'Everything stops': Comprehensive plan in a holding pattern after Tuesday vote

Matt Algarin
During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, city leaders once again debated the merits of the tier system, which governs the intensity and density of developments in the city. Councilman Jim Bagby went as far as suggesting the city remove all references to the Henderson Beach Resort future land use, which would be home to the proposed Henderson Beach Resort project.

With a 3-1 vote, city leaders have punted proposed changes to the city’s development roadmap until after the city elections, which could bring three new faces to the dais.

"I don't think this is ready tonight," Councilman Tuffy Dixon told his colleagues during Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

After spending hundreds of hours in meetings relating to the city's tier system, the council was poised to vote on whether or not to move forward with proposed changes that would dramatically shift the way large-scale developments are regulated.

While the comp plan changes also affect items such as recreation, economic development and conservation, the most notable change has come to the "public benefit" portion of the comp plan for Tier III projects, those with the highest allowable intensity and density in the city.



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The new plan would call for a more quantifiable and subjective approach to be taken when determining what "fee" would be paid by developers for increasing their project from a Tier II to a Tier III. Under the current system, developers pay a "public benefit," which has to be determined during a negotiation process that's been called "blackmail" in the past.

With more than a dozen people speaking out on the topic Tuesday night, there was support both for the proposed changes and against them.

As a stakeholder in the process, William Hagerman of Dunavant Enterprises supported the changes. Hagerman is part of the group behind the proposed Henderson Beach Resort project.

"I can tell you, the old tier system was very arbitrary, gave no guidance for the developer," he said. "It was traumatic."

Local attorney Dana Matthews, who participated in the comp plan revision talks, told the council that the proposed changes are a "chance to send a positive message to the development community."

But not everybody was convinced.

Leigh Moore, who represents the Howard Group, told city leaders that her organization was against the proposed changes, as they are unsure that Destin has the infrastructure to accommodate large-scale projects.

"We have concerns about the intensity and density," she said.

Holiday Isle resident Guy Tadlock has been vocal about his opposition to the comp plan revisions, speaking out at an array of city meetings.

"While we encourage development, we want it to be responsible and we don't want to put our existing members in peril," Tadlock said.

By allowing developers to build projects larger than what's already available on Holiday Isle, Tadlock said the existing condominiums would lag behind newer buildings.

As for the overall comprehensive plan, Tadlock says if it was put to a vote of residents via referendum, "I don't think it would pass."

Another point of contention Tuesday night was the creation of the Henderson Beach Resort (HBR) future land use. The proposed zoning area would be located south of Hurricane Lanes and west of Matthew Boulevard and the Henderson Beach Inn property near the state park.

While city officials say that the new designation wasn't created to accommodate the proposed development that bears the same name, Councilman Jim Bagby wasn't so sure.

“If you want to look at a gerrymandered piece of ground, that's it," he said.

"HBR is the Henderson Beach Resort," he added, saying the concept was "hoisted" upon them. "The people that bought in Crystal Beach bought because they knew what the height limitations are."

As for the concerns on Holiday Isle, Bagby says the city is "changing the rules."

"What we are doing, proposing to do, on Holiday Isle is wrong," he said of height limits that exceeded the Holiday Isle Improvement Association’s restrictions.

After showing his displeasure over both Holiday Isle and the HBR, Bagby made a motion to eliminate any reference of the HBR from the proposed comp plan.

With only four councilors in attendance, his motion stalled at a 2-2 tie, before Mayor Sam Seevers voted against the measure, acting as the tiebreaker. Bagby and Dixon voted in favor, while Councilmen Jim Wood and Cyron Marler voted against the motion.

City leaders will consider the proposed changes to the comprehensive plan again April 7 when the new city council has been seated. In the meanwhile, by not pushing forward with an updated comprehensive plan the city is locked in a holding pattern and "everything stops," according to City Manager Maryann Ustick.

"This is the city's roadmap," Ustick told The Log during a recent interview. "This is about more than just Tier III; it's about the entire plan for the city."