The Palm Coast City Council in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday approved a site plan for a 240-unit apartment complex on 22 acres at the end of Roberts Road, on the west side of Colbert Lane. The property is part of the 89-acre, 663-home Marina Village development that’s gradually rising in place of what used to be the Lehigh Cement plant.
The Lighthouse Habor Luxury Apartments complex will consist of five four-story buildings arranged in a rectangle, eventually offering 81 one-bedroom (700 square feet), 122 two-bedroom (900 square feet) and 43 three-bedroom (1,020 square feet) apartments. The buildings will rise 60 feet. The project is the work of Windemere-based Gelcorp Industries, which started building residential homes in Illinois in the 1980s.
Tenants are expected to generate an average of 1,306 additional weekday daily vehicular trips, with 77 weekday morning rush hour trips and 98 evening rush hour trips. The complex is not expected to add significant traffic to lightly traveled Colbert. The complex will have one access road leading to the intersection of Colbert and Roberts and one emergency access road. Its north and south facing buildings will be adjacent to wetlands and retention ponds.
Palm Coast is in dire need of apartments, its housing market overrun by buyers, with the pace of construction not quite keeping up and the county’s inventory of available houses for sale down to around three months’ worth. The city is especially short of workforce and student housing as prospective students for newly arriving Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida in Town center are having difficulties lining up options. But the new complex is likely to serve the nearby return of the old Sea Ray plant to production under the Boston Whaler banner. The pant projects an employment base of 300 to 400 employees. Tenants at the new complex would be within walking distance of their Boston Whaler workplace.
But the project’s developer sees the apartments serving a different purpose. “Our marketing plans to go for what I’ll just call the more affluent transitional folks,” Gelcorp’s Scott Miller said. “This isn’t really the type of place where we expect people to live there long term. It’s more like, we’re exploring the area, and we think this is a really, really good spot.”
The project drew no public interest at two previous meetings: a neighborhood meeting where the developer was to outline the project and answer questions, and a planning board meeting where the project was recommended for approval in a 7-0 vote on April 21, drew no public or speakers.
The complex will generate $434,000 in transportation impact fees, the one-time fees developers pay per house or apartment, which the city then uses on road improvements necessitated by growth anywhere in the city. The Lighthouse Harbor LLC acreage, annexed into Palm Coast in 2019, is owned by Jim Cullis.
Miller said he fell in love with Colbert Road as he drove around the region. “I just think its proximity to the beach is fantastic. I like the fact that it’s a little quieter, there’s not a lot else going on there,” he told the council on Tuesday. “And as I looked at some of the other projects in town, I thought, this is a great place for a luxury product. And that’s really kind of what we’re going for our company history is to do effectively, more high end developments.”
Council member Victor Barbosa asked him to explain the difference between luxury and non-luxury apartments. “A lot of it’s fit and finish,” Miller said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, a lot of is fitting finished, it’s going to be upgraded cabinetry, countertops.” Miller then explicitly signaled that the project was not workforce or lower-income, subsidized housing–a touchy matter in Palm Coast, where a segment of the residential population often voices bitter and usually prejudiced opposition, largely misinformed by misconceptions about subsidized housing, against apartment dwellers.
“A lot of apartment projects in in Palm Coast and really around the state will use a type of federal funding that allows for a lower rent because they’re getting a benefit on their financing packages,” Miller said. “You have to have some type of workforce component and a lower income component. We’re not doing that. We’re using traditional funding. And part of our strategy is to increase that fit and finish on the interior, and as much as the exterior as we can, to have a little bit higher rent. I think part of what makes that is the location, the amenity and just the fact that we’ve got a conservation easement all the way to the west. It’s sort of not in the middle of everything else and I think that lends itself to a more quiet and upscale type of project.”
As at the planning board, the proposal drew no public comment. The 4-1 vote included a dissent from Council member Eddie Branquinho. “It comes down to the same topic,” Branquinho explained. “High density, very small units.” (an earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the dissent to Ed Danko). This was the item that immediately followed Tuesday’s long discussion on and vote approving the planned expansion of the city’s tennis center into the Reilly Opelka Racket Center, after which the meeting was disrupted and briefly delayed by a member of the audience who approached the mayor aggressively.