The Palm Coast City Councill will make three appointments to its seven-member planning board–the city’s most powerful, non-elected advisory board. Seven candidates have applied, including two incumbents, two existing alternate members of the board, and a member of the county planning board, along with the head of the local chamber of commerce.
The Planning and Land Development Regulation Board, as it’s officially called, is responsible for making recommendations to the council on residential and commercial developments, zoning, long range comprehensive planning and other land-use matters. It does not serve only in an advisory capacity: numerous issues come before the board for a final decision. The board’s influence is substantial. It is also among the most diverse boards in a county whose elected boards, with rare exceptions, have lost their diversity in the past four to eight years.
The board’s work is more constrained and spelled out than the public generally realizes, however, limiting its discretion. It is constrained by law, which prescribes what it may and may not do with land-use applications within narrow bounds. And its work is spelled out by the city’s development department, which does all the heavy lifting on applications, submitting detailed staff reports and associated documents that leave board members with mostly procedural steps. Hearings before the board nevertheless open a wide window into public sentiment, which can, on occasion, sway votes, and give the council a preview of what’s headed its way, assuming the item does make it up that far.
The board meets Tuesday evening, for example, and will hear two big applications–one for an apartment complex of more than 400 units off State Road 100, wets of Colbert Lane, and another at Harborside in Palm Harbor. The latter is a rezoning application for 18 acres that would increase the number of dwelling units. The city’s staff is recommending against approval. The item is expected to draw a large crowd.
Three positions on the board are up for appointment. Incumbents have applied for two of them: Sybil Dodson-Lucas, a retired manager who worked in government in New York, chaired a New York City planning board, and who’s completed two terms, and Christopher Gabriel, 53, a Realtor with Realty Executives Oceanside. The third seat was held by Jake Scully, who recently completed his second term and opted not to apply again. Since Dodson-Lucas, 78, has already served two terms, her re-appointment would require at least a four-vote majority from the council. (The council has five members.)
The incumbents are among seven applicants, who also include Hung Hilton and Suzanne Nicholson, two current alternate board members seeking appointment as regular members. Hilton, 41, is an IT solutions architect. He twice applied or appointment to vacant city council seats. Council members twice recognized him for his sharpness–which he has since displays on the planning board–and the first time urged him to get involved on city boards, as he did, only to twice pass him over. He submitted, however, the scantest of applications. Nicholson, 65, works remote for an interior design company in Pennsylvania.
Other applicants are Greg Blose, Larry Gross and Heather Haywood.
Blose, 42, heads the local chamber of commerce, making his application unusual since he’d be representing a lobbying group, rather than himself or a particular industry, and a lobbying group predisposed aggressively to favor development. His role, in other words, is that of an advocate for the chamber, a role he fulfills frequently by appearing before local boards–like the planning board–to press the chamber’s positions. One of the questions on the application asks explicitly: “[A]re you willing to act as a decision maker and not as an advocate, if required by law?” His answer: Yes, I will act as a decision-maker.”
Blose previously headed the Volusia County Home Builders Association, and was a program director for the state chamber. “I believe both my Chamber and HBA background gives me unique insights into the planning process and [its] impact to the community as a whole,” he writes in his application.
Gross, 64, a 35-year resident of Palm Coast whose email handle is “LovinFlorida1,” is a systems engineer who wants to “participate in helping future growth for jobs at keeping Palm Coast a beautiful place to live.”
Haywood, 34, a Realtor with Grand Living Realty, lists Blose as one of her references (he did not return the favor), and involvement in the chamber and the home builders’ association among her civic experience. But she is also a current member of the county’s planning board, appointed just last February: her term doesn’t end there until 2025. Haywood is “interested in being a larger part of our responsible growth,” she writes in her application.
By code, the planning board must have at least one member appointed from each of the city’s four districts. Districts 1, 2 and 4 are currently represented: Sandra Shank, a Realtor, represents District 4. Clint Smith, a project manager, and Charles Lemon, a retired engineer, represent District 2. James Albano, a builder, represents District 1. Gabriel is represented District 3, Dodson-Lucas District 1. As for the remaining applicants: Blose and Haywood are District 1 residents, Gross, Hilton and Nichols are District 2 residents.
“Since there are members appointed from Districts 1, 2, and 4 currently serving, Council shall make every reasonable effort to appoint from District 3 to ensure the Council districts are equally represented as practicable,” a memo to the council states. The full applications are below.