The Palm Coast Planning Board Wednesday recommended approval to rezone acreage off Old Kings Road north of Town Center Boulevard to multi-family zoning for a 243-unit apartment complex there.
The proposal, which must still get the Palm Coast City Council’s ratification, drew opposition from residents of Toscana and Hidden Lakes, the two subdivisions to the south of the acreage.
It also drew mis-statements by opponents of the project. Michael Judge, a new resident of the Toscana subdivision, claimed–in a letter with a 100-signature petition opposing the rezoning–that “Apartment occupants use resources like schools, fire department, police, infrastructure, etc., and do not, in turn, contribute anything to the community.”
The statement, not uncommon among opponents of apartment complexes, is brazenly false and reflects more prejudice than analysis. Apartment residents contribute taxes to their community through their rent payments, just as they pay sales taxes, gas taxes and utility taxes, all of which also contributed directly to the local community. Central Landing, the 233-unit apartment complex near Epic Theater in Town Center, paid $134,000 in property taxes last year. The Palms, an 88-unit complex, will pay roughly $80,000 in taxes this year.
If anything, commercial properties like apartment complexes subsidize the taxes of homesteaded properties since commercial properties have no homestead exemptions, nor are commercial properties’ tax increases capped at 3 percent, as are homesteaded properties. The longer a homestead property owner lives in a home, the greater the “protected,” or untaxed value of that home–and the more that revenue must be made up somewhere. Commercial properties such as rentals and businesses make up the difference.
Judge actually benefits from an extra homestead exemption of $25,000 in addition to the standard $50,000 exemption, with a total of $146,000 of his $400,000 in taxable value being “protected,” or untaxed.
Jake Scully, a member of the planning board, cited Judge’s letter–without naming him–before asking Bob Million, a representative of the proposed 243-unit apartment complex on Old Kings Road, a few questions.
“The business model of any kind of rental for residential, multifamily or a single-[family] house, the revenue, top line, comes from–and this is going to sound dumb–rent, right?” Scully asked.
“That’s fair to say,” Million said.
“And part of those expenses are our property taxes, correct?”
“And without homestead exemption,” Scully asked.
“And it’s about a $40 million dollar project. So a substantial amount of tax,” Million said, though that figure requires a caveat of its own: the apartment complex will not be valued at $40 million, nor generate the equivalent property taxes. Million was referring to the total cost of the project, with a lot of those taxes getting paid through sales taxes, payroll taxes, impact fees and the like, though the impact fees would themselves alone be substantial. The property falls also in the Old Kings Road special taxing district, which pays a supplemental tax to pay for the expansion of Old Kings Road. Million said the lands he represents as one of those property owners have so far paid $600,000, since Palm Coast instituted the special district in 2013.
Million–a long-time local developer, and more recently of Hammock Harbour fame in the Hammock–described his entity as “the major landowner on the undeveloped section” of Old Kings Road, with “almost a mile and a half of old Kings Road between Palm Coast Parkway and State Road 100.” He spoke of the impact fee and tax windfalls to the city, and infrastructure improvements that would result from the rezoning and the conjoining of the two parcels now split. The apartment complex would generate $1.8 million in impact fees, he said (the one-time costs developers pay to defray the impact of development on roads, parks, schools and so on.)
“We’ve been under discussions with everyone to get the get the proper permits, but it’s our intent to start building that relatively quickly,” Million said of the apartment complex.
The property is 2 miles north of the intersection of Town Center Boulevard and Old Kings Road. It’s laid out oddly. It’s actually two parcels, split by a sliver of land that belongs to Palm Coast government. That sliver was donated to the city some years ago to accommodate an eventual connection between Whiteview Parkway, parallel to that area and just to the west of I-95, and Old Kings Road. (Since the Department of Transportation is not likely to approve a Whiteview interchange with I-95, being too close to the State Road 100 and Palm Coast Parkway interchanges, the east-west connector to Old Kings Road, while not terribly likely, remains a possibility. The land swap must be approved by the City Council, and is separate from the rezoning matter.)
Only 12 acres of the 29 acres were up for rezoning–the 12 acres that form the quadrant of land north of the sliver owned by Palm Coast. Those 12 acres were zoned commercial. The balance of the property was already zoned for apartments. The rezoning joins the two in a single zoning designation, and moves the Palm Coast sliver to the north of the property, adding 100 feet to the city’s holdings, for a tidal of 300 feet, thus giving more space to an eventual connector with Whiteview.
The previous zoning would have allowed 135,000 square feet of commercial, general office space to the north and 140 apartments on the southern parcel. The city is not opposing the elimination of commercial space because between Palm Coast Parkway and State Road 100 along Old Kings Road, there’s approximately 800,000 square feet of entitled office space, Ray Tyner, the city’s deputy development director, said. “That’s enough to accommodate almost 20 City Halls along that corridor,” Tyner said. “That’s just for the office, not not the commercial zoning that we have in place. So to add this acreage along with this multifamily provides that mix of use of having some multifamily.”
“As currently zoned there are 50 allowable uses” for the commercial part of the property, Norton said, “potentially generating over 900 additional [vehicle] trips per day. Some of the uses include hospice services, hospitals, houses of worship, liquor stores, sit-down restaurants, mail order facilities, medical offices, assisted living facilities, vehicle sales and services. The proposed zoning reduces the number of uses and allows multifamily units to be spread across the entirety of the site.” A traffic study projects “a significant reduction in daily trips associated with the proposed result.”
None of that placated the opponents in the room (the proposal drew some 40 opponents at Wednesday evening’s planning board meeting at City hall), among them Judge, who argued before the board that there were plenty of other parcels already zoned for apartments. Why rezone this one?
“Every week you come up with these hearings and you’re rezoning this, granting exceptions there, everywhere. It’s ridiculous, ridiculous,” Judge said. “You’re getting a swell of people in the city that are getting very disturbed over what’s happening here in the city. We’ve had way too much growth, way too much development. And everybody is looking at these parcels individually as like they’re islands unto themselves, and nobody’s looking at the big picture.”
Inaccuracies or mis-characterizations about the particular parcel aside, Judge was nevertheless reflecting a broad-based unease by established residents across the city about the torrid pace of growth over the past few years, though there’s also an irony in the opposition: some years ago Toscana and Hidden Lakes didn’t exist, but their addition changed the complexion of Old Kings Road, just as other developments have along that road since. Now the new residents at those subdivisions are in essence wanting to close the gate and stand in opposition to others who may want to live on the same road.
Darlene Shelley, a Hidden Lakes resident, also addressed the board. The board knows her well by now. Shelly has led the opposition to two self-storage facilities recently approved, nearer Hidden Lakes. She is also leading a lawsuit against the city over those developments.
“If you continue to approve every special exception and zone change that a developer sends your way you are not protecting the beauty and character of Palm Coast,” Shelly said. “Bigger is not better when it comes to multifamily apartment complexes.” She said the rezoning is not in line with the city founders’ vision for smart growth, raising doubt about the “flyover” from Whiteview and its hairpin turn onto Old Kings Road. “The homes for Tuscana behind this parcel, these parcels, are million-dollar homes. They knew there was a small multifamily parcel–not a huge new one.” (The rezoned parcel is about a mile north of Toscana.)
Tyner rejected the claim that the city was ignoring the bigger picture, pointing out the comprehensive plan princess and referring to the proposed development as “infill,” meaning that it is going where intended, on land zoned for development, without sprawling elsewhere. “This is opposite of urban sprawl,” Tyner said. The property already had the appropriate comprehensive plan designation, with development intended for it.
The matter still must go to the Palm Coast City Council.
Planning Board member Hung Hilton suggested adding a condition to the application, to “have some sort of like market analysis, something that looks at the current state of the multifamily residential across Palm Coast and to prove that it’s fitting in with the demand and not just a short term or short sighted.” But such conditions are not permitted with a mere rezoning.
The Planning Board voted 4-1 to recommend the rezoning, with Scully, Hilton, Christopher Gabriel and Charles Lemon in the majority, and Board Chair Sandra Shank against.
“My concern was that first of all the number of units that will be increased by joining the two parcels under one zoning,” Shank said in an interview Thursday. “Although we have a lot of Office 2 within the city, Old Kings road, the infrastructure, is not really there at this point to support the increase in my opinion of additional multi-family units, and the number of units it’s currently zoned for is sufficient.” Shank also questioned the design of the Whiteview “flyover.”