After a back-and-forth with the developer, and continued opposition from some nearby residents, Franklin County commissioners last week unanimously agreed to a plan that would prevent traffic coming out of the proposed Serenity Seaside Resort onto South Bayshore Drive in Eastpoint.
That South Bayshore Drive access would be for ingress only, and a second access point, at Begonia Street and U.S. 98, would allow for both ingress and egress into the 56-acre site, which will feature a 100-unit hotel, as well as 44 homes to be built on 6,000-square-foot single-family residential lots.
The March 21 decision followed the tabling of the discussion at a public hearing last month, so as to allow for the Florida Department of Transportation to put into writing why it had asked for developer Craig Dermody to alter the proposal in the original planned unit development approved by the county in 2019.
In a response to an email from Commissioner Jessica Ward, Brian Pettis, FDOT’s traffic services program manager, outlined why the Island Drive plan, with a connection spacing of 440 feet, which is below the minimum requirement, would not work. The original plan was to have ingress and egress entirely off of Island Drive, and to use Begonia Street primarily as a service road.
“Access management is used to promote safe movement as well as reduce conflict points. When looking at conflict points, we take into consideration crosswalks, intersections and existing connections,” Pettis said. “The proposed connection is near a crosswalk, an existing driveway connection and South Bayshore Drive.
“In situations similar to this where there is no space available to meet connection spacing, we suggest that the developer can reach out to neighboring property owners to look at shared access opportunities,” he wrote.
While Pettis did not explicitly recommend complete ingress and egress onto South Bayshore, as Dermody preferred, it did note that this connection is approximately 590 feet from the split (Y) at the intersection of SR 300 and would allow room for a right turn lane without disrupting any adjoining properties.
“This is a dangerous situation,” said Laverne Holman, a South Bayshore Drive resident who led the effort four years ago to have the resort’s entrance moved to Island Drive.
“Now the developer wants to come right around the corner onto a narrow two-lane road, which is not at all appropriate for this entire debacle,” she said. “No one can pass on that road and it’s an accident waiting to happen. It will not work and it is absurd to think it will.”
Holman said she would go along with having the South Bayshore be restricted to ingress only, which she said would cut down on traffic jams and overall traffic on South Bayshore.
“That would be a reasonable and sensible solution,” she said. “The developer wants a quick fix and we are not restrained here to do that. The county needs to tell the developer how it must be.”
Barbara Sanders, a St. George Island resident, encouraged the commission to press the developer to negotiate with neighboring landowners for alternative access options, as Pettis had recommended.
“The developer’s solution is asking government to take care of his problem,” she said. “Ask him to comply with DOT, and buy an access easement. There are other solutions.”
Ward recommended to Dermody that he agree to the ingress-only access proposal on South Bayshore, and the developer said he would be willing to do that, and have Begonia be for both ingress and egress.
“We do need safe access to the property for our patrons,” he said, noting that interior signage in the resort could direct the traffic out on Begonia.
“It’s the shortest way to do that anyway (to get to Apalachicola,” he said. “We would allow it; I wouldn’t want to necessarily restrict it that way. If you think that’s a proper solution that may be what we need. But you would be asking patrons to go out basically a service entrance.”
Dermody noted that the South Bayshore access is distant from any neighbor, and that several residents on South Bayshore have indicated their support of Serenity. “It provides jobs for younger people who need jobs in a nice environment,” he said. “A lot of these naysayers will also be patrons and come and visit.”
He dismissed Ward’s suggestion that he negotiate with nearby property owners to find an Island Drive solution. “The closest one to us owns the water company and he has no intention (of allowing that),” Dermody said. “We’d have to get rid of the Y intersection, the crosswalk and get easements from everybody and that’s just not going to happen.”
Commissioner Ottice Amison questioned Dermody whether he would accept Begonia as a sole access point, noting that it may be due to the fact that it would bring visitors to Serenity past lower income housing.
“It’s not an an attractive entrance, let’s just be honest,” Amison said. “You don’t want to have an entrance to a resort and have them (drive past there). Our main interest is the safety issue on Bayshore.”
Dermody agreed in part with Amison’s observation, while noting that the Begonia access brings the resort much closer to its nearest neighbor than does the South Bayshore entrance, which has much more frontage. “You’re asking me to take the smallest touchpoints on 55 acres as opposed to the largest touchpoint,” he said.
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders, who ended up voting for the revised traffic plan, had a brief flare-up with Dermody, after the developer interjected comments while she was outlining her position that it was not the county’s obligation to solve Serenity’s traffic problems.
“You’re going to learn about this lady right here, I’m about respect,” she said.
“I didn’t mean any disrespect,” Dermody replied.