The Palm Coast City Council will vote on Sept. 21 on whether to keep its current regulations banning commercial vehicles in residential driveways, or relaxing the regulation.
Unless current council members have changed their positions since July 19, when those positions were as entrenched as a 2-2 split, the vote will come down to Mayor David Alfin. Based on his comments during a 45-minute discussion on the subject today, Alfin does not appear to be a fan of a change. He had sidestepped the question when asked during his run for mayor.
Council members Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa want a change. Council members Nick Klufas and Eddie Branquinho are opposed, though Branquinho sent mixed signals today, albeit only because he was in favor of a referendum on the issue. He was strictly opposed to relaxing the rules when he discussed the matter at a meeting in mid-July.
The council’s decision to simply vote on the question was the result of its own fracture on how to approach the issue, after considering asking residents about it in a more scientific survey, asking them about it in a referendum at the November 2022 election, or simply taking a council vote.
Palm Coast’s regulations disallow all vehicles, commercial or otherwise, with visible graphics or signage of over 3 square feet, from parking in driveways for more than a brief amount of time. It disallows vehicles with “equipment or materials,” like a ladder rack, or big dump or tool trucks, trailers, buses, and so on. Parking limousines is also banned. Work vans and trucks are allowed, of course, when making work calls.
Palm Coast is not unique. An Observer survey of commercial-vehicle regulations in 10 cities of roughly the same size as Palm Coast found that three of the cities had an even strict rule than Palm Coast’s, while others were more permissive, mostly basing restrictions on vehicle size, not visible lettering. Residential restrictions on the parking of large trucks and buses tends to be universal in most cities.
Whether to change that ordinance has been a vexing question in Palm Coast over the years. The then-existing Chamber of Commerce as far back as 2010 led an effort to relax the rule. In vain. The issue reemerged when Barbosa, elected to the council last November, was the subject of code enforcement violations. His black pick-up–previously a Chevy Equinox, now a Jeep–is promiscuously emblazoned with the white logo of his “Man Cave” barbershop (along with his own “BARBOSA” name guarding the hood in the Jeep version). He was parking the pick-up in his residential driveway in violation of city code.
Barbosa went into compliance before the city escalated the matter to a Code Enforcement Board hearing. But the experience soured him. He stepped up both his own code enforcement vigilantism after that and his war against then-City Manager Matt Morton, whom he attempted to fire. Barbosa’s animus aside, the November election also brought on Ed Danko, another partisan of relaxing the commercial-vehicle rule.
Before Mayor Milissa Holland’s resignation the council discussed the issue and agreed to survey residents. The survey, besides relying on a tendentious question, was a bit of a mess, allowing takers to click as often as they wished one way or the other. That skewed the results beyond recognition, until the city’s IT staff weighed the results. That returned an almost dead-even split between those for and those against relaxing the rule. But it left council members with little faith in the numbers. By then Holland had resigned. The council opted to defer any decision to the time when a new mayor was seated. That time is now, with David Alfin in the mayor’s seat.
Danko and Barbosa favor an allowance for parking one commercial vehicle, passenger car, pick-up truck or van or similar. Those vehicles currently may still park in residential driveways, but the lettering must be covered, the vehicle tarped. More specifically, work vans, including those with racks, would be allowed, as would vehicles with signage, as long as the vehicles are within the van-like size or smaller.
Danko renewed his push today. “We’re not an HOA,” he said, citing the acronym for home-owner associations, where residential regulations tend to be as draconian as in Singapore. “People work for a living. There’s nothing wrong with working for a living. That AC truck pulls into your driveway, when your AC goes down in the middle of August, you’re happy to see him. So why wouldn’t you be happy to live next to the guy who owns that AC truck? This hurts business. A lot of our businesses like AC and plumbing vehicles and electrical vehicles, they have to park off site. So when you call them after hours, on a weekend or an evening with an emergency, they’ve got to get in their cars, they’ve got to drive to another location, they’ve got to pick up their work vehicle, and then they’ve got to come to your house. And then they’ve got to do the reverse process to get home. And don’t think for a moment they’re not charging you for that time, because of course they are. But it just seems to me that it seems almost silly that we require a vehicle to be covered up simply because it has signs on it for business.”
He added, “I see nothing wrong with actually being proud of people in our community that run businesses, we should be encouraging them. And we should be business friendly.”
Barbosa called the draping approach “horrible” and asked: “How can that be permitted, and the signage, which would just be plain open, not be permitted? Doesn’t make sense.”
Klufas hasn’t favored the change. “We need to make sure that the majority of Palm Coast wants to see a change and something that’s existing,” he said, pushing for a referendum. It is almost certain that, in a referendum, the proposal to relax the rules would fail: Less than half of Palm Coast’s population is in the workforce, the half that isn’t is overwhelmingly dominated by retirees, and small-business owners who own commercial vehicles are proportionately few in comparison to the workforce as a whole.
Council member Eddie Branquinho took the same approach as Klufas, favoring a referendum. A change, he said, “could adversely impact Palm Coast residents.” Council members opposed to the change have frequently made that statement or a version of it, but without evidence. How it would adversely impact residents remains an unanswered question, especially with more than anecdotal claims–the sort of anecdotal claims Danko made when he said two separate residents who own businesses are moving out of the city because they can’t park their trucks in the driveway. He did not name them. The regulation leads to a perception of the city as anti-business, he said.
“I would challenge the comments,” Alfin, a Realtor, said immediately, also citing the market forces at play, and subtly discrediting Danko’s allegation: “The ordinance has been in place for, I guess, 20 plus years,” Alfin said. “So for us to suddenly not become business-friendly, I would question that. Also, selling a home at this point in time at the top of the market, a good time to move.”
Alfin said he wanted neither an unreliable survey nor council members’ anecdotal claims based on “a limited number of contacts with those that have a special interest in changing it” to decide the future of the regulation. “I would much rather know that the public who we represent as a city council are strongly in favor. And what I would be looking for is something close [to] two thirds majority would like to see the ordinance changed, or perhaps the code not changed.”
He favored yet another survey, but a more scientific one: the biennial National Community Survey Palm Coast commissions, and that’s due this year. A specific question about commercial vehicles could be included. Some 1,200 randomly selected residents will receive a survey by mail, and an additional 2,700 will receive a postcard with a QR code that will enable them to go online and take the survey along the same scientifically controlled lines. Last time, the survey was sent only to the 1,200 recipients, by regular mail, with 400 responses received.
Danko sniffed at another survey and at a referendum, rejecting the “majority vote” approach and going on to make a startly statement: “I don’t think the rights of a business have anything to do with a majority vote.” He added: “It’s our job to lead and not just toss this up to a ballot where we may have, between retirees and folks that work at home, and folks that work in offices, may outnumber those that run a business. But I don’t think they should be setting the precedent for allowing those vehicles in the driveway. And the fact that we’ve been doing it for 20 years doesn’t quite mean anything to me. Because if that was the case, we’d never change anything in this world.”
“Certainly, in my opinion, I do represent the entire voting public of the city of Palm Coast,” Alfin said.
“We all do, sir,” Danko said.
“And we all do. And I agree,” Alfin said, “so I am sensitive to what our residents throughout the entire community would like to see happen to the code.”
“This is not a ballot issue, if we can avoid that,” Alfin said.
In any case, Danko and Barbosa were not willing to abide by the survey results, and Branquinho surprised himself by joining them. Barbosa, Klufas and Branquinho briefly agreed on a referendum, but when potential costs of that arose–even if the referendum question was part of a regularly scheduled election, if it meant adding a page to the ballot, it would increase the city’s costs–Barbosa pulled out of that unlikely coalition. So it was back to the last remaining option.
“So at the next business meeting, we will take a vote on the current ordinance without change,” Alfin said. The action will be either to vote to change the ordinance or to keep it as is. If the council votes for change, then an amended ordinance would go before the council at a subsequent meeting, and two public hearings would be held–giving council members yet another chance to change their mind.
Meanwhile, the two sides may be mobilizing for a show of force at next week’s meeting.