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Author: Ken Garner

Infrastructure tops county’s capital improvements plan

The proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget for Santa Rosa County includes a record investment in capital projects, thanks partly to federal stimulus spending and higher property values.

“This is new for our county to have this much money set aside for infrastructure in the budget process, so it’s a big deal,” Sabrina White, the county’s assistant budget director, said. “It’s exciting times in Santa Rosa County.”

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Country Gym Bar & Grill to open soon in Milton

Joe Dunne and Tony Thomas are hoping for a workout boom in Milton.

“The name really started as a joke,” Dunne said of The Country Gym Bar & Grill, opening soon at 5198 Willing St. “If somebody’s wife is calling to find out why he isn’t home, he can tell her ‘Baby, I’m at the gym.’ We’ve even bought novelty glasses shaped like barbells.”

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Jubilee developer sets third town hall meeting

Neighbors of the proposed Jubilee project northeast of Pace still have questions about the master-planned community, and some are spreading misinformation, developer Ron Reeser told the Press Gazette Aug. 24.

“We’re going to keep trying to educate people about the benefits of a CDD for the entire area,” said Reeser, managing partner of The Eagle Group.

“There are still people out there saying things that just aren’t true. We’ll keep trying to set the record straight.”

The development team has scheduled a third “town hall” meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 in the County Commission Board Room, 6495 Caroline St., Milton, to discuss the CDD application with area residents. It previously held meetings on August 8 and 9 in Pace. The meeting is open to the public but is not an official county function.

The Santa Rosa County Commission will discuss Jubilee’s application a day earlier, at its Sept. 19 Committee of the Whole meeting, and will act on the application at its Sept. 22 regular meeting. Both county meetings begin at 9 a.m. and are open to the public.

If the county approves Jubilee’s CDD application, it will be forwarded to the state for further action.
Meanwhile, the county will consider Reeser’s application to rezone more than 2,700 acres of property from AG-RR (agricultural rural residential) – which restricts development to one dwelling unit per acre – to TC-1 (town center core).

According to the Santa Rosa County Land Development Code, the town center core zone provides “a mixed-use commercial and residential district with a maximum residential density of 10 dwelling units per acre. This district shall be characterized by small-scale commercial development and varied architecture.”

Because there has been such public interest in the Jubilee project, staff tentatively plans to schedule special meetings of the Zoning Board and county commission to consider the rezoning request, according to county Development Services Director Shawn Ward.

The Zoning Board, comprised of 10 volunteers appointed by county commissioners, is tentatively scheduled to hear the request at 6 p.m. Sept. 27. That board will vote to recommend approving or denying the request; the county commission will make the final decision at a special meeting tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 18. The public will be able to comment at both hearings.

Because of the project’s size, depending on the outcome of the second hearing, the rezoning and future land-use amendments may be forwarded to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunities and other state agencies for review. The state agencies would have 30 days to review the amendment and provide comments to the county. A third public hearing would be scheduled in 2023, if necessary.

Reeser said he plans to host more town hall meetings to discuss the rezoning requests, although the dates and times haven’t been determined.

The Eagle Group has been working to create the 2,700-acre, 7,500-home Jubilee community between Luther Fowler and Willard Norris roads since 2008.

Instead of simply building as many homes as the county will allow on the property, Reeser’s vision for Jubilee is for a village, including a village center complete with a school, medical services, shops, and entertainment, as well as several distinct neighborhoods to serve different housing needs, all surrounded by parks, trails and ponds.

The Florida Legislature created CDDs in 1980 to encourage developers, Reeser explained at the first town hall meeting, Aug. 8 at Gather at Alyssa’s in Pace. When an application for a community development district is approved, a lender can issue state-backed bonds, the proceeds of which provide the developer large sums of money to invest in building the project.

Residents and businesses who buy property in the district pay a fee based on their property’s size and use to help repay the bond debt; Reeser said the CDD fees are comparable to homeowner’s association fees charged in many developments. The fees are collected with the owners’ property taxes.

The bond funds can be used to improve property adjoining the development, Reeser said, adding that The Eagle Group plans to make road and stormwater improvements that will help area residents as well as Jubilee residents.

“Humans have been organizing communities for thousands of years; we know what works,” Reeser said. “And what worked (in the United States) was what we had before World War II: inclusive communities built on grid patterns where people can get to goods and services without having to travel on just one road.”

The Jubilee community will follow that model.

“That’s smart growth. We want to do stuff that works,” Reeser said.

FWC unlikely to authorize bear hunt before 2025

Don’t expect the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to approve bear hunts in the Western Panhandle anytime soon.

David Telesco, FWC Bear Management Program coordinator, said the commission’s 2019 Bear Management Plan did conclude that hunting is “an important tool that can be used to manage the bear population.”

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