year, for a total of 31. (Aside from its racial undertone, the quip about Newark may not have been inadvertent: Branquinho, with whom Barbosa would lock horn at that same meeting, was a cop in Newark.)
“Apartment complexes that have been approved do not increase crime,” Holland told Barbosa. “We want to be very clear and correct and our responses are very accurate so to stay that is not an accurate assumption, sir.”
“Crime has gone down 49 percent,” City Manager Matt Morton told Barbosa, citing Sheriff Rick Staly’s figure, since Staly took over as sheriff. “As a point of fact, our average age is over 50 which is the metric that doesn’t commit crime so we’re trying to come up with a long term strategy that’s fair to everybody, our fantastic law enforcement, our community ratepayers, to figure out what additional staffing could look like in the future. So, again with a 49 percent decrease in crime and a 65 percent increase in the budget of the Sheriff Department since I think 2014 We’re trying to find where that ground is of how we staff moving forward.”
When local governments consider approving apartment complexes at various stages of their application process, they frequently draw public opposition–the more so if the complexes are to be located within existing residential clusters. The Pointe Grande Apartments project drew comparatively few responses, however: half a dozen people addressed the council two weeks ago, and just one did so last Tuesday. Two weeks ago, the concern focused on traffic and safety for children at crossing points.
“We need affordable housing for all residents,” Denise Calderwood, a former candidate for local office, told the council. “$1,100 to $1,300 is not affordable for the average resident in Flagler County. And I want to restate, the jobs are not here, the workforce is relying on the City of Palm Coast the sheriff’s department in the schools and our public government, but until the fruition of the vision of the mayor, and what you would like to accomplish for the city happens actually, those apartments are going to be vacant.” Both the county’s low unemployment figures (now hovering around 5 percent) and the very low vacancy rate of existing apartments in the city suggest otherwise.