Today’s (Dec. 13) planning board meeting could see one of the largest crowds of irate citizens ever to descend on city hall in Panama City, Fla., city officials said.
Residents near a proposed high-end motorcoach resort along Back Beach Road are opposing a change in development plans that single-family homeowners insist will result in noise and activity that is not compatible with the area, the Panama City News Herald reported.
City and county planning departments, as well as heavyweight land developer The St. Joe Co., also have expressed concerns about the controversial RV park that was once planned as the site of high-end condos with ties to country music star Alan Jackson.
In an added twist to the new property designs, the father of a member of the city’s planning board owns vacant land adjacent to the proposed park. Because of the possible conflict of interest, planning board Vice Chairman Del Lee will have to recuse himself from the meeting to determine whether the land-use change will be granted, city Planning and Building Director Mel Leonard said. Lee could not be reached for comment.
Robert Carroll, vice president of McNeil Carroll Engineering, which is representing developer Nashyork LLC in the change of plans, has sent out a letter to nearby residents hoping to calm the fears.
Carroll writes that the park will “only allow Class A motorcoaches within the property. Towable RVs are not allowed on the property.
But in a letter to the city dated Dec. 1, Bay County Planning Director Martin J. Jacobson said he was troubled the development plans seemed inconsistent with the county’s single-family residences to the south and west of the site. He also worried whether the park would place too high a burden on Back Beach Road traffic.
“We question whether the project meets the test of providing sufficient public benefit to allow for a deviation from the city’s regulations,” Jacobson wrote. He concluded in his letter that he “assumed” the change request would be seen as a “substantial deviation” from previous plans.
Echoing some of the same concerns, a staff report by the city planning department questions whether the combination of a motorcoach and a 250-square-foot permanent “casita” on each lot meets the city’s size-and-use requirement for an area zoned single-family residential.
“Activities customary to RV camping include but are not limited to: campfires, outdoor activities possibly involving music/television, and late-night/early morning arrivals possibly with back-up alarms,” the staff report states.
Leonard said the park would function basically as a campground, with vacationers staying outdoors and all the noise that entails. Plans call for 101 lots on 14.5 acres, with each lot having a 250-square-foot “accessory cabana,” which landowning company Nashyork wants recognized as living space.
The new scheme must be approved by the planning board because it is a deviation from the property’s original master plan submitted four years ago just prior to a much-ballyhooed ground-breaking attended by Jackson.
Left the barn
In a letter dated Dec. 7 and hand-delivered to Leonard, Carroll requested a delay in the planning board meeting so he could meet with nearby residents to soothe their alarm.
“Due to the amount of inquiries from the neighbors, we have decided that it would be more beneficial to hold a neighborhood meeting prior to having a public hearing to discuss the proposed project,” Carroll writes.
But Leonard said that horse already left the barn.
“He doesn’t have the power to postpone it,” Leonard said. “All he can do at this point is withdraw the application.”
Leonard said Carroll can come to the meeting and request a delay, but planning board members must make that decision. “Oh yes, the meeting will take place,” Leonard said.
The 14.5 acres for the RV park is the largest parcel of a 18.9-acre, three-lot bundle included in the original plans, with the two other lots designated for professional and business use, one of which is partly owned by Del Lee’s father, T.E. “Bo” Lee, with the other owned by The Bank of Bonifay.
T.E. Lee said he thought the addition of a high-end motor coach park would add value to the area.
“I think it would be an asset to the community,” Lee said. “I think it’s going to be a coming trend, these high-end motor coaches. I’ve seen some of these parks, and they are beautiful.”
The 1.5 acres Lee represents lies just east of the proposed RV park and is now vacant, Lee said, noting it is also up for sale. Leonard said the three parcels in the total 18.9 acres are tied together in a master plan calling for residential, open spaces, and professional and business uses.
Leonard said officials with St. Joe, a large Panhandle land development company that donated the land for the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, also have expressed doubts about the new proposal and will attend the Dec. 13 planning board meeting.
St. Joe plans to enter written comments into the public record so the company will have standing in any later court proceedings, Leonard said.
“I suggest you get here early,” Leonard said of the 2 p.m. meeting, where he said a crowd of 100 to 200 is expected. The issue of the RV park is the only item on the agenda, he said.
City Manager Richard Jackson said that in his memory, the largest crowd ever to come to a meeting at city hall numbered about 150. “And that was years ago,” he said.