By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
The City Commission, playing to a packed house in its Feb. 12 meeting, denied changes for the "Causeway Landings" project. More than a hundred concerned citizens filled Brannon Center to protest the low-income housing project.
Several members of the New Smyrna Beach Citizens for Smart Growth LLC spoke against the project. Maggie Hawk, a member of the group asked, "What is really going on here? It appears we are talking about a whole new agreement."
"There is a lack of specific information ... to understand the plan for this property," Ken Daugherty said. "The developer does not have unlimited property rights and this vagueness will lead to unending and unacceptable arguments and negotiations."
He called for the city to do its due diligence and stick to the original agreement and consider the financial responsibility the city has to maintain the tax value of the property and surrounding neighborhood.
The property owners, Causeway Landings Ltd., Causeway Landings Park LLC and Causeway Landings Commercial of 700 West Morse Blvd, Winter Park, requested an amendment to the development agreement for the area. Removal of a marina, decrease in the building heights, an increase in the number of units from 202 to 239, revising the phasing and revising the conceptual plan were among the items requested.
Several concerns were raised by the public, such as the project would make the area look "institutional" and lower the value of surrounding homes. Other low-income projects within the last 30 years or so were cited as now being areas of high criminal activity. Carl Sutter, of Windsurf Realty and a member of CSG asked the council if there was really a need for this type of housing. He provided statistics on current low-income housing in the area and the vacancy rates, some as high as 50 percent. "Is there a need? I don't think so," Sutter said.
"This property is considered a part of the downtown area according to the city's comprehensive plan. Not only is the city's goal number one not supported, but it would be a huge economic negative for the city," said CSG member Colleen Gillespie.
Michael Kolody, an engineer and owner of property on Via Capri, said, "The variance takes away the option to implement the plan put forth for city lands dedicated for specific purposes." He noted the developer's plan would deny public access to the wildlife area and the public marina. "The developer keeps stating 'we can comply,' but they never show how they can comply," Mr. Kolody said.
"The development plan is in compliance with the city's comprehensive plan and underlying zoning ordinances," said Rebecca Wilson, attorney for Causeway Landings Ltd. "The city set forth 12 items that if we were to agree to, it would be in compliance. We can agree to 11 of them, but we object to number 10 concerning parking."
She said the developers did a comprehensive parking analysis and determined there was not a need for the increased number of parking spaces the Planning and Zone Board included in its conditions. "What we have planned for parking is adequate and to provide parking that would exceed the needs would be financially unfeasible. It would involve building a parking garage," Ms. Wilson said.
In its Jan 7 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended the request be denied as the developer's plan stands. They suggested 12 items would need to be changed to make the proposed plan come into compliance with city ordinances. Among those items are a resident evacuation plan, specific architectural requirements, list of permitted uses be revised to prohibit taverns, language changed to prohibit drive-thru and drive-in facilities, building heights requirements, include a four-foot wall around North Causeway and Quay Assisi, parallel parking spaces along North Causeway, all public access area requirements added back into the agreement, a "step back" design of buildings with taller buildings behind a single story building, include all the required parking on-site, include recommendations in the North Causeway Area Study and work with VOTRAN to incorporate a flex route bus stop and extend it to the new Walmart shopping center.
"Development agreements are spelled out by state law," City Planning Manager Gail Henrikson said. "With regard to the comprehensive plan, staff was unable to recommend the request because it is not in compliance with current codes. The proposed project does not concur with the current land development program or onsite parking requirements.
"The property owners can choose not to develop and let the current agreement (which is in affect until 2015) expire or can work with the city to amend the agreement in order to develop it now," Ms. Henrikson said.
In other business, the City Commission approved a bid by APM Construction of Daytona Beach in the amount of $2.857 million to build a fire station on city property south of S.R. 44. Building the fire station was approved by the citizens of New Smyrna Beach in 2005.