Growth: Condo Cap- Northwest- Dec. 2003
At issue is a decade-old growth management agreement that caps the number of residential units on the island at 4,128. This summer the community reached that limit after Pensacola Beach's governing body, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, approved plans for three more condominium towers, making a total of eight high-rises under way in three years.
Now the authority faces a challenge to the 4,128 limit. Developer Richard McAlpin, whose request for 67 units was turned down as the cap was reached, is challenging the authority's decision. He charges that there is no solid criteria for the number specified by the cap and that a cap by decree may not be appropriate. "That cap is an arbitrary number," he says.
McAlpin claims his blueprint for a $70-million, 20-story condominium will produce the island's poshest tower, with units selling from $800,000 to $3 million. He wants to raze the Comfort Inn he built several years ago and replace it with the condo project. The authority ruled his land lease allows only a hotel, not a condo; he contends it can be either.
The dispute could be resolved in a quasi-judicial authority hearing or go to the Escambia Board of County Commissioners. McAlpin is hoping to have a decision by next month.
Bill Griffith, the authority's chairman and a 37-year island resident, doubts his board would approve a change in the cap or in rezoning to allow more condos. "Once you change the zoning, it's kind of a snowball effect. Pretty soon we lose the hotels, and then we lose the business and the conventions that we want in order to bring people to town."
Tourists to Pensacola Beach account for one-third of the $800-million annual economic impact of tourism in Escambia County and support more than 4,000 jobs, according to a University of West Florida study.
Meanwhile, the authority faces another growth battle over its $22-million plan to improve the island's main road. Some residents say additional widening could pave the way for more growth by providing infrastructure to accommodate it. The authority is proceeding with a traffic analysis study and expects to complete project design by spring, despite a lawsuit by a residents group.
Those opposing change -- a majority of residents, according to several informal surveys -- are "people who love the island just the way it is," says Linda Leithner, who moved to Pensacola Beach three years ago from Connecticut. "Unfortunately," she says, "I think some change is inevitable."
In survey interviews, residents praised the island's "sense of community" and the fact that there are "not too many high-rises" -- yet.
IN THE NEWS
Destin -- In the single largest hiring push in Destin's history, tenants at the recently completed Destin Commons shopping complex plan to hire some 2,000 employees by the end of the year.
Escambia County -- Tourism tallied an 11% gain in county bed-tax collections through August, then wrapped up its summer season with a blistering 21% increase in lodging receipts over August a year ago.
Okaloosa County -- The Fort Walton Beach-Destin area is the second-most popular destination for tourists who drive to Florida, according to a study by Visit Florida. Orlando is still No. 1.
Pensacola -- An anonymous donor's $10-million pledge boosted contributions for construction of a teen flight academy at the National Museum of Naval Aviation to $29.6 million, close to its $36-million goal. The academy would host some 4,000 youth each year for weeklong camps.
Tallahassee -- Florida State University is looking for $10 million, half from local government in Leon County, to upgrade its National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and ensure its continued presence at FSU. Gov. Jeb Bush has indicated he might add the entire $10 million for the upgrade to his 2004 budget request.
Wakulla County -- The County Commission, reversing a previous vote, has approved a proposed 600-acre "sustainable community" that would allow 1,000 homes, 250 apartments and 500,000 square feet of business space.