Wednesday, November 7, 2007

State: Keep Perdido Key building cap

Originally Published by the Pensacola News Journal

November, 7, 2007

DCA disagrees with county plan

By Jamie Page

For the second time in two years, the Florida Department of Community Affairs is objecting to Escambia County's proposal to remove the building cap on Perdido Key.

A maximum of 7,150 dwelling units (houses or condominiums) and 1,000 lodging units (hotels or motels) are allowed on the Key.

But the county has proposed an amendment to the comprehensive land-use plan to allow development to the fullest extent allowable under the proposed zoning ? about 12,000 dwelling units and 2,500 lodging units.

In its recent review of the county's proposed amendment, the DCA recommended the change not be adopted for some of the same reasons the agency cited in 2006.

Mike McDaniel, chief of the DCA's Office of Comprehensive Planning, wrote in a recent letter to county commissioners that the DCA was concerned with the potential impact on coastal evacuation, facilities and services, and natural resources.

"The DCA must review the amendment before it can move forward to public hearings. Escambia County submitted a similar amendment to the DCA in 2005 to remove the cap, and in 2006 it was rejected. So the county rescinded the amendment and hired a firm to help address the DCA's objections and submitted a new one in August.

Commissioner Gene Valentino, who represents the Key, said he's surprised by the objections.He said the county is likely to submit a third revised amendment, and he's confident the DCA's objections can be addressed.

The Perdido Key Association has opposed removing the cap, fearing it would promote irresponsible growth."I wasn't surprised at all with their objections, not in the least," said Ann Griffin, president of the Perdido Key Association. "It's not environmentally responsible, it's not fiscally responsible, it's just not a good idea. They are basically telling them the same thing they did the last go around but telling them even stronger.

"There are about 3,400 residential units on Perdido Key and no lodging units. The remaining 3,750 units that can be built under the current cap have been reserved by developers. About 66 percent of land on the Key is in public ownership, and protected from development by government.

Commission Chairman Kevin White, who is "not surprised by anything DCA does," said commissioners could consider adopting the change anyway, without the DCA's support.

"But I have to find out what the down sides are," White said. "I do not like arbitrary caps. By removing the caps you are going to what zoning allows.

"Commissioners have said they thought the amendment would encourage more commercial growth to support the anticipated increase in residential property.

More than 700 families on the Key represented by the Perdido Key Association have said they don't want the cap removed.

"This further illustrates the huge disconnect between our county commissioners and the residents of Perdido Key who fought this plan change," said Kelly Robertson, vice president of the association. "First, there was the proposed change of 2006, next the challenge to the (tax-increment financing) funding for Perdido Key Drive, now this.

"On Sept. 6, the Florida Supreme Court said tax-increment financing deals that depend on revenue from property taxes must be approved by voters. The decision invalidated a bond for widening Perdido Key Drive.

White said part of the DCA's concern about adequate sewer systems, roads and other infrastructure not being able to support removal of the cap was going to be addressed with the widening of Perdido Key Drive to four lanes. That is, until the court shot it down.

Said White: "The Perdido Key Association is always going to be opposite of whatever Escambia County wants. I believe it's because of a no-growth mentality. They've got theirs and don't want anybody else to have any."Alison Davenport, a real estate broker on the Key, supports commissioners' move to lift the cap.

"Concurrency polices growth on its own; why does it need an additional cap?" said Davenport, founder of the nonprofit Promote Perdido. "It doesn't matter what a property is zoned for if you cannot prove the infrastructure is there to support it. The cap is an additional layer that's punitive to property owners."

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