SUBSCRIBE NOW
$39 for One Year. Save 67%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$39 for One Year. Save 67%.

Opposition spikes against possible fire substation at Destin park

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

DESTIN — More than 1,200 people, including current and former residents, have signed a petition against the city possibly allowing a proposed Destin Fire Control District substation to stand on a section of Clement Taylor Park.

City officials recently agreed to study details of that proposed location as well as other potential substation sites, such as a part of the Joe’s Bayou Recreation Area on Beach Drive.

More:PHOTOS: Destin’s Clement Taylor Park possible site of fire dept. substation

The next City Council discussion on the issue might take place Oct. 19. And based on a suggestion from Councilman Rodney Braden on Monday, the council could on Oct. 19 discuss a possible charter amendment that would restrict the city from conveying or leasing park property without a referendum.

The tree-shaded, 3.4-acre Clement Taylor Park at 131 Calhoun Ave. stands next to Choctawhatchee Bay and is a popular spot to view the water, sunsets and Crab Island.

A new sea wall and the fishing pier at Clement Taylor Park in Destin survived a beating from Hurricane Sally.

The Fire Control District first brought a conceptual plan for the substation at the park to the council in December 2018.

More:Destin Fire submits new substation plans

This past June, the council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the district to lease part of the park for the substation for $1 a year for 20 years.

After a public outcry, however, the city decided to hold a public workshop Sept. 28 to further discuss the contentious issue.

Among the concerns of more than two dozen residents, who emailed city officials before the workshop, were the potential loss of large historic oaks and other trees if the substation was allowed at the park. Some people also fretted about fire truck sirens disrupting the park’s tranquility, and others said Destin has precious few areas left to enjoy nature.

The day before the workshop, lifelong Destin resident and city Parks and Recreation Committee member Matthew Sweetser started a petition against the possible substation at the park. The petition is on the Facebook page, “Save Destin’s Clement Taylor Park.”

“Sign our petition today to preserve one of Destin's LAST untouched pieces of local heritage at Clement E. Taylor ‘Calhoun Park,’ ” Sweetser wrote on the page. “This spot was the location of Destin’s first school house in the late 1920s, which then became among the first Destin churches.

More than 1,200 people have signed a petition against the city possibly allowing a Destin Fire Control District substation to be built at Clement Taylor Park.

“The original school/church was removed later, but the stunning oaks, magnolias, and bay-side waterfront remain just as they have always been. Many baptisms, weddings, birthdays, founders day, family get-togethers and picnics have been held in this park for more than a century, lets keep that tradition going.”

In a recent post to the Facebook page, city resident Charlene Robertston wrote: “The citizens of Destin have given up quite enough public land. We have trouble getting to our own beaches. Once there we have to sit between roped off areas. We need all the space that we currently have and no more giveaways please!”

At the workshop, more than two dozen residents, including Sweetser, voiced their opposition to a fire substation at the park.

In response to a question from Councilman Cyron Marler, Sweetser said he would be willing to pay more in property taxes to help the Fire Control District build the substation somewhere else.

The district currently has a station on Airport Road, another one on Crystal Beach Drive and a fire boat in Destin Harbor. Destin Fire Chief Kevin Sasser has said it takes a significant amount of time to get to emergencies on the west side of the city, and having a substation at the park would help cut down response times and provide quicker access to Crab Island.

More:Commissioner: Substation would make park, city safer

At the workshop, Fire Control District Commissioner Mike Buckingham said the district proposes building a 60-by-40-foot substation at the park. New public restrooms would stand on one side of the facility and a new dock for a fire boat would be built on the park’s shore.

The district would add trees to the property, not take any away, Buckingham said. He said the station’s firetruck would use a proposed driveway from Calhoun Avenue straight to the station, would not be driven through the park’s parking lot, and would not have its siren turned on until it is down the road from the park. 

The district has more than $1 million in fire impact fees for the proposed project. Buckingham said while the district has looked at a parcel next door to the park, it cannot afford the property’s $2.4 million asking price.

More:Opposition spikes against possible fire substation at Destin park

Muri Kersanac, who was the city’s first recreation director from early 1991 to 2006, suggested to the council that the part of Joe’s Bayou Recreation Area that once contained a cement plant might be a viable site for the substation.

Like Clement Taylor Park, the Joe’s Bayou site is in west Destin and provides water access, she said.

“The district is more than willing to consider this location,” Buckingham said.