By Suzy Kridner
NEW SMYRNA BEACH - Developers of the Causeway Landings apartment project on the North Causeway are contemplating their next move after residents strongly opposed tentative plans presented at a public meeting.
Despite a PowerPoint presentation and a lengthy question and answer session with representatives of the developers, Atlantic Housing Partners of Winter Park, the audience loudly expressed their displeasure last week to a 238-unit rental complex. There were cheers and applause to comments such as, "we're against what you're doing."
Estimates for the crowd, the majority dressed in red to signify they want to stop the project, ranged from 200 to 600.
No matter what was said by the developers, local residents had their minds made up.
A presentation that began with photos of other housing complexes that earned Atlantic Partners a 2011 Aurora Award for design excellence didn't sway the residents, some of them vacation home owners who drove over from the Orlando area. They came out to protest the apartment complex being considered on mostly vacant land Atlantic Housing Partners owns on the north side of the North Causeway.
The theme of the night was that New Smyrna Beach is a wonderful town with wonderful people.
"If you do it the right way, it will make you a lot of money," said one long-time resident who, like many of the others, favored a 2005 condominium plan for the property.
New Smyrna Beach businesswoman and long-time resident Sally Gillespie was an unofficial spokeswoman for the group.
"We are concerned about the plans for affordable and workforce housing," Ms. Gillespie said. "It's not compatible with the North Causeway."
She said many also were concerned about the economic return this project would bring to the community.
"We're concerned not just with the economic integrity of the North Causeway, but the economic integrity of the entire community," Ms. Gillespie said.
The only application submitted to the city so far by Atlantic Housing is a request for a grocery store on the site of the one building still on the property.
That request to be considered by the city's plan review committee has been postponed to Oct. 5, according to Gail Henrikson, the city's planning manager.
One of the presenters for Atlantic Housing, Marc Gauthier, said "We still need to make that decision," when asked about their next move for the project.
One group that is planning their next move is the New Smyrna Beach Citizens for Smart Growth.
Martin Danaher, who is in the process of moving to the city full-time, said, after the meeting, the Smart Growth group came about from projects being considered by the city, such as the request to dock the Delta Queen steamboat along the North Causeway, improvements to Canal Street and the beachside, and now the apartment project on the North Causeway
People started asking, "What's going on here," Mr. Danaher said. "There is no vision, no request for community input."
He said the 2005 development agreement for the North Causeway property was for 202 condominiums.
"It's just not the same thing as apartments," he said.
"The reason people got so excited was the attitude that this was just going to roll through, be a slam dunk," Mr. Danaher said.
"The attitude of city staff was this was just going to happen," he said.
The people don't want this, he said, echoing the speakers at the meeting Sept. 5. "Just build what is already approved."
The Smart Growth group is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization with a board of directors, Mr. Danaher said. "We want to partner with the city to form a vision."
"I love what's going on downtown, on the West Side, on beachside. The promise of New Smyrna Beach will come to fruition and not be spoiled," he said. "But we need to plan ahead as a community."
"We're forming a group so we will be relevant to the city. We all love this city," he said.
Several speakers talked about the North Causeway being the link between the beachside and Canal Street.
Mr. Gauthier of Atlantic Housing said the property is already zoned for R4 multi-residential and MU for mixed use, which includes retail.
Part of the property is waterfront.
Under current zoning, he said, Atlantic Housing can build:
. Multi-family apartments at 18 units per acre (258 units)
. Four-story buildings (45 feet high) along the western boundary.
. Seven-story buildings (82 feet high) on the balance of the site
. Commercial space (in addition to the apartments), except at the west end, which is zoned residential.
Mr. Gauthier said four-story buildings are in the current plans.