By Kelli Jo Hull
For Hometown News
After much debate, the Port Orange City Council did not have to vote on an amendment changing a 13-acre property near Cypress Head from commercial to urban-high density residential, which would allow construction of 8 to 16 residential units per acre.
The amendment was withdrawn by the property's owner when read at the Dec. 10 council meeting.
The amendment was continued twice previously at the Oct. 15 and Nov. 5 council meetings, primarily because of residents' objections to the possibility of subsidized multi-family rental housing being developed on the property. The council scheduled a workshop prior to the Dec. 10 regular meeting to give the property owner an opportunity to make a presentation regarding the proposed change and citizens an opportunity to air their concerns.
"I understand the sensitivity to it," said property owner Jim Paytas. "I want to make sure all the facts are out there."
Current zoning "allows for 283,140 square feet of commercial space," Mr. Paytas said, comparable to the Lowes, Publix (Nova Road) and Kohl's shopping centers.
"With that size project there are a lot of ramifications that come along with it," he said.
Outlining the potential negative impact of such a large commercial project, Mr. Paytas listed increased traffic volume, nighttime deliveries, noisy equipment, heightened commercial lighting and fewer green spaces. "What we have out there now is not going to be there. Something will be there." Mr. Paytas said.
Advocating a residential project that could include apartments, townhomes/duplexes, low-rise condominiums or an assisted/transitional living facility, Mr. Paytas said benefits would include "less pavement and asphalt," more "green friendly" spaces, "lower light emission," reduced traffic and added city revenue generated through utility sales and taxes. The potential projects would ultimately "blend better with the community" than a commercial project would, he said, adding that, as requested previously by council, he was "committed" to making sure that any apartment complexes would be "market rate."
City Attorney Margaret Roberts clarified that "federal regulations prohibit the council from putting any type of restriction" on the developer for housing type. She urged council to not base their decision on market rate issues they could not control, but rather "base it on land use" only.
"Port Orange has a history of residential construction, but not necessarily in the apartment type," Councilman Dennis Kennedy said. "I personally don't see this as an area that needs more multi-family housing," he said.
Councilman Bob Ford said, "Port Orange has always been deficient in commercial" properties. "I lean toward commercial."
Mr. Ford also expressed concerns there was no guarantee for the type of housing that could be built and the residents of the area bought property based on the fact the acreage in question was zoned commercial. "We have a duty to protect them," he said. "We also have a duty to listen to them."
Calling the development of apartment complexes of any type "incurable and everlasting," resident and local Realtor Dan Pardus said, "We will see a major decrease in property values and an increase in crime rates."
A nearby resident of The Sanctuary subdivision and attorney Melody Lankford said she was opposed to the zoning change because of the additional students multi-family housing would add to local schools. "As of today, and I verified this with the Registrar, Cypress Creek Elementary School is at full capacity." Student "growth would result in adding portables" and would have a negative impact on the quality of education, Ms. Lankford said.
"I think Mr. Paytas' intentions are honorable," Ashton Lakes resident Richard Fiore said. Concerned about the possibility of someone offering Mr. Paytas "a whole lot of money" resulting in the property being sold after a zoning change is made, he asked, "What if their intentions aren't his intentions?"
During the regular council meeting, Councilman Drew Bastian proposed a motion to table the amendment until Feb. 25 saying, "The developer has said himself he's not in any great rush."
Councilman Bastian suggested giving Mr. Paytas more time to work with residents in an effort to address their concerns.
Mr. Paytas said, "I'd like to have the opportunity to discuss it with the Ashton Lakes Homeowners Association" in hopes of coming to an agreement to make all parties happy.
Mayor Allen Green, Vice Mayor Donald Burnette, Mr. Ford and Mr. Kennedy were in opposition to tabling the motion saying that residents needed "closure." Mr. Burnette expressed concern for residents who have repeatedly provided feedback to the council saying, "We keep bringing them back. They're road weary. I think we heard what they want tonight."
During public comment, Mr. Fiore said, "If this gets tabled you are all gonna have some very upset residents. Now I think it needs to have closure and I think it needs to be brought up. Whether it's closed tonight or not he's more than welcome to negotiate with Ashton Lakes' residents on his own. If they come to some agreement then they can come back to the city council and open it back up."
Mr. Paytas asked if he had the option to withdraw his proposal. Ms. Roberts advised council the amendment could be withdrawn. Mr. Paytas said, "I'm good with that."
In other business, the council gave final approval to a residency requirement for administrative officials of the city. The ordinance requires "the administrative officials currently serving and residing within the city; and the newly hired administrative officials to reside and maintain residency within the City of Port Orange." Verbiage was also added to include employees "promoted to the position of administrative official after Nov. 15, 2013." The ordinance was passed unanimously.
Also, the council "authorized a joint agreement releasing the City of Daytona Beach Shores upon receipt of the payment of $454,448" for unpaid utility services. The council approved the settlement offer at the Nov. 5 city council meeting. The agreement releases both cities "from and against any claims, demands, assertions or charge relating back to the dispute involving City of Port Orange demanding payment from City of Daytona Beach Shores for approximately 43 months of alleged billing errors by the City of Port Orange relating to what has been commonly referred to as "energy costs."