Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Porthaven - The New Eastpoint
By Richard E. Noble
[Journalism 101 – Franklin County Chronicle: I think this article typifies the traditional Development issue. People often wonder what it was like in Orlando before Disney World. Well “You Are There” in Eastpoint Florida, 2007 B.D. – before Disney. So read ‘em and weep or cheer. This is how it goes – or how it went.]
Alan Pierce introduces the proclamation to be debated before the milling crowd at the Courthouse Annex on April 17, 2007. The proposition centers about a new Multi-use Utopian development that could be the biggest thing to ever happen to the community of Eastpoint. The crowd on hand was one the largest ever. Seats were added to the Annex and people filled the hall and tumbled out into the street.
“Item #4 is a project that is a proposed Comp Plan change to allow a change in the development pattern specifically for the Eastpoint Urban Service Area (USA). And the project, you are all familiar with, probably by its spokespeople - Bruce Millender is here as agent (for the development – Porthaven) and then Dirk VanVeen is also here as a consultant on the project. They have a presentation to make. I will say before they make that presentation that this is a 31 acre parcel of land that would be beneficiary … of this Comp Plan change. In order for that project to move forward it has to have a Comp Plan change first because without a Comp Plan change their type development would not fit our existing rules. The significant thing about the Comp Plan change that they are proposing is that while we allow, currently, mixed use developments in Franklin County - in Eastpoint we allow up to 15 units an acre. We do not currently allow up to 15 units an acre of residential development in a mixed use development. Right now the cap in mixed use development is 4.3 units an acre. So in their case, with 31 acres of land under the current rules at 4.3 units an acre you could have some 144 units on that parcel. (In) Their planned development that they will present – they would like to see more than that. Their proposal is up to 11.3 units an acre ... We need to have a Comp Plan change to allow that higher density – if that is the will of the County Commission. So that is what this … is about. It is about changing the density in the Urban Use Area.”
Mr. Pierce explained that in 1990 Eastpoint was given the designation of Urban Service Area (USA) to encourage development that most felt was passing Eastpoint by. Carrabelle, St. George and Apalachicola were all gaining from new investment and Eastpoint was not. To encourage development in Eastpoint this special higher density incentive (USA) was formulated. The present question is; was the cap of 10% of 2500 acres (Eastpoint land area) that was to be allowed set too high? “The proposal tonight is to cut that (cap) in half – I’m going to tell you tonight that I would like to go below that and go to 3% - so that no more than 3% of Eastpoint could be developed at this higher density. That is a decision (to be made) by the Board. It is not a State law. We can keep it at 10% if we want to but my recommendation is to move it down so that there is some control over the amount of development Eastpoint sees. This gives the Board some assurance that it won’t be rampant ... We will do part of Eastpoint up to 3% and if the Board likes it and the public like it (good; if not) – it could be increased later on. But we are trying to put a limit on the amount of development to begin with, so we have some understanding of what is happening out there. Those are the two issues that need to be changed in the Comp Plan.”
Dirk VanVeen – Project Developer
“My name is Dirk VanVeen with Growth Group Development; I am also a partner on this project along with Bruce Millender, and four or five other guys in the room. I do primarily traditional neighborhood developments – which are mixed use in nature; create town centers; walkway retail and they are relatively dense because of their need to create that … vibrancy in the retail center. It is impossible to develop walkable retail without a denser potential environment.” Mr. VanVeen then described their plan which takes into consideration cultural and heritage tourism. He described his concerns with the sport fishing and commercial fishing that Franklin County “has been about for the last 250 years”.
Judy Waldron – Heritage Tourism
“My name is Judy Waldron. I am actually from Denver Colorado. My work is working with rural communities all over America that are looking at tourism as a sustainable economic base for their economies. This area is already into tourism. But one of the things I was struck by when I was here is what incredible potential you have for a specific kind of tourism called heritage tourism. It is one of the fastest growing and important segments in the United States today for this very reason. And that is that heritage travelers – (are) people who are interested in the history, people and what makes one place on earth specific and different from the rest of America. When I was here, I was struck by the fact that you have this wonderful bay. There’s the estuary; there’s the protection certainly in terms of the wildlife preserves, state parks, but one of the things that I didn’t see was - where is the protection for the way of life and for what I see as a very unique culture here. So one of the things that I am bringing today is the hope that whatever happens in this region it acknowledges that there is this segment of tourism, called heritage tourism which attracts travelers who are what I call “a high value traveler”. They are people who appreciate who you are; what you have; are willing to pay a fair price to experience it and play by your rules. In terms of all the places that I have worked in the United States (I know) that there are a lot of rural areas that have a real tough time coming up with a unique story. But this story of Apalachicola Bay and the fishermen who work it, I think is a world class story. One of the reasons is in terms of heritage tourism is the baby boomers. Tourism is going to be driven in the next twenty years by demographics. I am at the front end of the baby boomers with twenty years of people behind me and there are people who are looking for two things - authenticity and quality. They have been to Disney Land; they’ve watched a ga-zillion movies; they watch TV all the time; they have the ability to travel wherever they would like to go and they want to go someplace that is “real”. The last time I was here, I was struck by how colorful – not just East Bay and Apalachicola are but the whole region in terms of a heritage area that I think is very significant in terms of the entire United States.”
Mr. VanVeen then returned to the podium to give a lengthly description and analysis of the proposed project. He first reminded everyone that what he was presenting was only a “proposal” and that the objective before the Board this afternoon was merely to get the Board’s approval for further and more detailed specifics once the concept had been accepted. In other words what was being decided at this commission meeting was whether not this type of project would be accepted as possible and favorable to the Board and to this community.
For me to try and describe this project would be rather difficult indeed. Descriptive packets were handed out. The packet was well over one hundred pages. There were diagrams, drawings, pictures of this “New Utopian Village” and other developments that Growth Group have been responsible for developing. I can only say that what is being described is beyond any dream that I have ever been able to conger up for a future Eastpoint. I am stunned. You must go out and find one of these packets for yourself.
I can only say that the only comparable vision that comes to my mind when I look through the packet is one of the “colonies” reproduced at Epcot in Disney World. But unlike Disney World this project will, of course, only cover 31 acres in downtown Eastpoint and not miles. The waterfront will be left open with a park-like setting and the commercial oyster and fishing fleet will remain. Supposedly there will only be one building on the southside of 98 and that will be seafood related. Across the highway, the future Utopian Village of Eastpoint will be constructed.
This will consist of the tourist attraction shopping plaza, complete with gift shops, restaurants etc. with upstairs apartments and living space. There will also be residential areas in several different forms and styles. They will include single family detached, single family attached, multi family, civic space and open space.
The advocates made several claims and supported their claims with written print outs. One claim was that this type of high density was more environmentally compatible than the conventional and already approved residential high density.
The second claim had to do with the already polluted area behind the Eastpoint breakwater and the pollution caused by the storm water runoff from highway 98. Their plan would supposedly deal with these problems and improve even the present situation – in effect things would get better not worse. They brought research that had been completed showing the cadmium content along with other toxic chemicals. Then they explained how their development would improve these conditions and not cause further deterioration.
In their hour long presentation the advocates went on to state all the traditional arguments that most of us who have lived here for any length of time know very well:
This new development will bring jobs, pay taxes, attract tourist, enhance the struggling infrastructure, and improve the overstressed sewer company and much, much more.
Then there began a lengthily and intense public debate. Both those for the development and those against the development were well represented. The debate often became heated and on different occasions people shouted from their seats or from the back of the room. But Chairman Crofton kept a lid on the crowd by keeping a focus on the issue being presented to the Board and restraining any of the speakers from turning their statement from the Board to individuals in the audience. The proceeding was kept reasonably civil but certainly the debate could have gone on all evening.
Frank Segree Jr. - Longtime Eastpoint Resident
“In my lifetime this is the fifth Commissioners meeting that I have been to. But today I think that it is necessary to come over here from what I have been hearing. I’m a Democrat. I’ve lived in Eastpoint most of my life. I went to school with Bevin and with (Ms. Sanders) mother and her daddy. I’m pretty well known around here. This has been one of the most disgusting things that I have ever heard. Both sides of us (Carrabelle and Apalachicola) … is built up beautifully. I ain’t seen nothin’ so pretty as Carrabelle … When I was a boy there was no Eastpoint where it is now. There was one building; the rest of them was on the Point. We put a lot of public money and a lot of private money into the (Eastpoint) channel. But I would like to see this project go forward. And most of my people would. There are other folks who feel differently than I do – but this is America and you can feel anyway that you want to. I really think before we go and shoot this thing down we ought to have a referendum of the voters. Now there’s walkboard talk or deck talk and I’ll tell you I can start a rumor down there that will make it storm – I’ve done it two or three times before. I don’t care what we build over there if someone starts contaminating it, we gonna tell them to stop ... We have (already) lost all of our heritage; we used to eat oysters all the year round. I’ve never been sick off eating an oyster. I don’t eat them regular anymore because I can’t afford ‘em. I went to the University of Catpoint for a good many years. My folks have been in the seafood business since before the turn of the century. Now I would like to really see Eastpoint go forward because you all know as well as I know that there ain’t never going to be anymore seafood houses out along that dock. I respect what the man said about time limits but if the next time we have a meeting if we gonna have three minute or five minute talks – put that in the paper and I won’t even bother to come. [The crowd all applauded] I could stand up here forever and have a fillerbuster but I want to see this project get going. I want to see some money going over there and you can start it tomorrow.”
The room broke into a large round of applause with cheers and laughter.
“Okay,” said Mr. Croften, “is there anyone out there who thinks that they can follow that?”
Rick Buzbee then stepped forward to support what Mr. Segree had said and added that he wanted to see more jobs here in Eastpoint. “The kids are all going to leave here if we don’t give ‘em something (to do).” He went on to point out that all his children, nieces and nephews have all had to leave town because of lack of employment opportunities.
Mary Lou Short – Island Business Owner and Resident
“I am here to today in support of this Project. We continually approve five acres here and ten acres there with no control, no say to the impact on the Bay. And collectively I believe we have lost control over the development of our County. A PUD (Planned Unit Development) offers the only alternative to controlling the impact a project has on the Bay and the County as a whole. The PUD process is a long and arduous process through many of the state agencies who will carefully scrutinize the project with its impact on the Bay; the economic impact on the County and in other areas. During the process many issues may be raised and resolved or the developer will not be able to continue. As I see it Franklin County does not have a viable plan for economic development. While the protection of the Bay is of great importance to all of us, the challenge for you is to balance the protection of the Bay with economic development which is so important to the citizens of this County. It is as important to the livelihood of the seafood workers as it is to those of us who are involved in tourism and development. Commissioners it is time to take into consideration not just the livelihood of the seafood workers but of the many people in this County who depend on development and economic progress for their livelihood. There needs to be a balance in the decisions you make. Commissioner Crofton there are over forty-six businesses in your district alone. And that’s not counting those of us who depend on tourism who would benefit from your consideration of the merits of the Porthaven Project. An example I would like to offer to the Commission that in denying the recent Phoenix Harbor PUD you denied citizens of this County – especially those involved in development and construction - over 34 million dollars in potential income. I mention this … to use as an example of how your decision impacts many in the County.”
Ms. Short went on to list all the multiple and various businesses involved in construction, building, retail sales, landscaping, interior design, maintenance, home repair and upkeep, the skilled trades –carpenters, plumbers, electricians etc. that were adversely affected by the Phoenix Harbor negative decision – workers and owners, businessmen and developers. She suggested that no one who lives here wants to hurt the Bay or its seafood workers but there are others to be considered who have a right to be considered equally.
“I want to emphasize to you that as long as I have lived here … I have never heard anybody come up here and say, ‘I want to do a project that is going to hurt the Bay’ ... There is nothing that I want to do to take jobs away from the seafood workers. There is nothing I want to do to take jobs away from the seafood industry. But I would ask for your vote to move the Project as presented on to the next phase.”
Ms. Short received a substantial round of applause.
Billy Granger – Eastpoint Longtime Resident
“I’ve been with this County for a long time. I sat on two Boards – the Board of Adjustments and when they first started to pass this Comprehensive Plan, I was on that Board too. We went many a day and many a night talking about all of this stuff. But the main thing is if you build this thing in there, you are going to kill that bay – Catpoint will be gone ... if you put all of this stuff in there, you know yourself, Catpoint is gonna be gone. East hole is right over there across from it and that will be the next thing to go. If you pass it you are not going to need anything for the oysters – you are not going to have any to deal with. I ask all of you not to vote for this thing but to vote against it.”
Mr. Granger received a substantial round of applause from the crowd.
The next speaker was also against the project on the grounds that the increased density was too high. “Fifteen is too high. We need to go for a lower number; we need to work on that,” he said. He was followed by another seafood worker who expressed concerns that there would be no place for the workboats to tie up their boats. Bruce Millender, one of the Project investors, then asked if he could be allowed to address those issues. His request was granted.
“I’ve been here six generations. I’m involved with this project and I really want to see the seafood industry stay there. This is all private land now and I would like to see a thousand to twelve hundred foot stay as open area and we have designed places for the boats to launch and recover and tie up and that is going to be written into the plan. That plan can’t be changed. That is our heritage and my life’s dream is to be able to keep that heritage in Franklin County alive. Eastpoint is home to me. I got kids and I got grand kids … I’d like to be able to say that I helped to save that waterfront. That waterfront is private land and it will be developed. But with this plan we can make sure that that waterfront will always belong to the people of Eastpoint.” More applause.
“My name is Jean Creamer. I am from … Eastpoint. I am right across the road from where everything is supposed to be developed. I do not agree with it at all. I don’t want any part of it there because everybody doesn’t realize … you all need to go and look around. I have been to South Carolina, Savanna Georgia … and this is not for the seafood man at all. It is for all the other people who have plenty of money. There is not one person around here that can afford $400,000 for a place off the regular minimum wages that everyone makes around here. There is nobody that can afford that. Everybody is leaving now even my kids because they can not afford a piece of property at Franklin County anymore. That is sad. We have been here for years and years and years. It is not right for some development to come in here and take it all away from everybody and make everybody move as soon as they get their places paid for and ready to go. Eastpoint is history for the working man who works on Catpoint ...” Ms. Creamer pointed out that even paving the roads helps to pollute the Bay. “Everybody comes here to eat seafood – fresh seafood – they are not going to get it anymore.”
Ms. Creamer received a few yelps and hollers but a rather subdued and sporadic response.
The next woman to speak, Carolina Laurie, was also against the program. She had been a school teacher all her life. Her main contention was that the promised new jobs touted to pay $28,000 on the average were not good enough in today’s modern world of escalating costs, standard of living and rising paychecks. “This isn’t going to do it folks,” she warned. She pointed out that most of the jobs that were being offered would not have health insurance and medical coverage, nor would they provide security in old age or even a successful income in today’s world. She wanted to know how much money the sponsors of this project were putting aside for job training for the people who are going to run these businesses and work in these establishments. “How much money have they earmarked for training your children so that they can enjoy this Eastpoint development? They sure can’t afford to live there on $350 a week.” Her concern was for the training, education, and opportunities for the people living here and their children as opposed to new jobs for new people.
The applause was modest.
The next gentleman, Frank Venable, was also against the project. “Anyone has the right to sell their property to anyone that they want to. But the person who buys that property does not have the right to develop it any way that he wants to.”
Mr. Venable’s first concern was with the density and the changing of the Comp Plan. He was also troubled by over-development along the coast of Florida and mentioned nearby areas to emphasize his point. He pointed out that overdevelopment had left many properties unsold and had only served to add increases in storm water runoff. “More people means more pollution,” he warned. He felt that bayside development was threatening to water quality. He supported the notion that any jobs created would not benefit those living here now. He went so far as to claim that the new jobs would not even surpass the old jobs traditionally provided by the seafood industry. He was convinced that local people would not be trained for any of the better jobs that might be made available by the project and that all these jobs would be filled by “out-of-towners”. He also claimed that Franklin County had the third highest employment rate in the state and he wondered where the workers would come from to fill the slots for the 600 jobs that were coming to the area. He doubted the accuracy of the proposed number of jobs altogether. He was concerned with the inadequacy of the fire department.
People from the audience began complaining and speaking out from their seats that this gentleman was over his speaking time limit. They wanted him to sit down. The rumble erupted into a roar as people began shouting that this man’s time was up. The roar and rumble persisted until the chairman was forced to bang his gavel.
“Okay, hold on here,” commissioner Crofton shouted. He advised the speaker to continue but to sum up his arguments.
The gentleman then made a statement about wetland infringements and this brought the program sponsors to their feet. They asked the Board if they would be allowed to counter the gentleman’s remarks. Mr. Crofton avoided the confrontation by stating that the statement made was rhetorical and that a reply was not necessary. Mr. Venable then mentioned a pond in the area and an argument ensued between the speaker and members of the audience as to the existence of such a pond. The Chairman then had to chastise the speaker and the members from the audience for not directing their comments to the Board.
“I don’t want any arguing among the people out here,” Mr. Crofton admonished. “You are here to provide the Board with information so that the Board will be able to make a decision. That is the reason that we are here. Anything else is counter-productive.”
Mr. Venable then summed up his arguments which were to go by the rules as established and make no changes to the Comp Plan – thus denying the Proposed Project.
Before he had completed his statements the crowd shouted him down once again and when he finally went to his seat there was an eruption of applause. Whether the applause was in favor of his speech or in response to his sitting down would be a judgment on the part of the listener.
Ms. Segree was in favor of the project. “It is time for Eastpoint to have something!” she said and the room bust into applause and cheers. “We have been the ugly stepsister ever since this place has been a County ... We need to be developed. We need to get rid of that ugly stuff on the waterfront and this Project will not hurt the Bay ... Oystering is not like it used to be. I used to love to shuck oysters and it was a good job. But I would like to see things happen in Eastpoint … Why can’t we have something in Eastpoint that will benefit the community.” She told the Board that she had worked on improving the literacy in Franklin County for over twelve years and that if people were leaving Franklin County they were leaving because they wanted to – not because anyone was forcing them to.
“The state has regulated the seafood industry to death. The state has regulated one thing after another and another. They are the ones that are taking away your rights.” Ms. Segree then talked to the instability of the seafood business. She talked of the hurricanes and the storms and the shutdowns, and the natural hardships involved in that industry. “Times are changing and we have got to change with the time. There is nothing here that is going to hurt the Bay and we can have the best of both worlds. I just don’t see the problem, myself.”
The speakers went on and on and the pro and the cons were evenly divided. Billy Dalton, Caty Greene, Dave McLain (River Keeper), Bruce Rotella, Curtis Nowling, Richard Harper (Concerned Citizens of Franklin County), Willard Vinson (ex-commissioner), Andy Smith (River Keeper) and others spoke against the Project. Bonnie Segree, Donna Shiver, Joyce Estes, Duey Shiver (retired oyster dealer) Rene’ Griffin, Lynn Martina (oyster dealer), Abbie Shiver (business owner), Paula Lombardi (business owner) and others spoke in favor of the Project.
Most of the arguments were a repetition of what came before but with a different emphasis, or a more or less colorful or plain style on the part of the speaker. One could really not look into the faces in the audience and determine who would be in favor and who would be opposed. There were oystermen who were against the Project and there were oystermen who were in favor of the Project; there were business people for the Project and business people against; there were old-timers who said yea and old-timers who said nae.
One lady came with a manual on Development and she read a paragraph she thought pertinent. It was in criticism of communities around the country who were turning to tourism as a viable economic plan for their future.
Another lady bemoaned the fact that for year, after year, after year development projects had been turned down in Eastpoint and the County with the Bay being used as the excuse.
There were local environmental organizations who spoke against the project while representatives from other organizations spoke in favor. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that there were more people in attendance that were in favor than who were opposed – but I couldn’t really say for sure.
The big question though was whether the Board was in favor or opposed. I was not sure. There were people in the audience who thought they knew but nobody was sure. Once again as with the Phoenix Harbor PUD decision when the time came for someone on the Board to put forward a motion all the Board members suddenly found that they had left a shoe untied or there was a spot on their tie or dress – nobody wanted to be first to suggest anything. As the silence grew people in the audience began to shout for Mr. Crofton to pass the gavel – and finally he did. The crowd erupted. They applauded and cheered. For a moment it felt like the Babe or Ted Williams had stepped to the plate in the last of the ninth with the bases loaded. Would he smack it out of the park, slam a base hit, bunt or strike out?
“I have never done that before and I really don’t like doing it,” said Mr. Crofton. “I will make the motion that we approve the project but at 12 units per acre … and in 8.10 that we have not talked about – change the high density in the Eastpoint USA to no more than 3% of the area outside the Coastal High Hazard Zone and I submit that as a motion …”
Mr. Lockley who had received the gavel then repeated Mr. Crofton’s motion and asked if there was a second. There was silence and the silence continued until the crowd began to rumble. As the Board sat in silence the audience began to speak out and shout for someone to second the motion. “There is another election coming up,” one lady shouted in a threatening tone.
“Okay, the motion dies for the lack of a second,” said Mr. Lockley.
People began to rise from their seats. Many were grumbling and taking about the next election. Then when everyone thought that it was over one of the project developers stepped back up to the podium and made a request.
“Mr. Chairman or Mr. Crofton will you make a motion for 10 units per acre?” A few members of the audience stopped in their tracks and began to speak out to the Board once again.
“Okay, I’m going to make another motion for 10 units per acre and in those 3 places under 8.8 and the 3% of the area in 8.10.”
Mr. Parrish immediately seconded Mr. Crofton’s new motion and the crowd erupted into cheers, whistles, and screams of approval. The motion was then approved unanimously by the remainder of the Board members.