Panama City Commissioners Slam Apartment Development

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Tensions ran high during Tuesday night's Panama City commission meeting, over plans for a senior housing project.

Developer Sam Johnston wants to build an apartment complex on a plot of land on the southeast corner of West 19th Street and Wood Avenue. It would be right across the street from Sienna Gardens, another apartment complex catering to seniors.

Representatives asked commissioners to amend the city's land usage plan to allow the development, but commissioners were not enthusiastic.

"There's not been a traffic analysis done, right there recently, there's not been an infrastructure analysis done on the load it's gonna cost the city with water and sewer in that neighborhood,” said Panama City Commissioner Billy Rader, “I don't want to approve any more until I've seen everything in writing through data and feasibility study that makes sense that we really have a demand and need for more affordable apartments."

Commisioner John Kady pointed to another recent low income development as a reason to deny the project.

"What they've done over on Sherman Avenue with these same promises is they've built something, it's zero occupancy practically there's nobody in there."

Others are concerned about the effects on the surrounding residents and businesses.

"When we talk about a tax credit property, tax credit property is what they call "affordable housing," said Gussie Williams who manages Sienna Garden Apartments “I don't know who it's affordable for because the average income is how the rents are set. From the average income from Bay County."

The average income in Bay County is set at more than $57,000.

"My average on a 2-bedroom is $722, she collects $1500 a month social security, do you think she can afford $722 a month?” said Williams. "No," said Commissioner Rader. "I rest my case, it's not affordable."

However Sam Johnston with Arbor Valley Development insists that the investment will be a good move for the city.

"If we are funded, we come back through the city and grind through your typical process like any other development does,” said Johnston. “We don't get our development order until you're satisfied."

Commissioners requested more information on the project's impact before discussing it again. Commissioners have requested a demand study as well as a feasibility study. They've also requested to put together time limits and penalties if the development isn't finished in a timely manner.