City planner predicts a Destin growth spurt

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.

Destin's skyline may look radically different in the future, as city planners say there is a "realistic" chance that there could be 5 to 10 Tier III projects, or those comparable to the Emerald Grande, going vertical in the next 15-20 years.

"Nobody has a crystal ball though," Community Development Director Ken Gallander said of the uncertainty.

But City Manager Maryann Ustick adds that there are just too many factors that go into large-scale projects going vertical for there to be a building boom of such projects.

"Projects sometimes take five years just for planning," she said, noting that parcels would have to be purchased and joined together to accommodate such macro-developments.

There are currently three approved Tier III projects on the city's books. They include Beach Pointe Condominiums, Harbor Reflections, and Caretta Dunes — which all secured development orders in 2008.

Under the proposed changes to the tier system, these projects would be grandfathered into the current standards, unless the developers chose to amend their development orders.

"That development order specifies their public benefit and what they want to do," said Gallander. "Say their public benefit was $1.3 million and under the new system it was $800,000, I think they would be willing to come back in."

Ustick said the changes to the tier system and the city's comprehensive plan weren’t designed toimpact the projects that are currently on the books, but to guide the development of future projects.

"The issue of managing growth is an issue in itself," she said. "If you are not growing, you are dying."

How the tiering system was born

When talking about the tier system and development in Destin, the Emerald Grande often becomes the prime example.

But is the Emerald Grande a Tier III?

"Generally speaking, yes," Gallander said. "I don't know without looking at the densities, but height-wise, yes. It's at the limits of why standards were put into place."

The city's tier system was established in 2005 after the development of the Grande. Prior to that, the city used a process known as compatibility.

"It was the early 2000s, things were chugging along," Gallander said. "They thought development was going to keep going, so we had to create a system to approach this — and the tier system started to come around."

In the early days, if a developer wanted to increase a project from a standard Tier I to a Tier II, they were required to meet a new standard, which included strict architectural standards, such as varied rooflines and no flat boxes. To jump to a Tier III project, they had to decide what would be the maximum level in each future land use designation, which is where Tier III came from.