The Palm Coast City Council is looking for a compromise on the controversial 17-acre Harborside proposal that would total 432 apartments and housing units, mostly in a massive, U-shaped tower by the Palm Coast Marina. The number includes 72 units in an existing tower.
Today, in an unusually conditional unanimous vote, the council directed the developer and the city administration to rework the number of units and the language of the development proposal so as to make Harborside more palatable both to existing residents and the council. The council will take another vote on the results on Feb. 7. The outcome is uncertain.
On paper, the vote was an approval of the development. In reality, it was an odd maneuver more akin to a continuance to the next meeting, so as to avoid tabling the matter yet again. The matter will have its second public hearing on Feb. 7, and the two sides will be under pressure to come up with a resolution.
The applicant and the city administration, in this case led by Ray Tyner, have been there before. Nothing says they’ll agree to a compromise this time. On the other hand, Tyner said the developer has brought forth new suggestions since Friday that seem encouraging, and both the applicant and the administration now see the council’s battle lines more clearly drawn, since they got the chance to hear the council members state their positions for the first time.
“Yes, I think we can come to a new compromise,” Tyner said.
The applicant will not get the majority it needs without reducing its number of units. But there is enough enthusiasm for the project on the council that the city administration may now realize that a reduction of 122 units may be a few units too far. The city has already agreed to increase the density somewhat, in the developer’s favor, from 15 units per acre to 18.
The city does not appear willing to go past that level, and JDI does not appear willing to decrease its density, which may mean that, absent one of the two sides blinking in the next few weeks, today’s talk of compromise may be no more than talk.
Since Jim Jacobi’s JDI Palm Coast proposed the project last May, the plan to add the development next to an existing 72-unit apartment tower again and again has come down to this same issue from the city’s perspective: it’s just too many units.
The city administration recommends against approval past 310 units–a 122-unit difference. The Palm Coast Planning Board, after two epic hearings, voted against recommending the project. The Palm Coast City Council delayed hearing it last December, to provide more time for a compromise. That’s not what was presented to the council today. The proposal looked much the way it did in May, and again as it made its way to the Planning Board.
Not that it wants to, but it’s in the council’s power to simply deny the application. It may risk litigation, but a strict reading of the code may be on the city’s side, as once of th council members (a lawyer) sees it. The applicant’s lawyer, Jay Livingston, doesn’t see it that way, though knowing local judges–who take very strictly constructionist readings of municipal codes–he probably doesn’t want to risk litigation.
So the two sides have disagreed not only on unit numbers but on interpretations of city code. That’s nothing new: developers and city planners often disagree on those grounds, which is why controversies like Harborside fester longer than they otherwise would. Both sides acknowledged today that it’s a matter of policy the council must arbitrate.
What may be spurring the Harborside developer to compromise is what it heard from City Council member Theresa Pontieri, who took her seat on the council after the matter went before the Planning Board. A lawyer by trade, she sharply summed up the council’s support for the project in principle and its opposition to the project as it stands now. She clearly reflected that mix of enthusiasm and reluctance also evident from Council members Ed Danko, Nick Klufas and Cathy Heighter, and as such, she may be the member Harborside must win over before the project goes forth.
“I’m going to speak out in opposition to approval. I’m concerned not about the use of this project but about the density,” Pontieri said, two-thirds of the way into the hearing, speaking words that must have set off alarm bells for the developer. She cited the policy that limits density at 15 units per acre, not the proposed 25. She said she wants the site built up, she wants the additional tax revenue and residents, and the additional base of potential customers to European Village’s struggling businesses. But the developer’s recurring coyness bothered her. “The problem in my view is that we don’t have any certainties by the applicant at this point. We have a lot of likelihoods, we have a lot of maybes, and I’m uncomfortable with that.”
It was the same set of maybes that had left the Planning Board groaning. For example, the possibility of a hotel at the site, which the city favors, is still murky. The developer isn’t sure it would be commercially viable.
Pontieri rejected “the false ultimatum that it’s either this way or no way. And I do think that there is some wiggle room.” But, Pontieri said, “I think that we’re setting a bad precedent if we sit here today and are not mindful of what the code says. If we say that this qualifies as a creatively planned project, then this sets a precedent for what other developers can do in the future. And I’m not willing to go that far. I’m especially not willing to go that far at 10 units an acre. I think that that’s an incredible jump and the city has been gracious by offering to deviate from 15 units an acre to 18 and that may not be enough to determine the profit that the developer is looking for. But I’m not willing to make the jump at 10 and to set that precedent by adopting an ordinance that would allow that.”
The developer has argued that the density fits in with neighboring densities. The city has countered that the Bella Harbor development to the north is at 10.5 units per acre, and that Marina Cove to the south is at 7.8 units per acre, still far from the density Harborside is asking for. Other nearby developments have lower densities.
Pontieri initially wanted to table the matter. JDI representative Tarik Bateh pushed for a vote of approval, with conditions, which he ultimately got. As for a resolution, he was less sanguine than Tyner, however.
“We will certainly continue dialogue with staff. We will certainly try and find the solution. And I believe staff will do the same,” Bateh said. “We’re a bit surprised that new issues have been raised, which were not previously addressed.”
Bateh made clear that as far as JDI is concerned, certain lines will not be crossed. “We have we’ve made clear that we have a high degree of confidence that we can execute the project before with 432 total units,” he said. “We’ve also made clear that as you erode that, it doesn’t necessarily kill the project. But at some point, if you erode it too much and reduce it too much, it will kill the project. But we won’t know that until several years down the road, which is bad for everybody. Then we have no project. But it’s not that we have no project today. It’s that we have no project several years down the road and everybody’s wasted time and effort. We don’t know where our line is, to be candid, which is not to say we can’t reduce it at all. Just know that our confidence goes down if we do reduce it. So if staff is in the same position that they’ve been thus far, and they’re simply unable to recommend in excess of 310 units, then I would tell you that there’s nothing for us to talk about.”
The city has put forth additional “public benefit conditions,” which JDI is willing to talk about. But not necessarily comply with.
- Harborside Tower Proposal Postponed as Developer Hints at More Compromise
- Harborside Tower in Dispute: Palm Coast and Developer Still Far Apart Over Allowable Number of Apartments
- Plan for a Massive Apartment Tower at Harborside Draws Opposition, Accusations and Delay