It’s not often that you see a split vote on something in local government. Since the beginning of Mid Bay News six months ago, I can only think of one other time the council did not vote unanimously on a topic.
The Council voted down a request from a developer for permission to move forward with a 100-unit apartment complex on Cedar Avenue – just south of John Sims Parkway by a vote of 3-2. This doesn’t mean the end of the line for the project though – the proposal can be revived by one council person who previously voted no.
That sounds like it might be a real possibility – should the developer decide to add a sidewalk to Cedar Avenue’s west side.
The apartment complex – which would be developed by local builder Randy Wise – would have an urban feel. In addition to the 100 apartment units on the property, the plot of land would also play host to approximately 4,200 square feet of commercial space as well.
Additionally, the complex has a wetland area that cuts the piece of land essentially in half. The developer wants to put a bridge or other walkway above the wetlands later. They did not include the bridge in the current plans because of the additional permitting that would be required. The complex would also have internal sidewalks for people to traverse the property without having to get on Cedar Avenue.
“[A sidewalk is] not required in the code,” said Matt Zinke – the engineer on the project. “We don’t mind doing two crosswalks, but that’s not something that is actually required. Obviously, we want to do whatever is asked of us within reason. Maybe two crosswalks, but putting a crosswalk on the west side does not seem to, in my opinion, really provide much.”
But the council’s three nay votes – by Mayor Pro Tem Bill Schaetzle, Councilwoman Cathy Alley and Councilman Abner Williams didn’t come to pass because they don’t like the idea of more affordable housing in the city. Their concerns centered around the safety of pedestrians in the area. “I’m not opposed to having a 100-unit complex down there,” Councilman Schaetzle said, “there is obviously going to be families down there – and I am concerned that in a small area – you’re going to cross Cedar Avenue and Cedar Avenue is going to be a very busy street – especially when you get a 100 units down there – and I am looking out for the protection of our citizens.”
City Councilwoman Cathy Alley also objected to the apartment complex due to a lack of sidewalk plan. She argued that children would cross from one side of Cedar to the other at any point on the road – instead of walking south, crossing at the crosswalk at 27th street, and then going north toward the middle and high school.
The planning commission – which vets all developments before going to the city council for final approval – approved the development plans 4-2 in their meeting earlier in June – but also had some concerns over the sidewalk situation.
The plans, as they were proposed, meet the Niceville land development code. This means that the city’s rules on development that builders follow were met when the plans that were presented were drawn up.
It’s not news that there is almost no affordable housing in the Mid Bay area. Niceville’s housing authority is at more than 97% capacity, according to the University of Florida. Of the 162 affordable housing units available – the data suggests there are just 4 available units in the city.
Additionally, home prices are beginning to get out of reach for middle income earners. Earlier this year, we reported a new ‘affordable’ housing development in Valparaiso would sell 900-square-foot ‘starter’ homes for approximately $250,000.
Long story short – Niceville is running out of places for low and middle-income earners to live. At the same time, the city needs those people in order to run restaurants and retail establishments in the city.