The 2pm meeting Wednesday of the Planning and Zoning Board in St. Augustine featured the much talked about Fish Island development plans, which would seek to rezone and add up to 170 single family units to the property.
Of course this meeting of the PZB is just a meeting to decide what to recommend to commissioners, who will make the final decision in a future meeting.
This things isn't over...
Talks kicked off with what seemed like a solid case for rejection of the development by board member, Carl Blow.
"Contract Zoning is illegal in the state of Florida. A PUD (Planned Unit Development) is in effect, contract zoning because what you're doing is negotiating with the applicant. They have an existing zoning classification, it does't work for what they want to do, so they voluntarily use a PUD process to develop a land use that is acceptable for their purposes, and hopefully doesn't have a negative impact on the public interest."
Blow continued, "I need to give you a report on some events that happened... The applicant contacted me requesting a meeting before the hearing."
Blow outlined why he believed this was well within the scope of his legal boundaries.
He then explained how he had first met with developers, and then with the city, independent of the rest of the board.
Here's where some suggest conspiracy. YAY!
Insiders are speculating that Blow may have been intimidated by one of the groups into stepping down. Some in attendance believe that Blow appeared to be physically shaken and visibly nervous in a way they've never seen before.
City staff quickly shut down the board's attempts to keep Blow at the table, siting that they didn't want to "unravel" the issue at that moment.
"I guess we're at the point where we shouldn't meet with applicants at all before meetings," said Blow before leaving his seat at the table. Some believed he was alluding to the fact that he was talked into stepping away from this case by city officials.
Now down one member, the board heard from the applicants.
Background extras from any given, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episode/DR Horton developers did their best to warm up detractors by telling legendary tales of the Fish legacy in St. Augustine. They mentioned working with historians for "interpretive signs," throughout the development.
They also mentioned things like beautifying areas of the "high marsh," that are now just being used for "doing donuts."
Attempts to cozy up to the public seemed to fail however, as people got up asking the commission to deny the rezoning and development.
Activist, Ed Slavin also spoke up, asking that this development be denied. He suggested that every city official involved should testify instead of relying on some apparent hearsay. Savin, a former attorney, noted that he believed Carl Blow was legally obligated to be apart of discussions and the final vote, and called for the City Attorney to recuse herself, on the grounds that she may have been somehow involved in intimidating Blow into stepping down. He also suggested using eminent domain to save the land from development. He ended by saying that he believed that Blow's actions in stepping down were, "Fraudulently induced by the city staff."
Other residents who spoke at the meeting pointed out the fact that Bald Eagle nests in the area are active, contrary to reports from developers.
Cases were made on everything from conservation to traffic.
After about three hours of presentations, minor public backlash, and some serious questioning by PZB members, developers were asked to come back for a second hearing, with more information on things like better tree preservation, more info on eagle's nest buffers, public dock access, the density of the project, better traffic information and a few other issues they saw with the rezoning and development.
Some board members did not believe that there was enough of a benefit to the public to recommend approval even if these concerns were met.
The second hearing on the Fish Island issue is currently planned for August 7th.