Board of County Commissioners Chairman Rob Williamson continued his third annual listening tour with a July 12 meeting at the Navarre Beach Visitors Center.
Williamson, District 4 commissioner, spoke to about three dozen residents on a variety of concerns specific to the south end of the county. Williamson said his annual listening tour allows him to hear critical issues facing constituents. “That’s all this is meant to be,” he told participants. “To talk about ideas that are important to you, to talk about improvement.”
The big picture
An overriding theme dominated the potpourri of issues brought to Williamson’s attention: a desire for an overall policy on development and infrastructure in the county’s south end.
One Navarre resident voiced a concern that commissioners were too focused on individual piecemeal projects, rather than on the big picture of development and the infrastructure required to support it. “What if we take a moratorium (on growth)?” he asked. “We take a knee, and we figure it out.”
“It’s certainly an option,” Williamson replied. “It’s not an option I would agree with, because I don’t think we’re to that point yet.”
Williamson said he was interested in bringing back impact fees – at reduced rates – to help cover the high cost of infrastructure projects, including stormwater management efforts.
“Growth doesn’t always pay for itself,” he said. “I think now people are starting to realize that when you have large projects like the assisted living center and the new Walmart market, and you have these large apartment complexes that are going up, you’re probably talking about three quarters of a million dollars in impact fees that we would have had available to us to put to work. Three quarters of a million isn’t going to solve a $100 million drainage problem, but in my estimation we need to start looking at everything.”
“I think we’ve reached a point where we are so far behind on some of the infrastructure issues that we have that it’s not going to go away,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, flood mitigation remained a key concern for constituents.
Williamson said he had spoken to County Administrator Tony Gomillion about plans for stormwater drainage, and pledged to be more “hands on” in the process of solving the flooding issues.
“The problem is we don’t have those well-defined, measurable lines of effort to get us from where we are today to where we want to be – and that’s partly my fault,” he said. “Infrastructure was identified as an issue that was important to folks in District 4 – and yes, I spent time on it, but I don’t believe I’ve held folks accountable enough.”
The county public works department should have staff entirely dedicated to floodwater drainage, Williamson said. He remarked that funding may have to be shifted away from efforts such as beautification to meet the operational requirements for stormwater management.
“I need two other commissioners to agree that we’re going to dedicate specific funding to stand up specific work crews in public works, and that we need to change the way we go about stormwater and floodwater management in this county,” he said.
Williamson stated the integrity of the land development code should be maintained, which means variance requests should be more difficult to approve. When he took office, he said, the approval rate for variance requests approached 90 percent.
He suggested having a master plan in place for District 4 – with overlays to the existing code – would stimulate confidence in capital investment.
“Sometimes folks make the argument that if you have those restrictions, it restricts growth and development,” he said. “But if you look at probably the most restrictive community in Santa Rosa County, that would probably be Gulf Breeze – and they’ve probably experienced the most diverse growth of anywhere in the county.”
He added: “Having a set of rules that everyone knows about … levels the playing field and usually encourages quite a bit of investment – because it eliminates uncertainty.”
The commissioner illustrated his point with the hypothetical example of a $10 million investor who suspects the county might, in the future, buck the existing code and approve the construction of a convenience store next to his property. “(He’s) just not going to invest, then,” Williamson said.
“I’m not saying anything bad about convenience stores,” he added. “But I think you get my point.”
Williamson will return to the Navarre Beach Visitors Center Thursday, Aug. 10, for two additional sessions from 7 to 8:30 a.m., and from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
Rob Williamson listening tour dates:
District 1 – Pace Community Center
5976 Chumuckla Highway in Pace
Monday, Aug. 7 at 5:30 p.m.
District 2 – Milton Library
5541 Alabama Street in Milton
Thursday, July 27, at noon
District 3 – Jay Library
5259 Booker Lane in Jay
Tuesday, Aug. 8 from 7:30 to 9 a.m.
District 4 – Visitors Information Center
8543 Navarre Parkway in Navarre
Thursday, Aug. 10 from 7 to 8:30 a.m.
Thursday, Aug. 10 from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
As seen in the July 20 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.