April 23, 2018

No Orlandos, Please- Northwest- Dec. 2002

Joan Hughes | 12/1/2002
With development in the Panhandle accelerating as St. Joe Co. develops its massive holdings, a group of 40 concerned northwest Florida residents has formed the Panhandle Citizens Coalition with a goal of ensuring "fiscal, ethical and environmental accountability and safeguarding the cultural heritage of the region."

Chairman John Hedrick, a Tallahassee attorney, says St. Joe's sheer size -- almost 1 million acres in the Panhandle -- makes it a focus of concern. The company has started to aggressively market its developments there, including WaterColor in Seagrove Beach, WindMark Beach in Port St. Joe and WaterSound in Camp Creek.

"I grew up in Orlando," says Hedrick, "and I saw the city before, during and after Disney" -- a thinly veiled reference to St. Joe CEO Peter Rummell, who was once chairman of Walt Disney's development division. Hedrick says he doesn't want growth to bring the congested highways, overcrowded schools and uncontrolled sprawl that have plagued Orlando.

PCC's first action was a request that St. Joe, local governments and state agencies take a "pause for planning," a period in which development and government approval of projects would be suspended.

The idea, says Hedrick, was to allow citizens a comprehensive review of all St. Joe's Panhandle projects "because no one has bothered to consider the cumulative impact of all these St. Joe projects with each other and with other major developments." Neither St. Joe nor local governments responded.

The coalition is now calling for initiatives in Port St. Joe, Panama City and Panama City Beach, as well as informal petitions in Franklin, Bay and Gulf counties, seeking voter approval of issues affecting major projects. The group has already gathered enough signatures in Carrabelle to force a referendum on two initiatives that will require voter approval of water and sewer service extension and repeal an ordinance that allows unlimited building heights. Both are intended to slow or prevent development.

St. Joe spokesman Jerry Ray says the company is developing the area responsibly. He points to the 117,000 acres he says St. Joe has set aside in a conservation program, with another 150,000 earmarked. "Compare that to the 6,000 acres we plan to develop as residential," says Ray. "We're devoting 25% of our holdings to conservation."

While the PCC is skeptical, Hedrick insists it is not anti-St. Joe or even anti-growth. Instead, he says, the coalition supports what he calls "enlightened capitalism. We have to fight for responsible planning and responsible growth."


Bay County -- County commissioners have approved the West Bay Sector Plan, which will govern the development of 75,000 acres of primarily St. Joe Co.-owned land over the next 50 to 100 years. The plan revolves around the county's proposed new airport and was developed in close cooperation with the company.

Destin -- Artificial Reefs has deployed 56 reef habitats -- pyramid-shaped concrete structures -- over 25 acres in waters 14 miles south of Destin. The city project, funded through state and federal funds, is intended to enhance recreational fishing and scuba diving. The company is currently working on reef projects in Taylor, Franklin and Bay counties.

Escambia County -- In an unusual public/private partnership arrangement, International Paper and the Escambia County Utility Authority have agreed on an $84-million wastewater treatment plan to clean up Perdido Bay and extend sewer service to central Escambia County. International Paper will fund $27 million in upgrades to its onsite treatment plant and 80% of the $34-million, 10-mile pipeline from its plant to a new $23-million ECUA facility.

Fort Walton Beach -- Southern Ventures Corp. plans to build Bayside Center, a proposed six-story, 90,000-sq.-ft. upscale waterfront commercial office building designed for professional and financial service companies.

Spurred by local high-tech industry demand, the University of West Florida at Fort Walton Beach has invested $1 million in staffing and facilities to provide four-year computer and electrical engineering degree programs.

Okaloosa County -- Aerospace Integration Corp. of Fort Walton Beach will build a $3.5-million, 66,000-sq.-ft. hangar at Bob Sikes Airport for C-130 gunship modification, creating 70 jobs. Also, Crestview Aerospace is building a $1.75-million, 52,000-sq.-ft. hangar for C-130 modification, adding 250 jobs. The airport has received about $2.5 million from state and federal sources for taxiway construction to support the projects.

The school board has approved a five-year, $107-million construction plan that includes $10.5 million for a technical high school based on business partnerships. Planning is also under way for the Military Flight School at the Air Force Armament Museum. Expected to open in 2004, the full-time high school will provide an aviation-based science and math curriculum.

Panama City Beach -- The city has increased its size by 40% by annexing about 2,000 acres of St. Joe Co. land zoned for mixed residential use.

Quality Centers Inc. is buying 24 acres from St. Joe Commercial to develop a 185,000-sq.-ft retail center at Pier Park, a public/private venture between St. Joe and the city. The project will include 50 acres of retail, dining, entertainment and resort facilities and 70 acres of commercial facilities.

Panhandle -- An attempt by Milton and Gulf Breeze to buy Florida Water Services, a group of 152 water systems serving 550,000 customers in 28 central and south Florida counties, from Minnesota-based Allete has riled many FWS customers. Critics claim the Florida Water Services Authority -- set up by Milton and Gulf Breeze -- did not adequately notify the public of its meetings to discuss the proposed deal and fear the authority will impose a tax to increase revenue. The purchase would be funded through bond issues, with Milton receiving 20% of revenue and Gulf Breeze, 80%. Despite lawsuits filed by Hernando County, Marco Island and Palm Coast, the two municipalities hope to close the deal this month.

Pensacola -- Despite lawsuits from local businesses, the City Council approved a 20-year lease for Irondale, Ala.-based Reynolds Ready Mix's cement operation at the Port of Pensacola. Downtown business owners are concerned the operation, expected to generate up to 50 jobs and $14.5 million over 20 years, will create noise and air pollution.

Jack Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and a former WWII Navy pilot, has donated $10 million to the planned National Flight Academy at the National Museum of Flight Aviation. The $30-million school, scheduled to open in 2005, will serve 4,000 seventh- through 12th-grade students each year in one-week residency programs.

Tallahassee -- About 2,000 Apalachee Ridge Estates residents will benefit from the Community Neighborhood Renaissance Partnership's first Learning and Technology Resource Center, a K-12 tutoring, computer and job-skills training facility. The program, a partnership between the city and local and national businesses, is intended to bridge the "digital divide" in low-income areas. The partnership hopes to build its next resource center in the Providence neighborhood.

Two years after the Legislature approved its inception, the medical school at Florida State University has been granted provisional accreditation, the first step toward full accreditation, by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges.


OKALOOSA COUNTY -- Okaloosa County Emergency Medical Services, a division of the Department of Public Safety, has been named the 2002 EMT-Paramedic Emergency Medical Service of the Year by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. The rating pitted the county's 93 paramedics and emergency medical technicians against staffs from major cities across the nation, including Dallas, Los Angeles and New York.

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