LETTER: Fear heights and vote wisely, Destin

David Schuessler
David Schuessler

At the Feb. 18 City Council meeting, it appeared that the city and the developers may have gotten overzealous in selling the newly proposed comprehensive plan. The city manager, as well as the developers, commented on several occasions that no heights or densities have been increased in the proposed comprehensive plan. This is not accurate and very misleading.

The old ordinance provided a similar three Tier system, as the proposed ordinance with Tier 1 being the “the right by law” and two other levels of increased “density and intensity,” i.e. Tier 2 and Tier 3.  Tier 3 was the greatest allowed and required a public benefit to compensate the city/public for the privilege to build to greater heights and densities.  This was ambiguous at best and extremely subjective.

For the most part, the public benefit was determined by who was the best negotiator, the city or the developer. The benefits by the developer were items like providing bus stops in front of the development, underground utilities, sidewalks to the boardwalk, additional parking for the public, a walking promenade etc, etc.  There were five Tier 3 plans submitted with three being approved and two being rejected. But during this whole process, the specifics of the code were not the issue but the public benefit. It was difficult to put a cash value on these as well as determining whom it really benefited. As a result, the city council directed staff to develop a quantitative/objective criteria.

The proposed ordinance, 12-13-PC, removes the ambiguity for the public benefit of Tier 3 projects and replaces it with an objective value that will be used to calculate a fee contribution. They fixed the public benefit part but they went on to sweeten the deal up for the developers to allow greater heights.

Fact 1, the plan allows up to two parking floors to not be counted in the height calculation for a public benefit of 10 percent of the parking spaces for the public — an estimated height increase of 20 feet. 

Fact 2, any habitable area occupied in a sloped roof would not be counted in height calculation — an estimated height increase of 10 feet.

Fact 3. Henderson Beach Resort Area was carved out from the Crystal Beach Resort Area defined in the earlier plan. It appears the height and densities were increased over the previous values to accommodate a proposed development in that area.

Simply put there are three stakeholders in this ordinance — the developers, the city, and the public. It is very clear that the developers and the city want this plan. The city has decided that this is what is best for you the public. After the Emerald Grande was built at the foot of Marler Bridge, there was an outpouring of disappointment from the public and visitors that this was allowed. This one complex had a tremendous effect on traffic at the gateway of our city.

Ordinance 12-13-PC would encourage more and bigger condominiums.

A Tier 3 (15-story) was approved in 2008 at the current Gilligan’s location although a start date has not been announced. A Tier 3, which was almost the mirror image of the Emerald Grande, was denied in 2009 because the city did not accept the public benefits and later a Tier 3 was denied at the current location of the Fisherman’s Co-op for the same reason.

Theses developers and their attorneys were contributors in drafting this proposed ordinance, which will likely be revisited when the newly elected city council is in place. By the way, if you have followed The Destin Log’s articles about the strip club, the same attorney appears to be representing both of these controversial issues.

The character of Destin is about to be changed forever unless you get involved.

Can you imagine what three additional high rises in the harbor district will have on traffic, safety, and crime? They will tower over the two tallest that already exist. What about six or seven more? Talk to your councilors that represent you. Call the new candidates that are running and see how they stand on this issue.

It is time for the city councilors to represent the people and not special interests. The future of Destin is in the balance … go vote.

“Government of the People, by the People, for the People.”

David Schuessler is a Destin resident and vice president of the Holiday Isle Improvement Association.