There won’t an Airstream Park in Tin Can Alley just west of Carrabelle, any time soon, after a divided city commission last week voted 3-2 to deny the request for a special exception.
Pam McCreery’s plan to put in the RV lots behind her Beach Trader shop along U.S. 98 drew heated criticism from city residents, as well as McCreery’s neighbor, at the June 7 meeting. Commissioners Frank Mathis, who was absent from the May meeting when the board split 2-2, voted in support of the proposed park, as did Commissioner Cal Allen, who had backed it in May.
But Keith Walden decided he couldn’t go along with it, abandoning his support voiced last month, and he was joined by Tony Millender and Mayor Brenda La Paz, both of whom maintained their opposition.
From the outset of the discussion, La Paz pressed McCreery’s consultant Russell Large as to how many Airstreams, intended for short-term stays for tourists, would be on site. He said there would be a total of seven but La Paz said an eighth unit, which is not on the lots under discussion, had to be considered as well, since it would require access off of U.S. 98 through a road running behind the shop.
She also pressed McCreery on whether she had already begun operating a rental unit in one of the trailers. “It’s going on right now and it’s not legal,” said the mayor. “Campers have been brought in and put in place. You weren’t even told you could do it.”
McCreery said that to be in operation, Carrabelle would have to run water and sewer to the Airstreams, and that hasn’t happened yet.
“He uses my water and sewer,” she said. “There’s nothing going on back there. There’s no sewer being used in that trailer.”
La Paz insisted the plan was too dense for the existing space. McCreery said she intends to comply with rules requiring the renovated Airstreams can be moved off site in the event of a pending hurricane.
“The RVs have to be ready to be pulled off. We’ll need an evacuation plan,” she said. “I own them and I’ll own them all. They won’t be coming and going.”
The proposal drew criticism from Carrabelle resident Rod Gasche. He said last year he wanted the city to intercede with what he said was an illegal filling in of wetlands behind the store, conceding the city had limited jurisdiction in this regard.
McCreery’s neighbors, the Patricia Moore family, said they saw “multiple loads of fill dirt” being brought in to fill wetland areas. “The depth of fill would cause pine trees to die,” he said. “And if and when we put water in, that’s going to damage the roots.”
He said the fill has led to as much as two feet of water up to the Moore’s house. “It won’t drain now,” Gasche said. “There’s no stream to run any more, that was protected wetlands.
“Mrs. Moore’s grandson is starting up a greenhouse,” he said. “You have a hard rain and that will be flooded.”
Gasche was followed by former city commissioner Gathana Parmenas, who cast doubt on the claim the units would be evacuated in the event of a bad storm.
“We were under evacuation orders two weeks ago and they were not moved out of the county,” she said. “I just think you’re fooling yourself if you think more units are going to be moved. They’re going to become debris.
“It’s never OK to say ‘let’s just give them forgiveness because they didn’t get permission,” Parmenas said.
She said the traffic would all come out of a single driveway on to a curve along U.S. 98, and that approval of the special exception could lead to more property owners in the area seeking permission. “Where does it stop?” she asked.
Grandson Steve Moore said he had gone through all the hoops to secure permission to put in a nursery on the adjacent property, and now finds stormwater gathering on his property. “There’s no more flow,” he said. “I have water and rain.
“The fill dirt is the big thing,” he said. “This is blocking off a way for water to go. Things have been done without your consent.”
City Clerk Keisha Smith advised Moore that city water is available for his property, and that the city has not refused him water. “It just has to be paid for,” she said.
Large said that as a critical shoreline area, septic tanks would not be allowed in the Airstream Park area. He said his investigation, and that of state regulators, have shown no significant elevation of the property. “We’re making sure drainage is maintained,” he said. “I certainly will accommodate the flow.”
Millender expressed his concern that as many as a dozen parking spaces would need to be accommodated on the site, with La Paz noting that parking for the shop also had to be figured in.
The mayor expressed concern that having stationary Airstreams could lead to long-term tenants. She said the nearby Carrabelle RV park has park models that are stationary, but visitors can stay no more than three months a year.
“Yours are privately owned, and there’s a high probability to youngsters there,” La Paz said. “The wetlands cannot be used, and there’s no fire escape. There’ll be a lot of traffic going in and out.”
After La Paz called for the vote, Walden said he had changed his mind on the matter, and cast the deciding vote to deny the special exception.