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School board land sought for workforce housing

All eyes will soon be focused on a 26-acre tract of land
north of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office on State Route 65.

That’s because Franklin County’s Community Land Trust, a
non-profit group working to expand the stock of housing that middle-income
working people can afford, has approached the school board in hopes of securing
a portion of this land for that purpose.

Speaking on behalf of the land trust, Cliff Butler appeared
before the board at its workshop last week to begin initial discussions as to
whether the board would be interested in donating a five- to six-acre parcel
to the trust so a developer can create workforce housing.

Expect to see Commission Chairman Ricky Jones making a similar
appeal to the school board next month, with different specifics to the proposal
but with the same end in mind – to create housing stock, either for purchase or
rent, that is within the pocketbooks of working people.

“We don’t want to spend any time to do planning if the
school board isn’t interested,” said Butler. “We’re have one developer
interested, and we’re trying to see if we can together what a developer can
live with.”

School board members were intrigued by the proposal,
interested in whether they could limit it to teachers or other school district personnel,
whether the land would have to go out for bid, what the income thresholds would
be – the sort of things that led to a protracted and costly
court fight in the Denton Cove project, now going up at the site of the
old Apalachicola High School.

“The school board members all brought up good points, there
was nothing I found objectionable,” said Butler. “The main concern of the
school board is protecting their assets and making sure it’s good for the community.”

He said the land trust’s long-term interest is securing the
donation of the entire 26-acre parcel, with this first phase an initial step the interested developer could handle.

The devil, of course, is in the details, as all sides want to ensure that the housing targets working people, and is not limited, as
is Denton Cove, to a low-income demographic which excludes families where both
husband and wife are working.

“How do we make sure it remains affordable? All details have
to be worked out,” said Butler.

He said one possibility is for the land trust to retain a 99-year
lease on the property, with contractual agreements on rental rates, and there
could be some on the open market reserved for teachers.

Other possibilities would be to help secure down payment
assistance for the homebuyer, with a second mortgage on the house so as to protect
the taxpayer, he said.

Butler said he has been in talks with Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing
a consortium that provides advisory services related to the planning and financing of
affordable housing.

“The question is ‘How
do you structure a deal that satisfies the developer and the public side of us
and the schools” he said.

The school board referred the matter to its attorney Donna Duncan.

During a lengthy discussion last week at the county commission
meeting regarding a proposed workforce housing project in Eastpoint – just east
of the intersection of U.S. 98 and South Bay Shore Drive, the site of the old
KOA campground – Jones signaled he intends to fight for workforce housing.

“I am squarely in favor of workforce housing,” he said, as
the commission weighed a proposal to change the land use of a portion of this commercially-zoned
land to residential, so as to enable a local businessman to construct housing
units for employees.

“If we don’t have somewhere for our kids to be able to
afford to live in this community, they’re going to move away,” Jones said.

He said for individuals who work in law enforcement, the health
care industry and the education sector “there is a desperate need in this county
for housing.”

In contrast to the growing number of homebuyers, many of them retired, who are flocking
here, many to buy places they can offer as short-term rentals, Jones said he is talking about people “who are not buying an investment, they’re getting a place they can
afford to live.”

While he wholeheartedly called for workforce housing, Jones signaled
that he had reservations about the proposal being put forward by environmental consultant
Dan Garlick.

“I don’t know if Eastpoint as a whole wants to see this
happen on this particular property because it’s already zoned commercial,”
Jones said.

A motion to kill the proposed land use change was made by Jessica
Ward and seconded by Bert Boldt, and with Noah Lockley supportive of granting the request, and Smokey Parrish noting that he didn’t support a blanket change to the zoning
without knowing more specifics, Garlick withdrew the request.

Following the meeting, Jones said he planned to reach out to
the school board to explore workforce housing options for the 26-acre parcel up SR 65.

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