City Council members Steven Nobile and Heidi Shipley were in attendance at a neighborhood meeting June 7, at Matanzas High School, to hear residents' opinions about a proposed bike path along an FPL easement that cuts through a neighborhood. They got an earful, as the sometimes raucous and heated residents opposed the path. And, as a result, Nobile and Shipley each made pleas at the June 13 City Council workshop to bring the project back before the City Council for more discussion.
"It was a blood bath," Shipley told the City Council on June 13. "It was sad that people were there thinking that we tried to pull one over on them. I know that's what they felt."
There were about 80 people at the June 7 meeting, and most speakers appeared to live near the proposed path. Everyone who spoke supported efforts to make transportation safer for students, but the neighbors questioned why a sidewalk could not be built on Old Kings Road rather than through their neighborhood. The easement is east of Old Kings Road and south of the school.
City staff at the meeting responded that any sidewalk built now would have to torn up when Old Kings Road is eventually four-laned, because utilities would need to be installed.
To begin the meeting, a brief presentation was made by students, members of the Matanzas School Safety Committee.
“Since the first concept of the path, Matanzas High School has seen a 60% increase in enrollment and the city has grown 15% in population,” said Tommy Jones, student leader of the safety committee. “This growth necessitates more infrastructure and safety should be our number one priority. We hope the community will support us in getting this path.”
Committee member Christian Norris said the path would also be available to families and improve the quality of life in the city.
Two incidents involving the deaths of Matanzas High School students have motivated discussion about a path.
On New Year’s Eve, student Kelvin Smith, 16, was killed riding a bike on Old Kings Road near the school. Matanzas student Michelle Taylor, 16, was killed March 2 while walking on unlit Lakeview Boulevard near Laramie Drive.
Bus transportation is not available for students who live within two miles of a school, because it’s not funded by the state. The problem south of Matanzas High School is that the sidewalk on Old Kings Road ends at Frontier Drive.
The same plan for a path through the 200-foot-wide easement was proposed in 2008 but voted down because of the objections from the homeowners.
There have been many positive comments about building a path along the easement on Facebook, saying it would provide a safe way to get to school plus recreation for everyone. Shipley said she has received many emails in support, but not from those who live near the easement.
The comments at the meeting were dominated by nearby residents.
“The reason kids get run over is because the city did not put sidewalks on Old Kings Road,” said one audience member. “Leave the easement alone.”
Another said that with a sidewalk on Old Kings Road he could ride his bike all the way to Publix.
The aspect of crime was also brought up several times.
“You’ll have drug dealing … people scoping out houses,” one resident said.
Others said they did think children would be safe from predators and others, because of the vegetation along the easement.
However, Sr. Cmdr. Mark Carman, of the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, said bike paths throughout the city do not attract crime.
“I’ve been assigned to Palm Coast since 2000 as commander,” he said. “The statistics don’t show crime such as predators. A lot of paths go by backyards and we don’t light them. We don’t have high crime on bike paths.”
Another audience member said people on the path would disturb wildlife, such as deer.
“I see fawns nursing,” he said. “Leave my wildlife alone.”
An audience member said perhaps the problem could be solved if the schools provided transportation. Cote said the state does not fund transportation within two miles and any decisions would be up to the School Board.
OLD KINGS ROAD SIDEWALK
Several audience members did not see a problem in tearing a sidewalk up later, saying a bike path would have to be repaired in the future anyway.
But Carl Cote, city engineering manager, said the quickest way to provide a safe path for students would be through the easement, because lime rock is already there. A sidewalk on Old Kings Road would be costly, he said.
The road project could be five, 10 or even 20 years from now, Cote said.
An audience member called it "poor planning" to build a school and not have sidewalks.
“If it’s going to be 20 years, put the damn sidewalk in," she said.
Another audience member said that Palm Coast government needs to listen more to the taxpayers.
“If we can have pretty things like landscaping, why can’t we put in a sidewalk?” he said.
LIGHT UP PALM COAST
The meeting at MHS evolved into a discussion about the need for better lighting and safer transportation throughout the city.
“We’ve been clamoring for street lighting,” one audience member said. “I just want safety for all of us.”
Cote said the city has a master plan for adding street lights.
Shoshanah Mercado, Flagler Palm Coast High School psychologist who was called to the school when the two students were killed, said safety needs to be addressed throughout the city.
“I can’t tell you how important it is,” she said. “I’ve tried to walk Frontier and I’m scared the whole time because of the cars. I don’t think Palm Coast knows it’s a family community, not a retiree community. Palm Coast needs sidewalks, lighting. It needs to be family friendly. I don’t want to get another phone call because a child has died.”
Shipley said she has been working on lighting for Lakeview Boulevard and Belle Terre Parkway, and the projects could be begin next year if they can be resolved in the city budget.
Also speaking about the need for more light was Melanie Fink, who knew Michelle Taylor.
“Michelle was like a daughter to us,” she said. “She was my daughter’s best friend. Palm Coast has to do something about the lighting … There are so many dark places. We want kids to be healthy and walk. We have got to light up Palm Coast.”
— Brian McMillan contributed to this report.
“I don’t want to get another phone call because a child has died.”
SHOSHANAH MERCADO, FPC psychologist
“We don’t have high crime on bike paths.”
SR. CMDR. MARK CARMAN, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office
“Something should have been done when the school was built.”
STEVEN NOBILE, City Council member, on the need for sidewalks