October 21, 2014

Around the State

Matt Moore | 8/1/1999
One Man's Plans
Ken Kirton fought hard for permission to develop land adjacent to Wakulla's famous springs, but he's ready to take the state's money and walk.

Real estate agent Ken Kirton should have considered history when he tried to develop part of a 23-acre parcel next to the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. The last time someone tried to build there, Native Americans shot him through the heart with an arrow. What Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon wanted to build has been lost to history. But both the globetrotting Spaniard and Realtor Kirton met fervent opposition from those who want to keep Wakulla Springs undisturbed. Rather than arrows, Kirton's opponents have relied on legal rulings, including a condemnation order by the state of Florida.

Kirton is from the Wakulla County seat of Crawfordville, a stone's throw from Tallahassee. He has spent six years trying to develop part of his property into a campground for some of the roughly 200,000 annual visitors to the state park. Springs-related tourism is a mainstay of the county, population 20,000. County commissioners generally looked with favor upon Kirton's plans. But they met stiff resistance from a variety of groups and state agencies, including the Florida Attorney General's Office and Department of Environmental Protection.

The property was zoned for agriculture when Kirton bought it in 1993 for $26,000. The county agreed to rezone part of it to commercial in 1995. That prompted the 40,000-member Florida Wildlife Federation to sue. "Wakulla Springs is one of the state's -- and the world's -- most outstanding natural resources," says Manley Fuller, the federation's president. "We felt Ken's proposals represented a threat." A circuit court judge agreed, and the property was rezoned as agricultural. Kirton's appeal in 1997 was denied.

Alleging the state -- which runs a 27-room lodge and conference center in the park -- was fighting competition, Kirton kept trying. In May, he applied for a comprehensive plan amendment to designate all 23 acres as commercial. The new project consisted of the campground as well as a bed and breakfast, conference center, cottages, equestrian center, rodeo arena, trail and boardwalk.

Kirton withdrew his plans when opponents howled. Says Fuller: "We felt that a commercial development right across the street near the park was a real problem."

Still complaining the state has devalued his land, which he claims is worth $975,000, Kirton now is apparently ready to stop fighting. He says selling to the state seems to be his only option. But, he's not getting a bad return. The state has offered him $400,000 for his $26,000 investment.

In The News...
CRAWFORDVILLE -- The State Agency for Health Care Administration has plans to relocate patients from six nursing homes owned by Newcare Health Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in June. Newcare has nursing homes in Wakulla County, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Venice and Dania.

DESTIN -- Destin Water Users and South Walton Utilities won their fight to pipe in drinking water from Freeport in Walton County after the Northwest Florida Water Management District ruled in their favor. A $20 million pipeline should be built within nine months, according to the utilities. The legal squabble continues, however, as two more lawsuits filed by the city of Freeport have yet to be heard.

EAST POINT -- Worried about the effects of development on the character of this fishing village, Franklin County Commissioners put on hold property owner Whaley Hughes' plans for a waterfront oyster house and 15-slip marina. Commissioners contend the project could lead to larger developments, which they want to avoid.

ESCAMBIA COUNTY -- Champion International Corp.'s Cantonment paper mill got a break of more than $250,000 a year in ad valorem taxes. County commissioners agreed to the break after the mill spent more than $40 million to reduce pollution and speed up its papermaking machine. The mill employs 1,000. In Pine Barren, Champion plans a sawmill employing 120. The state kicked in nearly $2.2 million in incentives to bring the mill to Florida.

FORT WALTON BEACH -- Manufacturing Technology Inc., a builder of defense-related electronics, purchased Crestview's L.W. Looney & Son, a manufacturer of shipping and storage containers. The deal kept the Crestview firm, one of northwest Florida's oldest manufacturers, from closing.

NICEVILLE -- Russell Corp. closed its 2-year-old sewing plant and laid off 190 workers as part of an ongoing, company-wide restructuring that has shut down several clothing plants across northwest Florida.

PENSACOLA -- DialAmerica, a New Jersey-based, privately held telemarketing firm, announced plans for a call center that will employ 175 within a year. It's the company's seventh center in Florida and the second of 15 new centers it is opening nationwide.

The city sold 20 acres downtown to the Aragon Group for $1 million. The local development company plans to build a neighborhood with 133 homes and a pedestrian-friendly business center.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY -- Pollution found by the Department of Environmental Protection at Anderson Columbia Co.'s asphalt plant near the Blackwater River will cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Anderson is moving the plant from Bagdad to the Santa Rosa Industrial Park near Milton.

TALLAHASSEE -- In a deal between Comcast and Time-Warner, Comcast gets more viewers in central and south Florida, Time Warner more subscribers in Leon, Gadsden, Madison and Wakulla counties.

Overheard
After pinning their hopes on an Atlanta-based telemarketing firm bringing 250 jobs to Gulf County, residents here got the news that TeleMed Inc. opted to go to Virginia instead. The reason? Not enough workers, writes company President Betty Neisler in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush. "Our primary concern has been the availability of a sizeable labor pool from which to draw employees," she says. "If the differences were marginal, we would be heading to Florida. However, the locale we have chosen offers over twice the number of employable candidates." County commissioners had offered three years rent-free in the Wewahitchka Industrial Park. ... ... The vacancy left by Russell Corp. after it closed its apparel manufacturing plant in Milton is close to being filled. ... ... In Lynn Haven, the future of a 20-acre, former Air Force fuel depot is generating lots of interest. It borders a thriving neighborhood whose residents visualize a public park or marina. It also has deep-water access and railway lines that interest the directors of Port Panama City, who see it as a way to relieve congestion at the port. Meanwhile Lynn Haven Mayor Walter Kelley says the depot could be an ideal educational facility. "We've got an interest from Florida State University to build an oceanographic institute there, and maybe other things."

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida, Northwest

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