At their Feb. 7 meeting, the Port St. Joe Community Redevelopment Agency finalized their new membership, marking the culmination of months of efforts to involve city government in the redevelopment efforts taking place in North Port St. Joe.
The city appointed Eddie Fields as a new member of the CRA, bringing the board’s total head count to eight. Initially the city had wanted to add two new members, but they were unable to generate a list of interested individuals at the meeting.
“We’re getting bogged down in picking another person, and before you know it, you’ll have put it off another month,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman. “So, I make a motion that we move forward with the members we have here.”
The decision follows months of back-and-forth in which the city has attempted to finalize the board in order to address some mounting redevelopment concerns.
These discussions came years after the city’s initial CRA, the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency, was mostly sunsetted, leaving many residents feeling as though the city’s redevelopment was unfinished, particularly in North Port St. Joe.
A CRA is a public entity created by a city or county to implement the community redevelopment activities outlined under the Community Redevelopment Act, which was enacted in 1969.
The act was originally created to prevent the development and further spread of blighted communities by offering resources towards the redevelopment of these areas.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, the board members spent the majority of their time discussing potential projects that could be accomplished with the group’s approximately $64,000 budget.
Among the most-discussed opportunities were potential solutions to address groups congregating on empty lots on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“There are areas where people congregate, and it doesn’t look great,” said Fields. “That’s a deterrent to people looking to develop in North Port St. Joe.”
Police Chief Jake Richards stated that while the majority of the activities conducted by these congregations are entirely lawful, there are relatively frequent instances of crime related to groups gathering along MLK Boulevard.
“I’d say about 20 percent of the people are conducting criminal activity, but the other 80 percent just want to hang out and socialize,” he said. “We want the 20 percent gone, but we don’t want to deter the 80 percent.”
Some proposed that the city look into purchasing a lot nearby, but off of the main drive, to act as a gathering space or pocket park so as to not deter potential development.
But while the group agreed to keep that as an option, they voted to move forward with allowing code enforcement to attempt to curb congregations through the owners of the properties where this frequently happens. in response.
At the end of the meeting, the CRA board voted to change their meeting times to the first tuesday of every month at 11 a.m. EST — one hour before the Board of City Commissioners’ regular meetings.