A three-year-old proposal to sell off a portion of the property of the former Apalachicola High School to develop affordable housing resurfaced earlier this month, but it is far from clear if the project will ever come to fruition.
In her report to the Apalachicola city commission Dec. 5, City Planner Cindy Clark said the city is in the process of issuing building permits to the developers of Denton Cove, who want to turn a 3.66-acre parcel at 17th Street and Avenue L into 52 affordable housing units, funded by federal tax credits, and earmarked for low-income housing.
Clark said the building permits will come about as a result of a settlement in July 2016 that resolved a fair housing lawsuit that was then pending before U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee.
The terms of that settlement stipulated that Denton Cove had met the requirements of the city’s land development code, and that all subsequent approvals and permits would be “timely issued.”
Clark said Denton Cove could have applied for its permits as early as last fall. Instead, the matter came up this fall because on Oct 12 the city received amendments to the project’s parking and stormwater provisions, and planning staff determined they were consistent with site plan requirements,
“The city sent the entire plan to the same stormwater consultant that reviewed plans for CVS,” said Clark. “He reviewed it and determined the project is consistent with code.”
In his July 2016 ruling, Hinkle did not determine the ownership of the property, or convey ownership of the entire 3.66 acres to Denton Cove, City Attorney Pat Floyd told city commissioners.
The city contended in the suit that while it had signed an initial purchase agreement in Dec. 2014 for about $178,000 for what was believed to be its 1.62-acre share of the land, it later determined that it did not own the streets and alleys in question, having transferred their ownership to the school board some years ago.
Last fall, in exchange for dismissal with prejudice from the fair housing lawsuit, and a $15,000 fee, the school board agreed to keep alive its Dec. 2014 sales agreement with Denton Cove that called for it to sell 2.04 acres of the site for $226,000. That contract remains in effect through July 2018, through two more $10,000 payments.
Last summer Denton Cove offered to buy the streets and alleys from the school board for $77,000 but the board took no action on the offer.
The matter has not been back before the school board in recent months, and officials said it was unclear when Denton Cove planned to seek approval from the board of the entire parcel.
In a Facebook posting earlier this month, Bonnie Davis, a spokesperson for the citizen activists group that campaigned against Denton Cove, wrote that she and others “continue to believe that the streets and alleys portion passed to the school board, not to Denton Cove, when the city disclaimed their interest (in them). Therefore, Denton Cove does not own the streets and alleys now and cannot compel the school board to convey it to them.”
Davis encouraged that the group’s large band of supporters “should marshal our efforts to persuade the school board to assert their ownership interest and retain the land, or to request proposals for the land from any interested party. The latter course would permit us to put specific proposals for retaining the land as streets and alleys in front of the school board for a thorough airing.
“I recommend we continue to pursue this because I think it has a reasonable chance of success,” she wrote. “But success will require a broad based communitywide effort and involvement, particularly by those with long-standing ties to Apalachicola.”
The citizens have argued that other affordable housing options should be pursued, and that the placement of the Denton Cove project is incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and would break up the city’s overall plat.