This week we were all broadsided by four agenda items for the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners meeting this past Monday which was released at approximately 4:45 p.m. on Thursday afternoon leaving no time for citizens to do their homework and leading to a lot of speculation.
Alarm bells rang out when two of the four projects were on land that until last week was to be an upscale development featuring 180-multifamily units, along with an 80-bed assisted-living facility and a 32-bed memory care facility complete with an Andrews Institute Rehabilitation Center and commercial retail storefronts. In fact, the zoning was changed with a unanimous vote for that very purpose. Fast forward one year and four months later and we find ourselves looking at “affordable” housing just when many are realizing that “affordable” doesn’t always mean affordable.
It may be affordable to the tenants, but is it really affordable for our community? Shouldn’t we as a community have the opportunity to vet the building projects? We believe Navarre deserves to determine her future. Unfortunately, our status as an unincorporated community leaves it up to those sitting on the County Commission. Commissioners Bob Cole, Lane Lynchard and Don Salter all said on Monday that if all four projects were still on the agenda, they would have voted for all four.
To be fair, when they say they would “vote for all four,” it means they would have voted for the opportunity for one of the projects to be funded. According to one of the developers and county staff, even when the county commissioners vote to give the seal of approval via the $20,000 in State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) funds, only one project in the entire county will be funded. Still, shouldn’t we decide or at least have an input into what that one project might be in Navarre – if any? And oh by the way, out of 11 mandatory members on the SHIP board, only one is from Navarre. How is this truly representative of our county composition?
Navarre is already overburdened with infrastructure needs. Just read the past few months of Navarre Press and you will see the emergency measure taken to handle the treated effluent, the recently discovered broken pipe that spilled 60,000 gallons of raw sewage into our ecosystem, our storm water drainage woes, the overburdened Holley-Navarre fire department, the discussion to move the wastewater treatment plant off of Navarre Beach, not to mention the traffic issues that just this week caused a more than one-hour delay to drive 18 miles east to Hurlburt Field.
So though it seems warm and fuzzy to bring “affordable housing” to the area, we clearly lack the infrastructure to support more and more development without a bonafide Master Plan in place.
Retention ponds from subdivisions which the county assumes responsibilities for (and then passes on to taxpayers) go unmaintained. More businesses would increase the tax base to support improvements, yet those who want to start a business here often have great difficulty dealing with the county’s unfriendly business atmosphere that many decide to open in neighboring counties instead.
Call us paranoid, but we do not trust out-of-town developers to do what is best for our community–especially developers that send a representative who informs the county commissioners that his research into our needs consisted of searches on websites such as Trulia.com and Rent.com.
In the same meeting where the low-income housing was being discussed, the commissioners reiterated several times that if the former Jubilee Property were given to them, they would look at the “highest and best use, look at future needs …conduct a workshop.” They were almost giddy with the prospects. But, when it comes to possibly adding four low-income “projects” to South Santa Rosa County, they just want to rubber stamp it without input because “there is a need.”
The projects on the table are touted as Senior Housing – but without provision for transportation services in an area with no public transportation. One developer said they would provide it – since there isn’t any.
The “altruistic” private developers wanting to build affordable housing are actually getting state monies through the SHIP program, reduced-interest loans, and huge annual federal tax credits which are actually annual write-offs to offset a company’s federal tax obligation and other perks, transforming this process into an inordinately lucrative venture for the developers, but dubious benefit and definite strain on the targeted community.
Commissioner Bob Cole said that the low-income housing was for workforce housing.
We agree with Rob Williamson. He stated that he was not prepared to vote on Thursday because he was still doing his homework. Rob asked the other County Commissioners, “How much affordable housing do we already have in our mix,” while also questioning if this gives the developers an unfair advantage.
Unfortunately, he was thrown off when Commissioner Lynchard said he thought it would be a violation of the Fair Housing Act not to move forward. Fair Housing has nothing to do with income levels. In the end, it sounded like a choice between being fined or allowing the projects, based on a mix of misinformation and lack of understanding of the Fair Housing Act.
Turning down projects to do your homework is reasonable, especially after the ninth-hour notice and the fact that Escambia County just turned down six similar projects in order to look at infrastructure needs and more.
Come on County Commissioners. We are going to receive more and more requests like this in the future. We need a process for vetting. What is wrong with doing your due diligence and not letting out-of-town developers decide what we need? We need to decide. We live here.