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Destin, Florida Gives Preliminary Approval for 313-unit Crystal Beach
 Resort Development -- Sort of. Maybe. Perhaps.
By Fraser Sherman, Destin Log, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 15, 2009 - The Destin City Council has given preliminary approval to a 13-acre, 60-foot-tall, 313-unit Crystal Beach development -- sort of. Maybe. Perhaps.

After a marathon five-hour hearing, the council voted 6-1 Monday that in return for the "significant public benefits" Henderson Beach Resort has offered the city, it was guaranteed the height and number of units it wanted -- provided the final design met city rules. The approval hinged on developer Dunavant Gulf meeting four conditions which Dunavant's Bill Hagerman said he couldn't agree to immediately.

"I don't think in five minutes I can figure out the impact of what you're asking for," Hagerman said. "There's so many layers of cost here, at some point it's no longer feasible."

City rules require developers provide "public benefits" if a project exceeds height and developmentdensity limits. Dunavant's proposed benefits include a 30-foot "view corridor" to the Gulf, public parking, a public observation tower at the west end of Scenic Hwy. 98 and burying overhead utilities, but the council added four conditions to the deal:

-- Buying land from the Village Baptist Church and Regatta Bay Manor north of U.S. 98 so that the project's "floor area ratio," a measure of development, won't be too high.

-- The state government allows Dunavant to build the tower.

-- Dunavant secures ownership of a legally contested stretch of land it proposes giving to the city.

-- Providing a five-foot beach access to the public. Increasing public waterfront access is a high priority for the council, and the possibility swayed several councilors who said the other benefits weren't enough.

"You can call something a public amenity, but if the public parking is a half mile away, it's not," Councilor Jim Bagby said, arguing the observation tower would benefit resort patrons more than anyone else.

Bagby said that it's also standard for an upscale development to bury power lines, and that the public parking at the resort was there for the retail development Dunavant will build, not as a public benefit.

Hagerman replied that if someone wanted to park and walk around the public mall without shopping, or cross over to Henderson State Park, the resort wouldn't police that. He added that Crystal Beach residents opposed adding more beach access -- clashes between beachgoers and homeowners are a running problem in the area -- and several audience members confirmed that by yelling "No!" to the idea.

Crystal Beach residents raised other objections to Henderson Beach Resort:

-- Luke Avenue homeowner Jim Breitenfeld said drivers already use Luke as a bypass to U.S. 98's traffic lights, and more development will make it worse. Even though Dunavant wants to create a pedestrian-centered development, he said, there will be plenty of people driving to it.

"It would not bother me as someone who lives on Luke Avenue to see stop signs on every intersection," Breitenfeld said. "This would probably force me to slow down which would not be the worst thing in the world."

-- The development is too big to be compatible with Crystal Beach. Homeowner Linda Cherry said a past legal settlement limits development in the area to four stories, though the city believes its land-use rules supersede that.

-- David Theriaque, an attorney for the Coral Reef Homeowners Association, which opposes having the resort next door, said that approving benefits without a final design was a mistake: "This pretty picture may look nothing like what you'll find when you come back ... When you see the real drawing and the real development application, that's when you know if they're giving you enough."

The council allows developers to present the benefit proposal first so that they can design a project knowing the height and density are acceptable. Theriaque said that contradicts the city's land-use rules, but the city's attorneys disagreed.

Theriaque said the city code also requires developers pay the entire benefit when they receive the certificate of occupancy, but Dunavant's proposal has the benefit paid partially as different phases of the resort are finished -- and also depending on "market conditions." Hagerman said that phrase referred to how long it might take to complete each phase, not to delaying payment.

Dunavant had its supporters: Teri Davis of Pelican Real Estate told The Log that with Sandestin to the east and Destin harbor redevelopment planned to the west, Crystal Beach needed something to hold its own and boost property values.

"Crystal Beach is deteriorating," Davis said. "It looks like crap down there."

A motion to accept the benefits, with conditions, passed 6-1 with Dewey Destin voting no.

Councilor Destin said it would make more sense to table discussion until Dunavant could tell them where a beach access would go on its property: "To vote to approve something when we don't know what it is or where it is -- as Mr. Kisela would say, 'it doesn't pass the straightface test.' "

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To see more of The Destin Log or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.destin.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, Destin Log, Fla.

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