Yesterday, former city planner Elizabeth Schrey told Inweekly that she lost her job in a “restructuring” of City Hall after she refused to lie to the Pensacola City Council about whether a warehouse was allowed on the old Pickens School property under the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Schrey said that Sherry Morris, the City’s planning services administrator, had instructed her to tell the City Council that the Manna proposal was legal because ‘the City attorney had determined the Comp. Plan didn’t apply.’
“(Morris) would have normally presented it to Council and only directed me to present it so that she wouldn’t be the one to lie about it to Council,” said Schrey. “I refused, on the grounds the Comp Plan did apply and therefore I wouldn’t lie to Council. I was almost immediately restructured.”
Manna Food Pantries had bought site of the old J. Lee Pickens School, roughly 4.5 acres, from the Escambia School Board in October 2014 for $125,000. It had wanted to move from its flood-prone Long Hollow location to the Hayne Street property and build a building that would have approximately 17,000 sq. ft. of warehouse to receive food donations and another 3,000 sq. ft. for offices with a meeting room to accommodate 50-60 people.
Plans were rushed to the city’s planning board in January. Neighbors in the Hayne Street area protested the project at the meeting.
“To me, the warehouse would bring more traffic in the neighborhood,” Veronica Fountain told Inweekly earlier this year. “Whether traffic with 18-wheelers, traffic with vehicles, bicycles, walking, it’s going to bring more traffic in the neighborhood. I live directly behind this property. I don’t want to walk out my door every day and see pallets and junk. I want to set on my porch just to enjoy the day.”
Fountain and her neighbors were treated rudely by the planning board and were told that they couldn’t stop the plans. The board unanimously approved a zoning exception for the proposed Manna building. The exception request was to change the building’s footprint from the allowed 4,000 sq. ft. to 20,000 sq. ft.
In February, Inweekly asked the City why Manna was getting an exception and not a variance. City Administrator Eric Olson sent the newspaper this reply:
“The Manna’s request falls within a provision specifically built into the land development code for the R-NC zoning district. RNC-has a list of permitted uses that have a square footage maximum of 4000 sf. unless an exception to that size requirement is approved. It has a codified process for approval that falls outside the variance process, which requires that a hardship be demonstrated.”
The significance of this reply is it shows that the City Planning Services Department not only reviewed the plans, but argued that the zone was R-NC, ignoring the Comprehensive Plan. According to Schrey, this was done over her objections.
Normally, items approved by the Planning Board are brought to the City Council the following month. The Manna exception request was not placed on either the February or March council agendas —which supports Schrey’s assertion that she refused to go before the council and that Morris didn’t want to do so either.
Fountain continued to push. She found that as part of its Comprehensive Plan, the Pensacola City Council adopted in 2011 its Future Land Use Map that showed the area where the former Pickens School was located was to be changed from Residential/Neighborhood Commercial to Medium Density Residential. The Comprehensive Plan change was approved after numerous public hearings in 2010 and 2011 that were led by Sherry Morris.
Still city staff insisted the Hayne Street area residents could do nothing to stop the Manna project.
In March, Fountain contacted Sandra Livingston of Rep. Mike Hill’s office and asked for help. According to Fountain, Livingston spoke with Latasha Buchanan, the City’s constituent services administrator, who said there was nothing the city could do to stop the project.
Knowing that Fountain had the Future Land Use Map that showed the land had been approved to be Medium Density Residential, Livingston requested that Buchanan put the city’s position in writing.
That never happened.
On April 7, Jay Bradshaw, past board chairman for Manna Food Pantries, called Inweekly to say Manna had decided not to build on the site of the old J. Lee Pickens School and would seek another location to build its much-needed facility.
In June, Sherry Morris asked the planning board to change the zoning to Medium Density Residential so that the zoning would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan passed in 2011.
Elizabeth Schrey was right the Manna proposal was not allowed under the Comprehensive Plan.
Later the city indirectly admitted as much when the zoning changes were brought before the City Council in October.
When Fountain inquired about the public notice for the zoning changes, City PIO Vernon Stewart sent her this message in an email:
“Zoning is being brought up to match the future land use that was changed in 2010-2011 to match what residents wanted to protect them from commercial uses that did not enhance residential uses of neighborhood.
Planning Board did approve this change at their June 2015 meeting. This request is a part of several, where the Future Land Use Designation and the current zoning do not match and this would change that to avoid issues with potential development matching the zoning but not the Future Land Use Designation.”
* Seeking To Be Heard
* Web Extras: Inside Pensacola Planning Board Jan. 13
* Manna puts Hayne Street property up for sale
* Fountain: Please send this back to planning board
* Proposed apartments on Pickens school site nixed
* Former city planner says city staff knew radio tower was illegal