On September 10, 2007, Palm Coast government crews began work on a $360,000, two-mile foot and bike path along a powerline easement in the F Section Off Old Kings Road, going north up to Matanzas High School at Forest Grove. When residents along the path found out, they were livid, because the city had not notified them. City Manager Jim Landon admitted the mistake, saying the city “blew it.”
“This is not how you do business in the community,” he said at the time, in comments reported by the News-Journal. “This is a situation where instead of we did it with the neighborhood, we did it to the neighborhood.”
He subsequently took a lot of heat at a community meeting on the path Work was suspended, then stopped, though much of it had been done, as residents’ opposition proved too much for the city council. It was a defeat early in Landon’s tenure that he did not forget.
This evening, about 100 F-Section residents gathered at Matanzas’s Pirates Theatre to hear a student presentation reviving the path proposal. Landon was not there. He dispatched three senior staffers to take the heat this time. They did. There was plenty of it, including some from people who had been part of the 2007 opposition.
“I was one of the one who fought this in ’08,” Richard Mayo told the crowd, mistaking the year of the opposition. “I remember having a fight with Landon about the time he tried to sneak that path through that easement. At the time, he had told us, if you don’t want our money spent here now, I’m not going to spend any money in your section.’ And he kept his word. He didn’t put anything in the F Section that whole time. So the reason that poor kid got run over” –he was referring to Kelvin Smith, 16, killed by a hit and run driver as Smith was biking home on Old Kings Road the night of last New Year’s Eve—is because the city did not put the sidewalk path in on Old Kings that we asked for in 08. That’s why that poor child died.”
The death of Smith and, earlier this year on Lakeview Boulevard, of 16-year-old Michelle Taylor, also 16, as she walked by roadside, compelled Matanzas High School students to form a safety committee and formulate immediate, reasonable options. They joined forces with city staffers. One of those options is the completion of the path started in 2007.
Senior Chris Norris and junior Tommy Jones made the case before residents this evening before the floor was opened for questions and comments. “We need to work collectively to improve our collective safety,” Jones said. The path, he said, is similar to those that have been enjoyed by residents across the city. “The urgency of this issue, it’s very important for us to prevent further injuries and fatalities and to increase the pedestrian safety in our community, that’s extremely important to us especially after what happened to our family here at Matanzas.”
The crowd was divided over the issue, with many supportive of the students’ (and the city’s) plan to finish the FPL path, and many opposed, though all agreed on the need to improve safety for students and others. Where they forked ways was simple: those who oppose the FPL path want the city to build a sidewalk along Old Kings Road instead. Those who favor the path say it’s time to do something, and not wait until Old Kings Road is widened, which could be years, at which time the sidewalk would be part of the project.
That road-widening, Carl Cote, the city’s construction manager told the crowd to loud groans, “could be 10, 20 years from now, we don’t know when it’s going to be built.”
“Put the damn sidewalk in,” a woman burst out from the crowd. “How many more lives will be lost because of stupidity?” City staffers took criticism over the path for allegedly enabling crime and building an unsafe trail through heavy brush, away from road traffic that could keep eyes on students using sidewalks. There was also some criticism for placing a lath beneath high-voltage powerlines.
But that was part of the evening’s misinformation: In fact, many of the city’s paths—all of them well used and, according to the city’s annual citizens’ survey, cherished—purposefully parallel utility easements as a wise use of city, and relatively green, space. Paths, including, for example, Lehigh Trail, which cuts through forest and heavy brush and is dissimulated from view beyond the path itself, have been very safe, as even Mark Carman, who commands the sheriff’s Palm Coast precinct, told the crowd: “I don’t want you to use crime as an indicator,” he said, having examined data before the meeting. “The statistical data doesn’t show the crime you’re talking about.”
And while the absence of a sidewalk along Old Kings Road has been and continues to be a problem, the FPL easement cuts a geographically more logical straight line through the F Section to Matanzas, which will reduce travel time for those students who are forced to walk or bike to school within the two-mile radius, inside of which state law allows—and limited budgets compel– districts not to provide bus transportation.
The students pointed out some of those realities, framing them in the urgency of the moment, which lent a measure of emotions to both sides of the argument. So did parents. So did school staffers.
“I got a phone call that I’m never going to forget, and that was to report to Matanzas, because they had lost a student, and I spent two days here, and I did grief counseling with the students at the school, the teachers at the school, the administration at the school, and it’s the phone call you don’t want to get, and I got it twice, since I’ve worked here in the last six years,” said Shoshannah Mercado, her voice on the verge of breaking. “I can’t tell you how important it is to me, not just because of that, but because I’m a parent here as well. I have memories of walking down Frontier with my son, and being so terrified the entire time, all we wanted to do was take a walk, and we couldn’t get down Frontier without fearing that we were going to get smacked by a car every two seconds.” All along, she had to police her own child to stay off the road. “That fear combined with the grief I had to witness on that day is not OK. It just simply is not OK, and I don’t think that Palm Coast has maybe thought of the fact that this is not a retirement community. This is a family community. There are kids here.”
She was stopped by applause, before speaking of her dismay at recurring reports of fatalities on the roads. “It’s not just about getting a path,” she said. “This is a bigger problem. Palm Coast needs sidewalks. Palm Coast needs lighting.”
David Hayes, likely the man who’s been in Palm Coast the longest of all the people in the auditorium—he worked for ITT for 30 years and is a cyclist—then rose and told the crowd he’d almost gotten killed yesterday “because of you drivers,” as he put it. “Folks, you do not know how to drive on these roads. You have no cooperation for any bicyclists out here.” He added: “I’m all for these kids. I mean, we’re talking about the safety and the future of Palm Coast, these kids. And if we cannot get them to school safe, and get them back to their families safe, then obviously we’ve got something wrong here. I don’t care where they put this damn bike path, but they need to put a bike path.”
“Through the middle of your property?” someone yelled out.
“I don’t care if it goes right through the middle of my property or not,” Hayes said.
Many others spoke, more opposed than in favor of the path, though both sides were strongly represented, and much of the debate reflecting an undertow of mistrust—perhaps unfairly to students whose history ends at the past year’s deaths of classmates—from the city’s handling of the very same issue a decade ago.
This go-around was not winning greater trust. Most people at Pirates Theater this evening at least thought the path was still a proposal. That’s how the students presented it—students who themselves were unaware of this week’s developments. Many in the audience were unaware that the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday evening had voted to approve $125,000 in funding for paths, including the necessary money to have Halifax Paving go ahead and pave the path (which will be 10 feet wide), after city crews clear it of overgrowth. The plan is to have it done in time for school’s opening day in August.
Two council members were at tonight’s meeting: Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley. Nobile on Tuesday had raised a question about the sequence: “We’re going to vote tonight on this FP&L path, but we’re meeting tomorrow with the residents?” he asked the city manager.
An undertow of mistrust dates back to a decade-old plan’s mishandling even as strong arguments are put forth from both sides.
Yes, Landon told him. “If you all want to not do the path to the high school through the F Section, we can shift those dollars to other streets in the future.” Landon said the city had “invited everybody that wants to come” to the Matanzas meeting, though that was overstating the case: a notice of the meeting appears on the city’s website’s calendar, but while the city makes compulsive use of its PR office to highlight events and meetings it wants highlighted, such as a flag-raising this Friday or any of a number of back-patting awards the city never fails to announce, its press releases were silent on the Matanzas meeting, even though paths and safety are ostensibly a council priority.
Briefly interviewed about halfway through tonight’s meeting, Nobile was still bothered by the sequence and some of the criticism he’d heard, but he said he was there to learn and had not entirely made up his mind. “There’s a lot of good arguments on both sides here,” he said, noting that even if Old Kings Road were to be widened at some point, the path would then become necessary as a “supplement” during construction, so why not go ahead and complete it now? Still, he said, he is “very upset about what should have been done” 10 years ago—meaning work on Old Kings Road, if not a sidewalk. “I don’t want to leave here not having a way for the children to get to school.”
He said the issue would be talked about at next Tuesday’s workshop of the council. (As he spoke, Allison Martin, who was leaving the theater, called it a “no-win situation,” explaining that the city had already made up its mind.)
The School Board’s Andy Dance was also in the audience. “I applaud the students for bringing that option back up,” he said of the dormant path. He said he was there to get educated about what he saw as two viable options–the path and a sidewalk paralleling Old Kings Road–though he was unaware that the city council had already voted to fund the path. “It’s a little backward,” he said. “It’s not typical planning process. You’d typically go for public input first, but I’m not on the council, I don’t know what they were faced with.”
Shipley, whose district includes the F Section and Matanzas, addressed the crowd, saying—as she did Tuesday evening—that while the path issue has its complications, “I don’t want to wait and have somebody say we waited too long.” Her priority is to get the path finished, then pressure the state Transportation Department to finally provide the dollars to widen Old Kings Road and build the parallel sidewalk.
Even then, however, if the path is in place, it’s more likely than not that it will, be the favored way to Matanzas for a large portion of F-Section residents, given its arrow-straight trajectory to the school. Only the way to getting the path done continues to be more jagged.
How about a sidewalk in the L section.
Zito Offenheimer says
Let me clear up a few misconceptions and educate the ignorant. The strip of land that is the subject of this debate is owned by the City of Palm Coast. FPL does NOT own it; they have an easement over it. Additionally, that land is currently zoned PSP (Public/Semi-Public) and the FLUM designates it as Institutional. The City can do anything it wants within the Zoning regulations. You who are screaming NIMBY should pool your collective resources (instead of diminishing the efforts of our children), hire an attorney and petition the government (which is your right as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution) to change the zoning (and the FLUM) to whatever is allowed by law and best suits your interest. To Jim Landon – you sir, are a coward and a scoundrel. You led this charge but you did not have the intestinal fortitude to attend this meeting and defend the youth of Matanzas High that you “encouraged” to get involved in the democratic process in an effort to effect positive change in their community. Shame on you. I hope the Charter Review process proceeds and your services are terminated when our form of government is changed from Council-Manager to Mayor-Council. I personally am undecided as to whether the improvement of this “trail” is the best solution because the limited number of public access points to the trail bring into question the ability of pedestrians to utilize it without crossing private property. I ***am*** sure that Jim Landon is not to be trusted.
Brad W says
I attended the meeting, and no offense to anyone but most of the arguments were really about resistance to change. The other things about exposing kids to “electrical radiation”, Homeland Security issues, onslaught of ATV riders, and how paths attract drug dealers were really about not wanting change in my opinion. The reality is that we are growing, and change is inevitable.
The two great points the students made last night is that safety has to be a priority, and that safety is not always convenient. I couldn’t agree more. An elementary school child was killed last year getting on the school bus because our bus stops are over-crowded and lack adequate off-street waiting areas, and 2 teenagers were killed in the last several months due to lack of pathways and lighting on our roadways.
After last year’s tragedy there was supposed to be a joint effort between the schools, the county, and the city of Palm Coast to address the issue of safety in a comprehensive way and that really never happened. A few silly “bus stop pads” were put down that accommodate at most 6 kids and some “awareness stuff”. Then after the Lakeview Drive tragedy I listened to the issue of safety once again discussed on the City’s new podcast and to honest it just doesn’t feel like there is a sense of urgency regarding safety by the leadership. $550,000 for shades over parks (when no one is asking for that) and the creative action to get a $14M City Hall built without a vote, I think we have the resources and ability we just need our leadership to truly make it the top priority to providing real solutions.
Steven Sobel says
One way or the other, a safe path for students to get to school protected from car traffic needs to be constructed immediately.
My parents live less than 200 feet away from where Kelvin Smith died, I pass the spot every time I go to see them. It’s the same exact location that my mom and I were rear-ended by a pickup truck in an accident a few years ago that left my mom with neck injuries. Old Kings Road in that area has a very high speed limit and no protection for pedestrians or bicyclists, and it’s not a particularly safe road for drivers either. The four-lane project with sidewalks should have been started years ago, it would have done a lot more good than many of the construction projects that were completed in the meantime. If the state is the reason the project keeps being delayed then we should be lobbying them as hard as we can to make it a priority.
I understand the homeowner’s opposition to a path in their backyards, I ride my bike on the streets around where the path would go all the time, it’s a very nice and quiet neighborhood. But I do not think that adding this path will change the nature of the neighborhood, our kids at Matanzas are good people and we have a duty as a neighborhood to provide them with a safe way to get to school without a car. The bike paths we have installed through other neighborhoods have generally been very safe, but I would like to hear from home owners that live near those paths to learn what their experience has been.
F-section resident for 15 years, recently had to move for work to Orlando, but missing beautiful Palm Coast everyday!
Bill harvey says
Why is is that thedeputies don’t do radar by the Jehovah witness area and catch the drivers speeding going north on old kings road but instead they position themselves in a 35 mph zone all the speeding is done in the 50 mph zone that is the serious speeding that is where they are doing 65 plus , I have witnessed this firsthand because I live on fellowship two houses down from fellowship from old Kings Road
Come on City, just do both. They both are needed. Is the safety of our children and our residents more important than dickering on which one should be done. Do them both and lets move on.
Jack Howell says
My question is how doesJim Landon sleep at night? I guess it is sound as he apparently has no moral passion for the citizens of Palm Coast. Zito is correct in his assessment of Landon. He is, in fact, a coward and a bully with unscrupulous intentions. I don’t think there is a vulgar word, in any language, strong enough to characterize this individual.
Komodo Dragon says
I don’t understand why the city doesn’t just get this done. They must love taking unnecessary heat knowing very well that when the school was built, a means for the students travel should have been incorporated in the planning. Roads are widened when vehicle traffic increases yet, pedestrian traffic increases were totally neglected. While they poorly planned the problem they are facing now, it’s not too late to correct it and really show that they truly care about the pedestrian regardless if they are students or not. It’s about caring for the people of this great city. The process has been elongated and lives have been lost as a result. It is time that priorities for all residents are considered before spending time and money on improvements that can wait. I can assure you that if any one of the deceased were a family member of the decision makers, that pathway would have been completed by now. Obviously, their children are in safer traveled means that they don’t need to be concerned.
Komodo Dragon says
BTW, all comments here are very valid and I’m very positive that this is being read by those who have the ability to act on behalf of the safety of all.
We definitely need to address the safety of our students, and the terrible driving here in Palm Coast. However, Jim Landon tried to sneak this through in 2008, and then when residents voiced their opposition, he got mad. He decided to punish the F section by not doing any improvements at all. No regard for safety at that point. No concern for the students of Matanzas. A sidewalk should have been put in on Old Kings as soon as the school was built. Then, as now, the claim is that to put in a sidewalk on Old Kings, it would have to be ripped out when Old Kings is widened. That would be a valid point, if this project was in the near future. It isn’t. 5, 10, 15yrs away? Seriously? I understand student and parent concern for safety. My girls went to Matanzas. They were driven until they got their license. Part of the problem now, is the school board decided to expand the range of walkers, putting them at risk. Now Landon hides behind the student safety council. He claimed he informed residents. Not true. The money was allocated before the residents had a chance to voice their opinion. He’s just as sneaky as ever. A couple of side notes-#1-there is a lot of wildlife that will die or be displaced in the wooded area near the fpl utility lines. We have bobwhite quail, fox, deer, bobcats, gopher tortoise, just to name a few. Where will they go? #2-atv’s use that path, at top speed, now. Will this stop once it’s a valid bike/walk path? Will they consider student safety? No #3-when they started the path the first time, delivery trucks used it. What’s to stop them now? Nothing.
Lynn Shields says
What am I missing? A neighborhood meeting was called the day after the matter was voted on and approved by Mayor Holland and all 4 council members. Only 2 council members bothered to show up at the neighborhood meeting. Back door deals and politics at its best. How does putting an unlit sidewalk between backyards (essentially an alley) make our kids safer? Lights and sidewalks on Old Kings Rd which can be monitored and patrolled is the safest solution for our children. I concur with the previous comment that there is no access on or off without trespassing through backyards. The public confidence in government Is of real concern.
I attended the meeting as well. I wish people would NOT be patronizing over the concerns of PARENTS for their children being made to walk a path that is out of the way, through an area with power lines, and NOT lit at all. Seriously? I had a “discussion” with the “biker” and his attitude is one of those that feels the “path” is acceptable. For ADULTS it is. NOT for children. Especially kids that are not supervised.
I am with the group who feels that putting down a temporary path along Olds Kings Road, up to Matanzas is the best option. If they are not planning the road expansion for 5-20 years, then put in something temporary and SAFE. Our children and elderly, and Bicyclists matter!
Good Neighbor says
Is it true that Federal law says that school aged children that walk must have a sidewalk or path of some sorts to travel and get there? If that is the case Flagler County has been in violation for a very long time.
Born and Raised Here says
I beleive if a student lives within 2 miles of a school, and is not entitled to school transportation. The School and the County must provide a safe way for that student to get to school, such as a bike path for them to ride there bikes,
Landon is toxic
Pat Patterson says
The students at Matanzas were mis-led by the City just like the citizens attending the meeting were. The bike path had already been approved and contracted for paving prior to the meeting. The City officials could care less what we, the tax payers want or feel. Anyone that attended the meeting last night and thinks the City gives a damn about us or our children are sadly mistaken. So much incompetence in our City decision makers, it’s unbelievable.
I was moved here with my family in 2004. Mantanzas was being built, but no sidewalks were. In 2006 the school opened, still no sidewalks despite our efforts with the city. We drove the girls to and from school because of the danger. In 2008 Landon tried to sneak his path/walkway into the FPL easement and none of us knew it was being done until the earth moving equipment showed up. Residents protested to move the path to OLD Kings and the path was stopped. Landon was angry and stated that since we did not want this path he would not spend any money in our area! Despite our efforts to get a path/sidewalk in 2009 and on No Work was ever done here! All across the city paths were installed along the existing roadways , the latest one I watched was installed along Whiteveiw. The work entailed bobcats scooping out some dirt and grass and asphalt being laid in place. The work was quick and easy and we want that done on OLD Kings not in the FPL easement. The teenager who was killed in the hit and run case was a student at Matanzas, but he was not going or coming from school. He was a pedestrian like all of us who was forced to walk near the roadway because of the arrogance and treachery by those bureaucrats. I hope the family has a lawyer and is going after Landon and the planning staff for failing to protect the citizens. It is time to clean house.
old guy in yellow vest, old kings says
Zito – Great review of Landon. I echo everyone else who feels the same in their replies. He withholds taxpayer dollars in neighborhoods he personally feels are “non-desirable” – how he referred by my neighborhood.
What’s up with that old guy in a yellow reflective vest that walks out in front of your car on Old Kings between Flemmingwood and Fellowship, by the Jehovah’s Witness center? It happens between 6:25 and 6:45 in the mornings. I mean he looks, sees you coming, and just walks right out as you’re approaching him. Am I the only one who’s see’s this nut?
Let their parents pay for it !!!!!!!!!!!!
A quote in the article from Landon, when asked about the fact that they were voting on the money before talking to residents: . “If you all want to not do the path to the high school through the F Section, we can shift those dollars to other streets in the future.”
This is another example of, if you don’t do what I want, regardless of what the community wants, then we won’t do anything.
How about shift those dollars NOW, not in the future, to Old Kings Road?
Yo, Yo says
@old guy in yellow vest, old kings: Yes I’ve seen the man. I believe he used to run a lot along old kings and now just sticks to walking. I think that’s his way of being visible. He used to jog against traffic literally in your lane.
Brad W., although some people were opposed due to resistance to change, for a lot of us, that’s not the case. It is the constant, blatant disregard for the opinions and wishes of residents by the City Manager, the lack of concern over the last 9 years for safety since this was first brought up, and the fact that the city is getting heat since the recent student deaths. I sympathize with the families and friends of the lost, but this all goes back to the first time he tried to put this through, again, on the sly. In deciding to punish those in the F section for not going along with his original plan, Landon chose to not do any work at all. That shows no concern for safety. It was brought up years ago that a sidewalk on Old Kings was needed. But, because we didn’t do what he wanted, he kept the money and did nothing. He can talk all he wants now about safety and urgency. It means nothing.