By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - Land swap negotiations between the city and a developer aimed at getting a development project in Riverwalk off the ground will move forward after city leaders formally resolved policy issues related to the swap.
At a recent special meeting of the City Council and the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency Board, city leaders decided they want to maintain the current vision of a linear riverfront park along Halifax Drive, while also allowing developer Buddy LaCour to retain ownership of one of the riverfront parcels he owns and a portion of another for his proposed 39-slip marina.
Mr. LaCour proposed to exchange five of the six riverfront parcels he and his partners own for 10 parcels the city and CRA own, nine of which are located between Herbert Street and Dunlawton Avenue. City councilors want the land Mr. LaCour owns for a public riverfront park, which they believe will attract future commercial development.
"To me, this property has no value without a park," Councilman Don Burnette said during the meeting.
City leaders also allowed to lease to Mr. LaCour a portion of the land known as "the point," where a large portion of the city's proposed park will be located, for temporary public parking.
Mr. LaCour said he is willing to pay $125,000 to construct the 109 parking spaces on property he owns, but acknowledged it likely would not be enough. He believes city leaders need to work with him on a parking plan for the area to determine how much parking would be needed at Riverwalk.
"I don't want people coming down to the park and we say you can't park here," he said.
Mr. LaCour submitted a site plan in April for development of a 39-slip marina, a marina activity building, including a 30-seat café and a riverboat restaurant, on land he owns. He said he intended to submit more development site plans in the future.
But Councilman Bob Ford expressed skepticism over whether the land exchange would translate to commercial development at Riverwalk.
"The taxpayer is giving up property allegedly for private business without any idea what the development will be," Mr. Ford said. "... I would never do that with my own money and certainly wouldn't do that with the taxpayers'."
Mr. LaCour said he and his partners want to see commercial development in Riverwalk. "We are building a public marina and restaurant where today there is nothing," he said.
In order for a property exchange to occur, city leaders are required to obtain two appraisals from state-approved property appraisers, who would determine the parcels' values based on zoning and land use. It would cost about $50,000 for the appraisals to be done, according to city staff.
City Attorney Margaret Roberts said it's possible the land the city wants for a park could be more valuable than the land Mr. LaCour wants for commercial development, or vice-versa. That could require either the city or Mr. LaCour and his partners to come up with additional cash to make up the difference, she said.
Conceptual plans for Riverwalk date back to 1998, when it was envisioned as a master planned "village-like center." Later plans for the project called for the development of high-rise condominiums, but nothing was built.
Of Riverwalk's 35 acres, the city and CRA own 17 while Mr. LaCour and his partners own 11. The rest are independently owned.