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Palm Coast City Council Ignores Nearly Unanimous Planning Board Recommendation

One car-garages will continue to be banned on ITT single-family lots in Palm Coast, even as 38% of original plats remain undeveloped after more than 40 years.

By Toby Tobin
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PALM COAST, FL – September 24, 2018 -- One car-garages will continue to be banned on ITT lots in Palm Coast, even though 38% of the original plats remain undeveloped after more than 40 years. The current standard requiring at least 1,200 SF of air-conditioned living area and a two-car garage is likely to be continued.

In the first reading vote on a Land Development Code amendment, a 6 to 1 recommendation by the Planning and Land Development Regulation Board (PLDRB) was ignored with a unanimous vote by city council. Let that sink in for a moment. A nearly unanimous recommendation of the Planning Board was ignored and unanimously overridden by the City Council. In its presentation supporting its own recommendation to the council, city staff failed to mention the planning board’s one-car garage recommendation at all, much less its unanimous vote.

The reasoning behind the council’s vote was evident as council members, following staff’s lead, commented repeatedly on existing parking code violations (overnight on-street parking and parking in swales). There was also concern about too many cars parked in front of houses and a concern that front yards would be turned into paved parking lots.

One can interpret this response to a belief that the Land Development Code’s mission is not to guide sound planning principals, but to minimize code enforcement violations, and hence, voter complaints.

I listened to the audio of the PLDRB debate resulting in their one-car garage recommendation. The planning board recognized two salient facts barely mentioned in the city council debate.

First, technology and shifting demographics are already impacting the way people live. Ridesharing networks like Uber and Lyft are shaping a new travel paradigm in which residents will be less likely to own a car or even have a driver’s license. I have a granddaughter in Washington DC who has neither. Why in the world should these future residents be forced to own or rent a home with a two-car garage?

Don’t underestimate the coming rapidity of the shift to ridesharing. It is driven by convenience and economics and made possible by enabling technology. If you think that it is still several years off, think again. The now ubiquitous smartphone is barely 11 years old.

Millennials are living differently than their parents and grandparents. They spend more time outside and away from home. They focus on doing things rather than collecting things. Smaller footprint (not necessarily more cheaply built) living quarters are preferred by a growing group of home buyers as well as renters. The rapid increase in smaller patio homes in 55+ communities is a testimony to the need for smaller, more efficient housing within the overall housing stock.

The Gorilla in the Room - Affordable Housing

Second, the city’s guide is its Comprehensive Plan. In the Housing Element Section, the Goal is stated, “Citizens of all income levels shall have the opportunity to obtain quality housing at a reasonable cost.”

Further, it Finds: “The cornerstone of a City’s quality of life is its housing stock. Citizens of all income levels desire safe, secure, good quality housing at a reasonable cost.”  And “the public sector plays a role in helping to ensure that the housing needs of all citizens are met by attempting to balance the cost of housing with the income levels of available jobs in the community.”

Palm Coast and Flagler County have a critical shortage of affordable housing. But workforce housing is apparently a hands-off subject. Call it workforce housing, housing diversity, affordable housing, practical housing, apartments, multi-family, whatever, most Palm Coast listeners hear only “subsidized housing” or “Section 8.” As their dominant NIMBY gene kicks in, they begin uttering code phrases like “those kinds of people,” but we all know what they mean.

Once the one-car garage option for single-family homes was brought out into the open by a council member (remember, city staff had avoided the option in its initial presentation) the rationalizations began to fly.

Staff pointed out that single-family homes with one-car garages can be built in Palm Coast, but only within Master Planned Developments (MPDs). A developer needs only bring this concept to the city for approval (which is not guaranteed). This explanation has two problems:

  1. Palm Coast still has 16,000 vacant ¼-acre ITT lots. The median selling price of nearly 700 lots sold this year-to-date is $19,000. MPD lots require new roads, services, and fill. Current land acquisition and site development costs push the underlying cost of entry-level MPD lots to $35,000 and up. If the intent of allowing single-family homes with one-car garages is to reduce the cost of owning or renting, they should not be restricted to the most expensive building lots. The existing standard is over 40 years old, but more than 38% of ITT lots remain undeveloped. Infill development should be encouraged, not discouraged. 
  2. It was argued that one-car garages on single-family homes on infill ITT lots would be incompatible with existing neighborhoods. Yet a two-car garage home is currently allowed next to a three-car garage home. A 1,200 SF home is permitted to be next to a 3,500 SF (or larger) home. “Builder A” homes coexist with “Builder B” and “Builder C” homes with different levels of construction quality. Some people even chose to build single-family homes in duplex neighborhoods because the lots are wider. And don’t try to convince me that a single-wide garage door facing the street is more objectionable than a two-car garage door.

We do have problems with parking code violations, but many are caused by too many car owners residing in a single dwelling. There are more multi-generation homes today. Homeowners are renting rooms to others to help make ends meet. Too many Palm Coast residents cannot afford either homeownership or rental housing.

The number of garage bays is not at the heart of the parking code enforcement problem. We should not try to mitigate a code enforcement problem by exacerbating an affordable housing problem.

Flagler Schools teachers are among the highest paid in the state, yet many qualified teachers go elsewhere because they cannot afford to live here. The school system is our largest public sector employer. Florida Hospital Flagler, our largest private sector employer will tell a similar story of recruiting challenges.

Does a single person or a single parent need a 2-car garage? I’m told that the difference in the construction cost of a one-car garage rather that a two-car garage is between $12,000 and over $20,000. A one-car garage saves about 300 SF.

The median Palm Coast household income of $49,207 can support 30% ($1,200 per month) for housing, roughly the starting point for renting a single home or duplex. The median purchase price for a Palm Coast home is $215K and climbing. Rents too are rising. The median price in the county is approaching $240,000.

Perspective

In the past 12 months, 692 single-family building permits were issued in Palm Coast. Fewer than 500 were for infill ITT lots. If 10% of next year’s new infill homes are built with single-car garages, they will represent less than 0.2% of all homes on ITT lots.

Second reading on the proposed Land Development code amendment will likely be at the council’s next regular meeting September 2. Second reading votes on items that passed first reading unanimously are typically perfunctory. I hope, upon their reflection, the council will revisit this item with renewed dialogue.

Consider allowing one-car garages for the right reasons. To ease your parking anxiety, place a limit on living square footage; e.g. 1,700 SF.

Reread the Comprehensive Plan Goals. Do not allow structural tribalism to spread within our city. Protect Home Rule by honoring its responsibilities. With all due respect, the PLDRB did its job; nearly unanimously. Listen to them. If Palm Coast does not mitigate its affordable housing problem, subsidized housing will be thrust upon us by Tallahassee and/or Washington.


Toby Tobin: REALTOR®, SRES®

I am a Florida licensed REALTOR® and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, SRES®, affiliated with Grand Living Realty in Palm Coast, Fla. I have years of experience and a treasure trove of relevant analytics. By consulting with me, developers, builders, homebuyers, and sellers achieve improved outcomes and reduced stress, knowing that their real estate decisions are fact-based.

Call me at (386) 931-7124 or email me at Toby@GoToby.com.

Be sure to listen to my radio show, Real Estate Mattersevery Saturday morning right after the 11:00 A.M. news break on WNZF News Radio (1550 AM or 94.9 FM). Download the Flagler Radio App from the App Store so you can hear Real Estate Matters from anywhere in the world.

reader comments
2 car garages
Posted by Jane R Bernard
Oct 01, 2018, 1:19 pm
I think there are other factors with regard to 2 car garages. First, the fact is that many families today consist of two parents and several driving age children still living at home. Secondly, since there are no basements, the garage has become the needed storage space. In fact, I know of cases where no car is parked in the garage because it is being used for much needed storage especially in the houses with limited living space.

 
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Don "Toby" Tobin is a licensed real estate professional affiliated with Grand Living Realty. Toby is a member of the Flagler County Association of Realtors®, the Florida Association of Realtors, Enterprise Flagler, Flagler Home Builders Association, and the National Association of Realtors.

GoToby.com proivdes real estate news, commentary, and analysis for Palm Coast and Flagler Country Florida, as well as Realtor® referrals and consultation to buyers, sellers, and developers.