By ALICIA LEONARD
The DeFuniak Springs Planning Board met in their regularly scheduled session on Aug. 1, 2011. The board had before them a request to set a public hearing date and a request to approve a preliminary project plan.
Chairman Ryan Douglas open the meeting by calling it to order. The board then moved to approve the board meeting minutes from July 7, 2001. The motion passed unanimously.
The board moved on to set a public hearing date for a request by Jerry Evans Funeral Home LLC., to construct and operate a crematorium within a C-1 Commercial Restricted District. Board member Roger Leatherberry was first to make a motion on the request and Lee Thomas seconded the motion that the public hearing be set for Sept. 6, 2011.
Next in front of the board was a request for project preliminary approval of a three-story, 80 unit apartment complex for senior citizens in the Orange Park area. Don “Chip” Moore, one of the developers, came forward to discuss the request with the board. The proposed plan will be called Arbours at Orange Park and is being proposed by the same developers that built the Arbours complex on Shoemaker Drive earlier this year This request was only to get the ball rolling in the development of a plan to bring back before the board at a later date.
Moore said that the development group decided to come and request the preliminary plan after the reception they received after opening their first project. “We saw a need and we were really overwhelmed by the response we got. We know the area needs affordable house for the elderly and we would like to fulfill that need.”
Board member Lee Thomas told Moore he had reservations about the area they wanted to build in, “I have some concerns about safety in that area, especially when it rains. I grew up in that area, played in that area as a kid and I know it is prone to flood very quickly. I’m interested in what type of safety measure will be in place for the elderly.”
Moore told Thomas there would be a thorough vetting process as they move though the approval process and “I certainly don’t want to build in a flood area. Your concerns are our concerns.”
Board member Kirby Rushing added, “They’ll have to go through all the safety issues before they can ever get the permits and such.”
Thomas said, “I agree that we need this, I am just concerned in their area.”
City attorney Clayton Adkinson told Thomas that he could speak with staff about his concerns through the process, but if the request was for a structure that complies with the zoning of the area that would be addressed that night.
Thomas responded, “You’re asking me to sign off on something that I’m not certain in my own personal knowledge is safe.”
Adkinson responded, “With all due respect, your personal knowledge is not going to be something you can interject. It has to be substantial competent evidence for us to address that further. There’s no problem with you saying to Mr. Scovile and staff, I’m concerned about this and you need to pay special attention to this. If he decides (Moore) to go forward with a final plan, he will have to adhere to everything our staff and codes requires.”
Adkinson added that this was just a preliminary plan (conceptually) and all Moore was requesting is approval to get all the information needed to come back and supply the board with what was necessary to make a decision. Also, the final plan, before construction was ever started would have to pass the board’s approval as well as the city Council.
Board member Don Truitt brought another question to Moore, “You’re going to apply for tax credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. I have a problem with that. You’re from Alabama and you’re going to apply for those and our DeFuniak Housing Authority applies for those as well, so you’re competing against them.”
Moore responded that application for the credits was a very competitive process and he was not aware that he was competing with them. “I think we share a common goal, and that is affordable housing for the elderly and I hope that would be the goal for this board as well, affordable housing. But I didn’t know that, but if you have two entities applying for that credit, you would have a better chance for one of them getting it, than if only one was applying. This is still a long way off for us, but we have to take this first step. We want something that we and the community can be proud of.”
Thomas also requested information from Walton County Fire Chief Brian Coley about safety requirements or conditions of evacuating a three-story building with elderly inside. Coley responded that his staff was well versed in working through problems and thought they could handle any future issues. “Our staff is pretty creative when they get pressed into an issue and we can figure out a way to handle them. If there are access problems, we will handle those when we are presented with a plan.”
After more discussion and a public comment by J.B. Hillard ” I’m not saying I’m for this or against this.With the new business friendly-city Council we have, will this enhance business in DeFuniak? We have lots of subsidized housing in DeFuniak and I would just ask will it be good for DeFuniak?”
Moore addressed Hillard’s concerns and after a little discussion between him and Adkinson, Moore conformed that everyone who applies to live at the complex must have a job and steady income. “We don’t give out vouchers or do any of those things, we just supply people who make a little less at their jobs with a nicer place to live than was available before.” Applicants for both complexes must meet criteria and one of those is they must be in the 60 percentile of the area’s median income to qualify to live there. Rent for the complexes Moore had told the board earlier are around $400-$500 every month.
Leatherberry moved to approve the request with an extensive set of conditions set by City Planner Greg Scoville for the process. Rushing seconded the motion. The preliminary plan passed with all but two nays, by Thomas and Truitt.