Monday, October 13, 2008

Perdido Key building caps may remain

Originally Published by the Pensacola News Journal

County would have to widen road to support development
Jamie Page • • October 13, 2008

Escambia County likely will call off its pursuit to remove building caps on Perdido Key — for now.

In December 2007, county commissioners voted to remove the caps. However, the Florida Department of Community Affairs refused to approve the move.

The county contends it has addressed the state's concerns. But recognizing the DCA likely won't support the cap removal without a major financial commitment to widen Perdido Key Drive to handle added development. Commissioners are expected to vote Thursday to repeal the ordinance they created last year to remove the caps.

"I believe we have the legal basis for our claim. The caps should be removed," said Commission Chairman Gene Valentino, who represents the district that includes the Key. "But I think there are certain factual findings that we can not substantiate effectively. We have to sharpen our pencil further on our case to DCA."

The votes are there to support his move to back off for now. Commissioners Mike Whitehead and Grover Robinson IV have said they'll support it.

The DCA's concerns remain the same, claiming the county hasn't identified a funding source to pay for widening Perdido Key Drive, demonstrated adequate sewer capabilities for added development or proved the Perdido Key beach mouse will be protected.

Perdido Key resident Dan Henderson, 68, has the same concerns and is glad to hear the board may call off cap removal.

"They don't have the infrastructure to support it," he said. "It isn't that we are against growth. We are for controlled growth on Perdido Key."

Henderson said he isn't convinced the narrow barrier island needs a wider road.

On the other side of the issue are residents like Alison Davenport, a real estate broker specializing in Perdido Key.

"The caps should be removed and let concurrency be the driving force for development, as it has been everywhere else in Florida," Davenport said. "But I agree the road should be widened, regardless ... to make it safer."

Whitehead said DCA likely will want to see road contracts in place before it will support removing the cap, and that could mean two to three years before the county submits a new DCA request. Valentino thinks it will be much sooner.

"It will be months. It better not be years. Otherwise the economic consequences to our citizens will be graver," Valentino said.

A maximum of 7,150 dwelling units — houses or condominiums — and 1,000 hotel or motel rooms are allowed on Perdido Key. The county's proposal would have increased it to 12,000 dwelling units and 2,500 lodging units.

One of the primary issues that has stymied its DCA request is a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year. The ruling initially put the brakes on the county's intent to issue $135 million in bonds for the widening of Perdido Key Drive, Theo Baars Bridge, and Sorrento Road from Blue Angel Parkway to U.S. 98.

The court since reversed its decision, allowing property tax for such projects paid for through tax-increment financing to proceed without voter approval.

Gregory Strand, who filed the 2006 lawsuit, has asked the court to reconsider, making the TIF unavailable until it's resolved.

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