Two hours is a long time, but it is not without precedent at St Augustine board and commission meetings, and it was the case again today when more than 20 citizens stood to speak to the Planning and Zoning Board to oppose an effort by Flagler College to continue to expand its development of student dormitories into residential areas.
Rogers-Towers attorney Ellen Avery-Smith, representing the college, spoke in favor of a use by exception for dormitory construction within RG-1 and RG-2, an idea given support by city Planning and Building Department director, David Birchim.
“It was good to see our Planning and Zoning Board recognize that adding dormitories to uses allowed in residential neighborhoods is not in the interest of St Augustine residents,” Lee Geanuleas, a St George Street resident, told Historic City News after this afternoon’s meeting.
With one member, Sarah Shipp Ryan, absent, the remainder of the Board listened to the testimony and considered the evidence then declined to approve the use by exception scheme; except for local architect Jerry Dixon. Avery-Smith dismisses the appearance of so many neighbors, who will have to live with the Board’s decision, characterizing their effort as nothing more than Flagler College bashing.
In recent weeks, Flagler has already received approval from the same board to move ahead with plans to build a new dormitory complex and parking garage west of the Florida East Coast Railway towers that they own at King and Malaga streets. That property was already off the ad valorem tax rolls.
Each time the college, a non-profit organization, purchases additional private property to build classrooms, student labs, dormitories, or for other educational purposes, the property and any improvements become tax-exempt.
When you pare down the list of taxable property in the city limits to account for all the churches, city, state, and federal government, and property owned by other non-profit organizations who are tax-exempt, it is fair to say that every lost taxable lot adds to the burden of residents, businesses who are not tax-exempt, and other property owners.
No comment from Avery-Smith on how the college will proceed in light of this decision.