A decision last week by county commissioners opens more of the St. George Island commercial district to residential development.
On July 2, in keeping with recommendation from the planning and zoning board, commissioners voted unanimously to rezone Lots 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, Block 9, Unit 1 East on St. George Island, from C-2 commercial use to C-4 mixed commercial and residential use. The block of land is adjacent to commercial buildings on the north and west and residences on the south and east.
Last month, Gail Riegelmayer circulated an email and a map of the proposed change and urged islanders to attend Tuesday’s meeting and speak out about the change or contact county commissioners directly.
Several island residents did attend the meeting and voiced their views, but only realtor Mason Bean vocally opposed the change.
“When our early planners laid out Gulf Beaches they did a great job. We only get in trouble when we change it. This is horrible zoning and no planning,” he said. “We need a vision for St. George Island. You need a village and something to plan around. We’re losing that.”
He also said that the change opens the door to denser development on the island.
Island resident and former P&Z board member Mary Lou Short said she favored the change. Referring to the small vertical houses that have come to be called “skinny Minnies” by locals, she said she felt the “honeymoon cottages,” lining the beach at island center and on Gunn Road bayside were good for business.
“People like to rent them, especially in the off-season. They like being able to walk to shops and restaurants,” she said.
Short said mixed-use zoning to create a town center is a national trend.
Travis Stanley, a realtor with Fickling and Associates, said commercial spaces in Fickling’s mixed-use building at 112 Franklin Avenue on the island have been difficult to fill, while the residential portion of the building is in great demand.
“We have tried but there are no takers,” he said.
County Planner Alan Pierce said mixed-use development tries to bridge “natural limitations to developing on St. George Island from an environmental standpoint and economic standpoint.
“I would love for downtown St. George Island to be a thriving business community but it’s not going to be. There are not enough people living there. Environmental limitations will keep that from ever happening,” he said. “I don’t want to see (the commercial district) go away but it has been driven by the market. People do like to walk around.”
District 1 Commissioner Pinki Jackel, whose district includes the island, supported the zoning change.
“I love these issues on St. George Island because I get a lot of emails and phone calls. In this case, the overwhelming number of comments was in favor of the change,” she said. “I share a desire for a comprehensive vision of St. George Island. If this request was in the center of commercial district, I would not be in favor of it but the request is consistent with surrounding structures. I am concerned that we have three commercial structures on the island that are completely vacant.”
Jackel said that of 156 vacant commercial lots remaining on the island, 100 are zoned C-2. “The commercial district did not explode to the extent we thought it might, even during periods of economic boom,” she said. “I want to see future visioning and I understand a public meeting with planning and zoning will be held on the island in August.”
Pierce said Galloway Construction plans to build two cottages and one “skinny Minnie” on the five lots.
Jackel warned Heath Galloway that his company will be held to the highest standards in completing the project. She cautioned him to be sure he arranged for sufficient drainage to prevent water from pooling on adjacent roadways.