TIER TALK: City leaders contemplate trashing tiering system (RENDERINGS)

Matt Algarin
Caretta Dunes would consist of two five-story buildings with 80 condos. The project began in 2005 as Beach Crystal, a four-story, 64-condo complex in Crystal Beach.

High rises and macro developments may have a tougher time getting off the ground if it’s up to the Destin City Council.

"If it were up to me, I'd kill the Tier Three immediately," Councilman Jim Bagby told his colleagues Monday night. "I don't think it matches the character of this community and what we are trying to do."

As they continue to work through the proposed chapters of the Comprehensive Plan 2020, city leaders spent the majority of a recent workshop debating the future of the tiering system, which guides the heights, intensity and density of development throughout the city.

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 of Wednesday, there has been "no movement" on these projects at City Hall.

In fact, there have been no projects built under the Tier III guidelines, which were set after the Emerald Grande became Destin’s tallest building. The city adopted its current tiering standards in 2005.

When it comes to Tier III projects, the council has long struggled with determining what would qualify as a "significant" public benefit under the development standards.

Councilman Jim Foreman, who said he was "uncomfortable” with Tier III developments, told the council that the tiering system was still in its "early stages" when he previously served on the city council. The concern, he said, is that there is not "enough of a handle" on the benefits.

"It seems to me, that the benefit must be mutually attractive to both the applicant and the city," he said. "It has to add value to the project in question."

Councilman Jim Wood was also a fan of trashing future Tier III projects.

"This is our chance to take another look at our city and see what we want," he said. "I'm comfortable getting rid of Tier Three and focusing on Tier Two."

But not everybody wanted to scrap the development system the city has in place.

Councilman Cyron Marler suggested keeping the system, but allowing city leaders the opportunity to review the current standards, make changes and "tweak it."

"That's what we need to do … decide point blank what is a Tier Three public benefit," Marler said. "I guarantee that we are going to be in a lot of trouble over people being able to do what they want with their land."

The key for Councilwoman Sandy Trammell was making a clearly defined list of what constitutes a public benefit, which would make the process easier for both the city and developers, since there wouldn't be a "subjective" approach. She said it would more than likely "encourage development on both sides."

Looking at past development applications, Councilman Bagby said the only "significant" public benefit that he would have voted for involved the proposed Fleet Marina Condominium, which would have created a new home for the Destin History and Fishing Museum on site along with a 15-story condominium.

"A lot of people in this town believe this is legalized extortion," Bagby said, referring to a statement once made by Kelly Windes, who represented the Fishing Fleet condo project. "I don't know that he's too far off."

As a representative for "a couple" of property owners, Shannon Howell was the lone audience member to speak during the workshop.

"From a developer’s perspective, they (public benefits) are a huge impact," he said, noting that over the years the Tier III process has been very subjective.

Howell, who is involved in the proposed Henderson Beach Resort project, told city leaders that one of the developments that he was part of would have generated a $6 million economic impact in Destin.

"I would urge you to take another look... I think Tier Three could be good for the city and for developers," he said. "Penalizing these developers that have committed and spent millions and millions of dollars in the community is only going to create turmoil."

Since Monday's talks were in a workshop format, no specific motions or decisions could be made. The city's community development department will draft a plan to address a variety of options for city leaders to consider, such as striking future Tier III projects or allowing Tier III projects with modifications. City planners will also seek to address density and intensity, view corridor issues and public benefit questions.

City leaders will once again look at the tiering system during a Feb. 25 meeting at the City Hall Annex.

Mayor Sam Seevers suggested the city makes sure to heed the advice from developers.

"I would only hope, as we are looking through this, that we are listening to what the property owners are telling us and trying to say," she said.

If the city doesn't get a handle on its vision for Destin's future developments, Bagby said there could be disastrous side effects.

"We're going to reach a saturation point where people say 'it's the new Panama City Beach,' " Councilman Jim Bagby said. "We are either going to ride the wave or get swept away."


Beach Pointe Condominiums II: Slated to be five stories tall, consisting of five condo units and would be 60-feet tall. Would be located in Crystal Beach, south of Scenic Highway 98.

Caretta Dunes: Would consist of two five-story buildings with 80 condos. The project began in 2005 as Beach Crystal, a four-story, 64-condo complex in Crystal Beach.

Harbor Reflections: This project is slated to be 15 stories and would include 28 condos and 99 hotel rooms. In January 2008, Harbor Reflections, a project ABC Amusement plans for the site of Gilligan's Restaurant and Gilligan's Watersports, was the first Tier III project to receive a development order from the city.

HendersonBeachResort: The project, which received a preliminary development order in April 2009, would sit on 13-acres, rise 60-feet-talland contain 313-units in Crystal Beach.