A hotly debated question what to do about a portion
of the county-owned Butler Bay Road, that will lead into a proposed development west of Port St.
Joe, has been resolved.
By a 3-2 vote, with county commissioners Patrick Farrell and
Philip McCroan opposed, the board of county commissioners voted April 27 to
approve a plan that will abandon a 217-foot portion of the road that includes what
is now a washed-out bridge.
But the county will retain its ownership of about 700 feet of
the road that leads off of U.S. 98, and that includes the area that once was
the site of the former Butler’s Restaurant and Lounge.
The plan drew much criticism in recent months from neighbors,
who long would trek down to the site to enjoy throwing casts nets or fishing.
Many spoke out at recent hearings, including one man, born
and raised in Highland View, who spoke out in opposition at the April 27
“The county don’t need to abandon no road,” he said. “They
need to build a nice little parking area. You still have people who use that beach.
People go to cast net, fishing there all the time.”
But the attractiveness of the offer made by the developer of
the proposed Gulf Place Development proved overwhelming to a majority of the commissioners.
After viewing a drone video that showed the extent of damage
that still exists at the small bridge, and the washed-out road area, the commissioners
found the developer’s willingness to pour upwards of a million dollars into
fixing the road and the bridge, and to add six public parking spaces and an
easement across his property, in exchange for the county being willing to
abandon about 217 feet of road that will likely be the site of where the
developer will create a gate to close off access to the proposed development.
The issue had long been debated, with locals concerned about
the shutting down of beach access, and county administrators offered little
commentary as it was up to the commissioners.
“I don’t have anything except I’m ready for you to vote, one
way or another,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond.
In playing the drone video, Hammond noted that “you’ll
notice on the right, there’s absolutely zero beach past the bridge. There’s no
beach to have any access to.”
He estimated that the cost would be $750,000 for to repair
“We would own all the way to the bridge,” he said.
Ferrell spoke out against the plan. “It’s my district and the
people in Highland View don’t want us to give up the road,” he said. “I know we’ll
probably get hammered on this. They need to have parking area, a way to get to
the road, all that in writing. It needs to be pubic access forever, they need
to maintain it, and we need an attorney to make sure this is ironclad.
“The county has done stuff like this before that hasn’t turned
out the best,” he said.
“We’ve beat this thing to death,” said McCroan. “If
construction not done (Then I) want it revert back to county. The property once
before was sold with development in mind and it sat there 10 years. If this
development never comes to pass, it should revert to the county.”
Commissioner Ward McDaniel agreed to the reverter clause,
which County Attorney Jeremy Novak agreed to work into the agreement.
“I was there yesterday and went down and looked at every
angle,” said McDaniel. “We got to go way back, that was in 1998, and every time
a hurricane came it would blow out. We decided we would bypass that, and we’d
go around what we call the Dixie Belle curve and tie back into 98.
“This road leads to nowhere, it dead ends,” he said.
“I look out after taxpayers’ dollars,” McDaniel said. “This
is a case where I’m not going to spend a million dollars. A complete road has got
to be redone, it’s buckled up and to build a bridge, you have to build a bridge
to state specs. You’re not going to run out there and lay down some two by sixes
and drive across there.”
He said back in the day, before the old drawbridge, when you
went down to the Wood and Raffield properties, The St Joe Company had a small
strip that didn’t allow any trespass on.
“I can’t see us spending money on a road,” he said. “They will build the bridge and
maintain the road. There’s a little beach there, and they’ll give access, but have
to walk back to Highland View unless you swim over there.
“I don’t see us spending that kind of money so somebody can
drive down and turn around,” McDaniel said. “If you have business you’ll go. I have
to look after taxpayers’ money and I think this would be a wise move
In outlining the proposal, Novak noted the developer will
dedicate the spaces for parking use, and resurface the road and repair the
bridge, and agree to maintain both.
“I think that’s a good deal, in reference to spending a
million dollars of taxpayers’ money,” said Chairman Sandy Quinn. “But I want
teeth in those things just in case anything goes south.”
Ferrell noted that a standard needs to be established in the
wording, particularly since a homeowners association is likely to emerge as the
owners of the property once the development is complete.”
While the road is owned by the county, the Gulf Place development
would be in the city.
“Back years ago it was known as Viento Beach, and they put
in a planned unit development (plan) in 2005,” said City Manager Jim Anderson. “The
city approved it but it never got
“The PUD is still in place but they want to do a few modifications,”
he said. “A few parcels they want to change from commercial to mixed use, which
would allow for both residential and commercial.”
He said the PUD called for a hotel and for residential units,
but that the new developers have yet to seek a development order with