Old Salt Works development secures county vote to combine parcels
A controversial project that could develop portions of the Old Salt Works neighborhood on Cape San Blas and bring in large numbers of vacationers has secured the right to combine lots in order to accommodate the development’s scale.
In their regular session March meeting, the Board of County Commissioners voted four to one in to approve the lot combination, following the recommendation of the county’s Planning and Review Board from the day before.
However, the commissioners did not vote to allow any construction to begin on the hotel and cottage complex, with several emphasizing that there would have to be several more rounds of meetings and public hearings before the project would actually be underway.
“In their project description, it reads ‘Please note this is not a request for a commercial development order at this time,’” County Attorney Jeremy Novak said to the board, clarifying this point. “‘The intent of this submittal is to confirm the allowance, per the Gulf County LDRs, to combine the parcels into one parcel that will accommodate the proposed commercial development.’”
But Lance Watson, a representative for the Old Salt Works development, said that the lot combination was a required step for the project to move forward into its design and stormwater mitigation phases.
“What we’re asking for today is just to confirm that we can combine these lots for commercial use so that we can move forward with the design stage,” he said before the board. “Stormwater design, utility design, everything design, obviously to meet the LDRs,and then we’ll come back to the PDRB and the Board of County Commissioners for a formal development order.”
Phillip McCroan, the commissioner for District Five, which encompasses Cape San Blas, was the only commissioner to speak in opposition to the motion, though others asked questions to the members of the public who stood to speak.
“I’m only one vote,” McCroan said, “but I feel for these people. I think they bought into an idea originally, when this land was sold as a neighborhood… this changes the whole dynamic.”
“You can say that we’re not doing a development order today. We’re not. But they cannot move forward until they combine these lots. They do not own these parcels. They’ve probably got them under contract, and they’re going to say ‘hey, we’re gonna pull the trigger.’… I’m just saying, I think we’re gonna look back at this one day, and we’re gonna say ‘Guys, what have we done?’”
McCroan’s argument closely resembled those made by several members of the public, who spoke in opposition to the project.
Homeowners in the Old Salt Works’ other lots argue that increased foot traffic and noise disturbance from the new development will disrupt the quiet neighborhood and forever alter its atmosphere.
“[My neighbors] worked so hard to buy that little cabin after the storm,” said Cindy Stack, who owns one of the cabins in the neighborhood. “They came down for 10 years, and they finally got it, and then no one tells them… This is their little retirement cabin, and now they’re going to be looking at dumpsters, and noise, and roads.”
The project has been a source of tension within the Cape San Blas community for several months.
In November, the county Planning and Development Board tabled the discussion, asking the developers for more information.
The commissioners’ March vote came a day after an hours-long county Planning and Development Review Board meeting, in which many members of the community spoke in favor of or to oppose the public.
But Ward McDaniel, the commissioner for District Two, who made the motion for the vote, emphasized that the Old Salt Works development’s request was within the law.
“We’re just about bound here,” he said. “The planning board, I think their vote was three to one, and I think it’s clearly defined here today that this is not a development. It’s just strictly combining this property, so being that it’s all within the law, we’re not outside the law or the rules and regulations, I’m going to have to make the motion that we approve combining these lots.”
The lots in question are already approved for commercial use, having been zoned as mixed residential and commercial.
Watson argued that many of the cabins in the Old Salt Works neighborhood and houses in surrounding neighborhoods are already being rented out to visitors.
“In the past, historically, the adjacent cabins all around have been used commercially and for vacation rentals,” he said, referring to a map of the project’s proposed location. “Just to the west of the five parcels that are in the proposed development is a vacation rental office. So, we’re surrounded primarily by either commercial property or commercial use.”
Old Salt Works developers will have to jump through several more hoops before any construction is allowed to begin, including providing designs in accordance with the county’s stormwater, wetlands and land development regulation policies.
There will be several more public hearings held on the issue if the project moves forward.