Former Destin land use attorney says strip club settlement not compatible with comprehensive plan

Matt Algarin
The site of the former Pottery World on Airport Road could be the future home of an adult entertainment club based on discussions that have taken place at City Hall.

As the former land use attorney for the city of Destin, David Theriaque is quite familiar with the city's comprehensive plan, and he says the proposed topless bar on Airport Road isn't compatible.

"The settlement agreement the city signed must be compatible with the comprehensive plan," he told The Log, noting that's not the case. "The arguments we laid forth are legitimate."

Theriaque, who is an attorney at the Tallahassee-based Theriaque & Spain, was recently hired by the anti-strip club group Citizens for a Greater Destin to fight for local residents and business owners that oppose what may become the city's first strip club — The Runway.

On April 26, Theriaque sent two separate letters to the city. One was addressed to Mayor Sam Seevers and the other to Community Development Director Ken Gallander.

In his letter sent to the mayor, Theriaque wrote that the settlement agreement the city entered into with the former Terry Stephenson/Trident-Operations, LLC/Oasis of Destin Inc. in 2010 "illegally contracts away the city's police powers."

"Looking at this issue, essentially what the courts have held is that current boards or commissions cannot tie the hands of future boards," he said. "That's classic contracting away of police powers."

Theriaque also writes that "not only is the governing body entitled to exercise police power for those purposes [i.e., public health, safety and welfare], but it is bound to do so, and will be delinquent in its duty if it fails to recognize the need and impose those restrictions and regulations which police power demands."

To conclude, he adds that the settlement agreement should not be "relied upon" by the city or others as a basis for reviewing and permitting proposed sexually oriented businesses by Trident's "alleged successors in interest."

As for the city's response to the letter, Theriaque told The Log he received a letter from the city's Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley on May 28 saying "he disagreed" with the letter.

In his letter to Gallander, Theriaque writes that the proposed strip club "fails to comply" with numerous requirements of the city's comprehensive plan and parking standards.

He notes that the project is inconsistent with, at minimum, multiple provisions of the code, such as policy 1-1.3.1 (General Considerations), policy 3-1.5.3 (Minimize Potential Blighting Influences), and policy 3-1.5.8 (Compatibility of New Development).

More specifically for general compatibility, he adds that the location and distribution of specific commercial and mixed use activities shall be based on the following: compatibility with and impact on other surrounding commercial and mixed use activities; relationship to surrounding land uses and natural systems; and the impact on established as well as anticipated future residential development.

As for blighting influences, Theriaque notes that the city's comprehensive plan says "the city shall avoid potential blighting influences within residential areas through land use planning." When it comes to compatibility, the city's code reads Destin shall continue to ensure compatibility of proposed development with adjacent and surrounding residential uses.

"The proposed Airport Road topless bar would not be compatible with the nearby residential development and commercial uses," Theriaque wrote. "Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive of a more incompatible use than a topless bar located in close proximity to existing and future residential uses."

Looking at the parking issue, Theriaque's letter notes that the site plan for the proposed club utilizes a parking standard of one space per 150-square feet, which he adds should actually be one space per 75-square feet. The difference in the parking requirement is determined by whether or not the sexually oriented business serves alcohol or not.

The city's position on the letters is unclear, as Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley didn't return a message from The Log seeking comment.

Currently, the city is still reviewing the application from Trident. Public Information Manager Doug Rainer said Trident has turned in its second submittal to the Technical Review

Team addressing previous questions. Rainer said there are still questions to be answered, and the city is waiting on a traffic study.

The Runway, which is slated as a 5,550-square foot building, would be located at 908 Airport Road. Red Brick Construction LLC bought the property for $360,000, nearly $150,000 more than the $205,727 listed as its value by the Okaloosa County property appraiser.

For Theriaque and his clients, the ultimate goal would be for the strip club not to open.

"It's no secret my clients don't want a strip club in their neighborhood," he said. "The next step is for the city to decide on the pending application."