After Monday night's City Council workshop, the future of high rises in Destin is still unclear — but it was obvious that area developers didn't want to see the city block future large-scale developments.
"If you dump Tier Three you are quitting," said Shannon Howell, who is involved in the proposed Henderson Beach Resort project. "Why quit because there is a flaw in the system? The system is a great benefit to the city of Destin."
For the past few months, city leaders have been debating the merits of Tier III developments, which have the highest intensity and density of any development in the city. Opinions on the council have ranged from minor "tweaks" to completely scrapping the system.
During Monday's workshop, local attorney Dana Matthews presented city leaders with a plan that would help the city clarify what the actual "public benefit" portion of the Tier III requirement would be. As the system currently stands, the public benefit is negotiated between the city manager and the proposed developers.
"This is an opportunity to philosophically discuss a public-private partnership," he said. "We (developers) are sitting here saying we are willing to pony up because we want to help."
Matthew’s proposal uses a formulaic approach to deciding the amount a developer would pay as part of the Tier III application process. For example, if the appraised current market value of a property was $10 million, under the proposal 41 percent ($4.1 million) would be considered the additive value of the project for increasing from Tier II to Tier III. Twenty five percent of that additive value ($1,025,000) would go to the city.
Developers would pay 10 percent of the total contribution once they are issued a development order. They will pay another 40 percent once they receive the final certificate of occupancy, and the final 50 percent of the contribution would be paid within one year.
To date, there have been no Tier III developments built in Destin, but there are currently three approved Tier III projects on the city's books. They include Beach Pointe Condominiums, Harbor Reflections, Caretta Dunes — which all secured development orders in 2008. Henderson Beach Resort was issued a preliminary development order in 2009. To date, the city hasn't received building permit applications for any of these projects.
The Fleet Marina Condominium, Emerald Harbor and HarborWalk Village Phase 2 were also proposed Tier III projects, but they were either not approved, or scaled back to smaller projects.
As part of the team that proposed the Fleet Marina Condominium, Realtor Mary Anne Windes told city leaders that the plan set forth by Matthews "has a lot of merit."
"Our project did not get approved for Tier Three, but we are going to be coming back to you again," she said of the plan to one day convert the marina into a mix of retail and condos.
Local developer Vic Anderson told city leaders that he was ready to move forward with the continual tier talks so developers can plan out projects.
"It's time to get on with it," he said. "We need quality developments, but we prohibit quality developments because we make it too difficult."
"Don't crucify us, help us get to where we need to be; we don't mind paying our fair share," he added. "I agree that the developer should have an impact fee... ”
After listening to the developers, city leaders agreed to review the proposal that was given to them by Matthews before discussing the matter further.
Since Monday's meeting was only a workshop, city leaders were unable to make any formal decision, but their was clearly frustration with the pace of the discussions.
“We’ve been here about an hour-and-fifteen minutes and we haven’t moved off of first base,” Mayor Sam Seevers said. “Tier III is here… are we going to keep it or not?”
But there was no clear consensus from the council. For his part, Councilman Cyron Marler said “The Destin of the past is gone.”
“The old guard is dying off and the new guard is coming in,” he said.
Councilman Jim Wood says this is a tough issue that will take time to sort out.
“We sit up here and we try to decide what’s a public benefit… we are never going to decide in one meeting what that is,” he said. “We’ve got to get to the end of the road and everybody has to compromise a bit to get what they want.”
They will take up the issue again during a workshop April 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall Annex.