City leaders, developers narrow down Tier III standards

Matt Algarin
Officials and business leaders expressed skepticism that Harbor Reflections, a 15-story condo project, will ever get off the ground. The project was approved for the space where Gilligan's restaurant currently operates.

After months of meetings between developers and city staff, Destin’s leaders are moving closer to making changes to their current Tier III development standards.

"I think there are still some things we need to work out," Community Development Director Ken Gallander said during Monday night's City Council workshop.

Gathered around tables in a u-shaped fashion, there were still plenty of details that need to be hammered out before a final change is made to the city's macro-development regulations. Under city code, Tier III developments have the highest intensity/density of any development.

Over the years both developers and some city leaders have been outspoken on the city's standards, saying they are too subjective.

Monday's meeting proved to be wide ranging, as talks flowed from parking requirements and open space to the creation of new future land uses and the need for more hotel-type developments.


The proposed changes would create a new future zoning area — Henderson Beach Resort. This area would be located south of Hurricane Lanes and west of Matthew Boulevard and the Henderson Beach Inn property near the state park.

Essentially this land use designation would accommodate Dunavant’s Henderson Beach Resort project, which is an already approved Tier III mixed-use development that would boast a resort hotel, convention center, water park, and multiple multi-density residential units.

The project is currently tied up in litigation from nearby property owners that are opposed to the city's development standards.

Parking and Open Space

Changes to the current parking and open space requirements are also up for debate.

If approved, developers would be able to reduce the amount of open space (green areas) for a project if they meet certain criteria. Currently, projects must have 25 percent of their project area dedicated to open space, but that could be reduced to 18 or 12 percent based on whether a development is Tier II or Tier III.

For her part, Councilwoman Sandy Trammell wasn't keen on the idea of cutting the requirements basically in half.

"I don't think people come to Destin to walk on cement, I just don't think they do," she said. "We need to create shade; there has to be some form of trees or something."

Under the new proposal, developers would be able to construct a parking structure as part of a development and it wouldn't be counted toward the actual height of the project.

But developer Peter Bos says it's unlikely that many would consider this option because it would reduce the amount of "useable, sellable" square footage.

A need for hotels

Looking at the future, Bos told city leaders that there is a tremendous need for hotels to be developed, as the city is currently a "two to three" bedroom condo market.

"Having hotels in your market is really, really important," he said. "It allows for penetration of the year-round market."

John Heiser, from the Howard Group, added it's a matter of basic economics.

"From a pure financing point, it's very difficult to finance condominiums because they are not selling," he said. "Today, the multi-family and apartments are very favorable."

Shannon Howell from Dunavant Development told city leaders that "if you don't have the flexibility to go with the market," whether it be a condo-tel or another type of development, "you could be in trouble."


One of the main points city leaders and developers agreed to look at was the intensity and density of a project based on the size of the parcel it would be located on. Specifically, they pointed to a proposed project on the current Gilligan's property along the harbor.

Harbor Reflections received Tier III approval in 2008 and would call for the construction of a 15-story mixed use development on the 0.4-acre property at 530 Harbor Boulevard.

"They managed to draw out a Tier III plan on that thing," Trammell said of the small parcel.

Although the project is approved, the opinion in the room Monday was that the project may not come to fruition.

"I think what's happened is they've designed a project that could never be built," Bos said. “We have an impractical approval of a project that could practically not be built."

A message left for Mike Abadie, who is the owner of Gilligan's and ABC Amusement Co, was not returned before press time. The Harbor Reflections project was filed on behalf of his company.

The Path Forward

After plenty of discussion Monday night, the city's staff will be tasked with drafting a new version of the city's Tier III standards to present to the city council at its Nov. 18 meeting. Once reviewed by the council, the changes would be sent to the Local Planning Agency for review before coming back to the city council for final adoption.

"We heard a lot of great conversations tonight," Mayor Sam Seevers told the group before adjourning the meeting.