The Palm Coast City Council will make three appointments to its seven-member planning council, the most powerful unelected advisory council in the city. Seven candidates applied, including two incumbents, two current alternate council members and a county planning board member, as well as the head of the local chamber of commerce.
The Town and Country Planning Regulatory Commission, as it is officially known, is responsible for making recommendations to council on residential and commercial developments, zoning, overall long-range planning and other land use issues. It does not only have an advisory role: many questions are submitted to the council for a final decision. The influence of the council is considerable. It is also among the most diverse councils in a county whose elected councils, with rare exceptions, have lost their diversity over the past four to eight years.
The council’s work is more limited and detailed than the public generally thinks, which however limits its discretion. She is constrained by law, which prescribes what she can and cannot make land use applications within narrow limits. And its work is explained by the city’s development department, which does all the heavy lifting on the applications, submitting detailed staff reports and associated documents that leave council members with mostly procedural steps. Hearings before council nevertheless provide a wide window into public sentiment, which can, on occasion, sway votes and give council insight into what’s headed their way, assuming the item catches up with them.
The council meets Tuesday night, for example, and will hear two big demands, one for a 400-plus unit apartment complex off State Road 100 at Colbert Lane and another at Harborside in Palm Harbor. . The latter is an 18-acre rezoning application that would increase the number of housing units. City staff recommend against approval. The article should attract a large crowd.
Three positions on the Board of Directors are to be filled. The incumbents applied for two of them: Sybil Dodson-Lucas, a retired manager who worked in government in New York, chaired a New York City planning board and completed two terms, and Christopher Gabriel, 53, realtor at Realty Executives Oceanside. The third seat was filled by Jake Scully, who recently completed his second term and chose not to run again. Given that Dodson-Lucas, 78, has already served two terms, his reappointment would require at least a four-vote majority of the board. (The board has five members.)
The incumbents are among seven nominees, which also include Hung Hilton and Suzanne Nicholson, two current alternate board members who seek nomination as regular members. Hilton, 41, is an IT solutions architect. He has twice applied for or been appointed to vacant seats on the city council. Council members twice recognized him for his acumen – which he has since displayed on the planning board – and the first time urged him to get involved in city councils, as he has done, only to let him pass twice. He submitted, however, the few nominations. Nicholson, 65, works remotely for an interior design company in Pennsylvania.
The other candidates are Greg Blose, Larry Gross and Heather Haywood.
Blose, 42, heads the local chamber of commerce, which makes his candidacy unusual since he would represent a pressure group, rather than himself or a particular industry, and a pressure group aggressively predisposed to favor development. His role, in other words, is that of an advocate for the chamber, a role he frequently fulfills by appearing before local councils – such as the planning council – to lobby the positions of the chamber. One of the questions on the app explicitly asks: “[A]Are you prepared to act as a decision-maker and not as a lawyer, if the law requires it? His response: Yes, I will act as the decision maker.
Blose previously headed the Volusia County Home Builders Association and served as program director for the state chamber. “I believe my chamber and HBA experience gives me unique insight into the planning process and [its] impact on the community as a whole,” he wrote in his application.
Gross, 64, a 35-year-old Palm Coast resident whose email address is “LovinFlorida1,” is a systems engineer who wants to “participate in future job growth to make Palm Coast a great place to live.” .
Haywood, 34, a realtor at Grand Living Realty, cites Blose as one of his references (he didn’t reciprocate), and his involvement with the chamber and home builders association is part of his civic experience. But she’s also a current county planning board member, appointed last February: her term doesn’t end there until 2025. Haywood is “interested in playing a bigger role in our responsible growth,” she wrote in her candidacy.
According to the code, the planning board must have at least one appointed member from each of the city’s four districts. Districts 1, 2 and 4 are currently represented: Sandra Shank, a real estate agent, represents District 4. Clint Smith, a project manager, and Charles Lemon, a retired engineer, represent District 2. James Albano, a builder, represents District 1. Gabriel represents District 3, Dodson-Lucas District 1. As for the other candidates: Blose and Haywood are residents of District 1, Gross, Hilton and Nichols are residents of District 2.
“Given that there are appointed members from Districts 1, 2 and 4 currently serving, the board will make every reasonable effort to appoint from District 3 to ensure that the districts of the board are fairly represented. equal to the extent possible,” a memo to the board read. Full applications are below.