Saturday, February 06, 2021

Does Sebastian Inland Harbor project still benefit St. Augustine? (columnist Steve Cottrell, St. Augustine Record)

Ocean level rise is real and threatens the future of our Nation's Oldest City.  

This Sebastian Inland Harbor project is too big not to fail.  Better a parking garage and a museum, e.g., St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, including a national civil rights museum dedicated to the proposition that history matters, in the place where slavery began on September 8, 1565.  From St. Augustine Record: 

Does Sebastian Inland Harbor project still benefit St. Augustine? STEVE COTTRELL | ST. AUGUSTINE RECORD | 6:59 am EST January 20, 2021 Developers hope to build the Sebastian Inland Harbor on about 13 1/2 acres west of Riberia Street and south of King Street in St. Augustine. PETER WILLOTT, ST. AUGUSTINE RECORD It took barely a year to build the Empire State Building, two years to erect the Eiffel Tower, four to complete the Golden Gate Bridge, and 14 to dynamite and sculpt Mt. Rushmore.  By contrast, the San Sebastian Inland Harbor Planned Unit Development  in St. Augustine enters its 17th year as an approved project to develop about a dozen acres between Riberia Street and the east bank of the San Sebastian River, adjacent to the winery that shares the river’s name.  What the city’s Planning and Zoning Board considered at its January 5 meeting was an application from the current property owners asking to amend portions of a previously approved plan.  More: St. Augustine board recommends OK for Sebastian Inland Harbor project The land was acquired by the city in 1986, then later sold, with the original development plan approved in 2004.  After nearly 17 years, how many components of the plan have been executed?  A marina, in 2007.  And since 2007?  Ownership changes, extensions, modifications, and repeated promises of a project that will benefit St. Augustine.  Many nearby residents worry about traffic impacts associated with the project, and I don’t blame them.  After two years as a small-town planning commissioner and 16 as a councilman, I long ago realized that representatives of developers can dazzle decision-makers with charts, graphs and traffic studies, but reality is often very different.  My wife and I have lived very close to the proposed project since 2010 and can attest to traffic on Sebastian Harbor Drive that's already bumper-to-bumper most weekday afternoons and sometimes on weekends.  Traffic eventually thins out, sure, but there are times each day when I can walk along Sebastian Harbor Drive faster than a car can drive it, and I’m a slow-walking old geezer.     Developer are hoping to build a project, called Sebastian Inland Harbor, that would include a hotel, housing, a marina and commercial and retail space on about 13 1/2 acres west of Riberia Street and south of King Street in St. Augustine. PETER WILLOTT The daily impact is also felt on Riberia Street, of course, where traffic is sometimes backed up past the distillery as cars, trucks and trolleys wait to turn left at the old cigar factory, while motorists approaching on La Quinta Place and Cedar Street carefully nudge their way on to Riberia to join the left-turn queue.  To compound existing traffic jams, eventual build-out of the multi-use development will result in nearly 4,300 more vehicle trips a day to the same area, including impacts to King and Malaga streets -- not to mention the oft-clogged stretch of King from the winery to Highway 1.  As for the applicants voluntarily reducing the hotel from 225 rooms to 167 -- while asking to increase multi-family residential housing (originally described as condos and now as apartments) from 85 to 165 -- let’s look at what that might mean in the real world.  At an earlier Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the applicants were asked to provide City Hall with language for the amended plan that would prohibit using apartments as short-term rentals.  The applicants obliquely responded with, “Any short-term rentals will comply with the City Code.”  In other words, they have asked to increase multi-family residential units by 80 and reduce hotel rooms by 58, but have not agreed to language prohibiting short-term rentals in any of the proposed 165 multi-family residential units.   If such an amendment to the existing plan is supported by the City Commission, it appears San Sebastian Inland Harbor developers could, if they were so inclined, construct 332 short-term lodging units, (167 hotel rooms and 165 apartments), potentially eliminating long-term residential housing altogether.  Methinks the city commission should stick with the original plan, but go one step beyond.  Commissioners should consider deed-restricting the previously approved 80 condos with a covenant ensuring they are either owner-occupied or, if converted to rental units, requiring one-year minimum leases with meaningful penalties for violating the covenant.    If the applicants want to downsize the hotel, that’s an economic decision for them to make.  But creating 165 potential short-term rental units, or even 80, will not, in my opinion, benefit St. Augustine.  Steve Cottrell can be contacted at  

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