New location for beach condos proposed

The developers behind an unpopular plan to build condominiums in Navarre Beach Marine Park have told Santa Rosa officials they are willing to swap that private property for a what they hope is a less controversial county-owned parcel.

Although Ron Ward and Victor Deal rejected a county proposal to trade land last summer, that exchange would have relegated their 134-unit project to a less desirable location west of Navarre Beach Pier near the Navarre Water Utility wastewater treatment plant.

But now the developers are zeroing in on five acres–although they plan to build on only three–located slightly east of the pier at the park’s southwestern edge.

The property on which they currently have an option to build—which has brought considerable public opposition—is located among county-owned parcels amid the marine park pavilions near Santa Rosa Sound.

“We didn’t really want to build in the middle of the park. So many residents feel strongly about that property,” Deal said in an interview this week. “We hope the location we have in mind now could work for us and also preserve the natural character of the park.”

Their new plan includes a sweetener: paying for the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of southbound Navarre Beach Causeway and Gulf Boulevard, a roughly $1 million road enhancement that the county has long wanted but couldn’t fit into its budget.

Instead of a roundabout, in December commissioners voted to pay $58,416 to build a dedicated right-turn lane at the busy intersection to relieve traffic congestion in the area. Construction of the turn lane is tentatively scheduled to start this month. As of the deadline for this edition of the Navarre Press, it was unclear whether the construction of the turn lane would be postponed until commissioners could consider the developers’ proposal for a roundabout and new condo location.

The park land targeted earlier is valued by County Property Appraiser Greg Brown at $244,000. The parcel that the developers are now eyeing hasn’t been appraised as a stand-alone property  It’s shown on county records as part of the overall park’s 317 acres. The developers estimate its value at about the same as the land they now control.

Both parcels would require the support of commissioners for building condominiums. Although the contested park property is zoned commercial, a 1960 county lease limits its use to becoming a marina. Commissioners would have to vote to amend the lease to allow condos. The new site is zoned for county use, so that would need commission backing for residential construction.

Trial balloon

 Although the developers are known to have spoken to three of the five county commissioners about their new plans, they haven’t met with all five.

But District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole told a reporter he would consider an alternative plan that could yield increased ad valorem tax revenue without building on the developers’ currently-held site.

“I’m not against all development out there if it’s done responsibly. But I don’t want condominiums built in the middle of a public park,” said Cole.

Newly elected District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker said the developers have recently spoken with him, although he declined to be specific about that conversation. Still, Parker, who owns a real estate investment company—which has no connection with the condo development—said he’s prepared “to listen” objectively to Deal and Ward.

Commissioners Rob Williamson and Lane Lynchard, whose districts cover the south end of Santa Rosa County, have been less encouraging. The developers haven’t spoken with either of them about the proposed swap.

The proposed new site hasn’t such pristine pedigree. It borders on the three-acre  paved parking lot for beachgoers and visitors to the pier.

There are early indications that public opinion might be swayed in favor of the new condo location, although the developers have so far informed few people about their change of plans. Despite a vote of 25-8 against the park location last year by the Navarre Beach Leaseholders and Residents Association, some of the group’s leaders have privately indicated a favorable response to the new site.

“It isn’t perfect,” said one who asked to remain anonymous until speaking with other association members. “But it would be better than building where they are now.” Moreover, he added, the developers’ offer to help pay for the roundabout is attractive.

Sealing the deal

Yet the county’s green light isn’t assured. Certain officials whose support for the new plan would be influential—perhaps decisive—with commissioners, have told the developers they must submit a new set of detailed plans for the condos. Deal said the project would consist of four or five buildings, each of them probably three or four stories high.

Further, the county will almost surely require documented verification that private funding to pay for construction is readily available. The developers aren’t offering to pay for any necessary right-of-way purchases, which they would expect the county to do.

Deal said he understands the county’s caution in approving the condo swap without proof that the roundabout could be constructed. In addition, the county wants confirmation that the ownership of the 5.7 acres of park land can be transferred to Santa Rosa without legal entanglement.

That means involving a third party because Deal and Ward don’t actually own the park parcel, which they have an option to buy from the estate of the late U.S. Rep. Bob Sikes. The property has been privately owned for decades and the park—former state land—was created around it.

Deal said that condos on the new site would be similar to those intended for the original location: luxury units priced in the range of $400,000 to $600,000.

Economic factors loom large for the county to get a deal done. A study by the University of West Florida’s Haas Center for Business Research indicated that the development at the park would generate more than $1 million in county property and tourist taxes annually.

“It’s a $34.5 million construction project” that would take 18 months to finish, said Deal. “ He added that most of the 100 or so workers building it will be hired in Santa Rosa County.

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