Franklin County commissioners said no Tuesday morning to a plan to convert commercially zoned land in Eastpoint into a residential area that the owner intends for workforce housing.
By a 4-1 vote, with Noah Lockley in opposition, the commissioners said no to a proposal to rezone 4.5 acres, in the vicinity of the intersection of U.S. 98 and South Bayshore Drive, to R-7 which would have allowed up to 10 units per acre.
Dan Garlick, environmental engineer for the project, said the owners, Sea-Cured Storage LLC, planned to put in 44 units on the acreage.
The two principals of Sea-Cured are Zach Ferrell, a real estate agent out of Lynn Haven, and Patrick Ferguson, a real estate investor out of Oxford, Mississippi, who in 2020 purchased the Chapman House in Apalachicola. Ferrell is a manager of the restaurant group that has an interest in the Franklin Café at the Gibson Inn and plans to revive Boss Oyster.
Garlick, who was returning with a conceptual layout after the initial plan after commissioners nixed the initial proposal earlier this year, said the owners planned to construct quadruplexes and duplexes, with about 70 percent of them intended as rentals for the company’s workers.
“He wants them to be available for his workforce. He’s trying to make rooms available for his people, he’s not trying to sell them,” he told the commission. “He’s trying to develop houses for his people, mainly for rent.”
Because the land is an Opportunity Zone, it offers tax advantages that can mitigate capital gains taxes. The nearby 55-acre Serenity Seaside Resort planned unit development, approved in July 2019, touted those tax advantages when it secured approval for the project, off of South Bayshore Drive.
Garlick made clear the proposed project would not be connected to South Bayshore, with a large buffer and wetlands between it and the Los Brisas neighborhood.
But his words did little to assuage concerns of area residents who argued against the zoning change.
Howard Anderson, who lives at 85 South Bayshore, said the growth will impact the area adversely.
“We are concerned if you introduce a high-density area, it creates a lot more pressure on an R-1 neighborhood already developing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “We are concerned about traffic and we have been concerned we haven’t heard about definitions (of workforce housing). We would like to support those commissioners who are against this change.”
Deborah Stamatinos, who lives in the area, said she was concerned there was no traffic light at that corner. “The sheriff is trying very hard to slow people down,” she said.
Mike Thornburg, also from Eastpoint, said a limited amount of available commercial space is a key concern in evaluating whether to make what he called “spot zoning.”
“I’m all for workforce housing,” he said. “But we don’t know what prices are going to be. Can people afford it?”
Thornburg pointed to undeveloped subdivisions up Highway 65, near the sheriff’s office and the Franklin County Schools, as more conducive to residential development.
“There’s nothing to stop them from coming back and saying we’re going (to allow) a BNB or a VRBO,” he said, referring to two forms of lucrative short-term rental options.
“We don’t know how many are workforce houses,” Thornburg said. “People are having trouble finding office space. Keeping it as it is is in the best interests of county taxpayers and future growth.”
Garlick said the owner has agreed to put in deed restrictions that would ensure it remain workforce housing. “We’ll have several left over for teachers and police officers,” he said.
Gail Riegelmayer, from St. George Island, said she questioned the location, “I am all about needing affordable or workforce housing in Franklin County, we’re in dire need of that,” she said. “I don’t think the location is the best spot. There are plenty of other areas where this would be more conducive to. It’s a bad idea to change a comp plan, and mixing residences with business is not a good, responsible development space,” she said.
Riegelmayer said that while the proposed project does not front the corner of South Bayshore and US 98, it will affect traffic flow and congestion. “It will create lots and lots more traffic unnecessarily,” she said.
“I know the intentions are honorable but there’s no definition what constitutes workforce housing,” Riegelmayer said. “What is the price point for land, what is the price point for the units? We need to define as a county what defines workforce housing.”
She closed by asking “what prevents it from becoming low income housing?” citing the example of Denton Cove, now going up on the site of the former Apalachicola High School.
“It was originally promoted as workforce housing, only to find after the fact that people we really want to help earn too much to afford living in Denton Cove,” Riegelmayer said.
After asking for a clearer definition of what would make the units affordable, Lockley offered the only support for the project.
“If this is some way for people to get some housing at a decent price, I’m for it,” he said, citing the ease in which developers put in short-term rental housing throughout the county.
“You can put a motel in the heart of town, but you can’t put in a house?” he asked. “We need affordable housing, but we have to make sure they’re affordable.”
Chairman Ricky Jones, in whose district the project would be located, said he believed the zoning change would have a negative effect on Eastpoint’s commercial boom.
“Now more than ever Eastpoint has started to have economic development,” he said. “The only issue I have is we’ll hamstring the positive zones we have if we start to put residences in this area. There’s so many things we need with the economy and business, and if we give it up for residential, we’re going to experience more problems.”
Jessica Ward, who seconded Smokey Parrish’s motion to deny, said she did not believe this is area was the right place for the proposed workforce housing.
“This property owner split this land up, (and) sold off pieces of dirt to make it this way,” she said. “There are other areas better suited for affordable housing.”