OKEECHOBEE– Okeechobee City Council Members voted 4-1 to deny new residential development in Okeechobee at their July 6 meeting.
City Council was presented with a proposal of reclassifying Block 110 from commercial to multi-family and Block 121 from single family to multi-family on the future land use map zoning map. The lots, located behind Buxton and Bass Funeral Home and across from Tenniswood Dental Associates at 309 NE 4th St, currently sit empty.
Steve Dobbs represented the applicant and said the planning board was receptive to the idea. The applicant planned to put in a development on the south side and single units on the north side. This would give them a multi-tiered development, with less expensive units available on the north lot for $600-$800 a month for the single units versus $1,200-$1,800 a month for townhouses on the south lot.
The housing shortage has plagued Okeechobee for years now. The Okeechobee County School District has faced trouble enticing new teachers to move to the area due to the lack of affordable housing.
City staff analyzed the proposal and recommended approval of rezoning, finding that even if commercial development eventually occurred at the location it would be difficult to provide sufficient parking. Adding that rezoning the lots to multi-family residential land use would be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.
However, Council member Monica Clark said she was against the idea a residential development, because the area is a part of the commercial corridor.
“We have plenty of land in the city itself, zoned residential. I’m not willing to give up my commercial corridor,” she said.
She went on to say residential areas cost the city money, and they never pay for themselves with taxes generated. She said she spoke to Ben Smith from planning and zoning, and he explained a lot of communities want residential near their commercial, because it allows for the residents to walk to the grocery store and other businesses. However, Clark believes there is plenty of room for residential a few blocks away, and that is still within walking distance.
Mayor Dowling Watford agreed with Clark saying the council had always agreed to reserve the corridor for commercial use. “It concerns me to have multi-family in that area,” he said.
“I’m just concerned about where it will stop,” said Clark.
In the end, the council voted 4-1 not to allow the change with Councilman Bobby Keefe casting the one vote to allow it.
Richard Marion contributed to this article.