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Author: Ben Johnson

Peter Prince Field funding agreement approved

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) awarded Santa Rosa the Florida Defense Reinvestment Grant in Sept. 2021, according to an award letter from DEO Secretary Dane Eagle to then-Chairman Dave Piech, that will provide an additional $60,000 in funding for the Peter Prince master plan.

“We are excited about the opportunities offered by the proposed project,” Eagle said in the letter, “and look forward to working with you and your team toward a successful program year and completion.

The funds, according to the BOCC’s item summary, will be used to include long-term economic strategies, revenue plans for operating costs, expansion opportunities, encouraging economic growth, strategies for economic success, and contributing ideas from stakeholders.

The DRG agreement is retroactive to July 1, 2021, according to the summary, and on June 30, 2022; however, since DEO’s agreement was not furnished until March 8, 2022, Santa Rosa will ask for an extension to complete the necessary requirements within the agreement.

Commissioners draft letter asking for investigation into FPL rate increases

The BOCC approved Chairman Bob Cole to sign a drafted letter to the Florida Public Service Commission asking for an investigation into FPL’s rate increases that began on Jan. 1, 2022.

“The Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners requests (the Public Service Commission) staff re-investigate FPL’s rate increase filings for accuracy,” the letter reads, “review the current rates effective January 1, 2022 to ensure they are fair and reasonable, and, if necessary, direct FPL to address inadequacies in fuel diversity and fuel supply reliability which have resulted in unconscionable fuel surcharges to FPL customers.”

Navarre Press reported on March 6 that District 3 Commissioner James Calkins brought his concern over FPL prices to the board, providing the idea of possible franchise fee reductions to offset rising costs.

However, County Administrator DeVann Cook told the board during the March 6 meeting that the county attorney would need to answer legal questions “before … a final decision could be made” regarding any changes.

Milton Resident Jerry Couey told the commissioners during the March 24 meeting that there may be more involved with FPL than just arbitrarily raising rates, asking the board to increase the scope of any investigation.

“Please broaden whatever your intent is to send to the commission,” Couey said, “because there’s more issues than just the simple increase.”

The board’s letter explicitly states the commissioners want the service commission to “ a) re-evaluate the accuracy of the figures and data presented by FPL that informed the (Public Service Commission’s) decision to approve the rate increase, b) re-examine the fairness and reasonableness of the rate increase in light of present market conditions, and c) consider any inadequacies in fuel diversity and fuel supply reliability on the part of FPL which may have resulted in significant fuel costs being passed along to consumers.”

Milton treatment plant project continues as commissioners approve site analysis

The commissioners approved a site analysis for a 100-acre area near Blackwater River to build RIBS for the upcoming wastewater treatment plant.

The item, which passed through the consent agenda without objection, would allow Santa Rosa to cede the land to the City of Milton along with the necessary investigation for RIBS viability.

This is a follow-up step after the commissioners previously approved a geotechnical analysis of county land between Blackwater River and the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution, paving the way for a new, much-needed wastewater treatment plant in Milton.

“Without a plant online soon, saying yes to other ventures will be more challenging,” Milton City Manager Randy Jorgenson said during a May 2021 commission meeting. “In fact, it will be impossible.”

There continues to be pushback from the commissioners’ decision back in June 2021 to fund a geotechnical analysis for the treatment plant, with citizens asking for the plant to be located somewhere else.

“There’s an opportunity for massive failure there,” Milton resident Jerry Couey said during the Feb.7 meeting, “and it’s a straight shot to the river.”

According to Jorgenson, Milton City Council is the only body authorized to decide the location of the plant, which he said was decided over a decade ago

“The location of the treatment plant on the city’s property is a decision to be made by the city council,” he said. “That decision was first made 14 years ago in 2008.”

The current plan for the treatment facility is to wait for the RIBS site analysis to conclude to determine next steps in the process.

Judge: Adams Sanitation entitled to county hearing

First Judicial Circuit Court of Florida Judge Darlene F. Dickey has ruled that the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners must hold a quasi-judicial hearing for Adams Sanitation after it was canceled.

A hearing was scheduled between the trash hauling company and the commissioners for Sept. 9, 2021, for Adams to appeal the commissioners’ decision to deny their trash collection permit.

“No, there’s nothing that says that they should be denied the right to appeal, even if it can be shown that the application was faulty,” said Dickey. “It says that the county can tell them how to fix it, and they can amend it, but there’s nothing that says they’re denied a hearing just because of a faulty application.

“So I think they’ve met their burden in showing that they had the legal right to the quasi-judicial hearing that’s referenced in the ordinance,” Dickey continued, “and they were not given that hearing.”

County Administrator DeVann Cook, who was serving as interim administrator at the time, informed Adams in late August that their hearing was canceled, saying that the county doesn’t authorize appeals for denied residential solid waste collection permits, therefore canceling the hearing to not “waste the time, energy, and resources of the Board or county staff.”

“In this case, there is no factual dispute concerning the application filed by Adams Sanitation,” Cook wrote in an email to Adams legal representative Nathan Boyles. “The Board has not granted any franchise, and the county has not entered into a written franchise agreement, authorizing Adams Sanitation to collect residential waste in the South End. These facts are irrefutable.”

Dickey spoke to this, saying that Adams was correct regarding Cook’s seemingly one-sided decision to cancel the hearing.

“I do think Adams is correct also as far as the unilateral action taken by Mr. Cook, or at least his signature on the document,” the judge said. “I do think – and I’m in no way implying or saying that this was the intent, but the end result was that it did take this hearing out of the sunshine, and it should have been done by the board in a quasi-judicial fashion by following due process.

“So, Adams was not given their procedural due process,” Dickey continued. “Therefore, the essential requirements of law were not followed.”

In this case, since the BOCC is a quasi-judicial court in a quasi-judicial hearing, Dickey granted a writ of certiorari that would compel the Santa Rosa commissioners to hear Adams’ appeal regarding the denied permit.

Dickey gave Adams’ attorney George Mead until Wednesday to draft the writ before giving it back to her for additional edits.

“Give me the draft to start with,” Dickey said, “and then get it in Word because I’ll edit it and put my own language in there.”

Once the writ is official, Adams Sanitation will have a newly scheduled quasi-judicial hearing to appeal their denied trash collection permit.

Milton wastewater plant draws more public criticism; item moved for vote

The hot-button Milton wastewater treatment plant discussion made a return to the county commission podium during Monday’s BOCC meeting, drawing continued chastisement from the previous discussion.

The City of Milton requested that Santa Rosa County commit 100 acres of county-owned land to Milton for Rapid Infiltration Basin Systems (RIBS) and authorize the completion of a site analysis, according to the item report.

“BOCC has previously authorized staff to submit EDA and Restore applications on behalf of the City to seek funding for the wastewater treatment facility,” the item summary said. “The City needs to secure the land to assure funding stakeholders that the project is a viable investment.”

Navarre Press previously reported in June 2021 the commissioners’ motivation for the City of Milton to complete the treatment plant after the board allocated $500,000 to fund a geotechnical analysis of the proposed site for both the plant and RIBS, leading to Santa Rosa committing 100 acres of their own property to house the RIBS.

However, the RIBS site discussion quickly changed subject as Milton residents disapproved of the location of the treatment plant site, a decision that the commissioners have no authority to make.

“It shouldn’t take a plumber’s daughter to explain to you everybody what roll downhill, and what’s going to roll into our river,” Milton resident Lauren Cooper said. “Would you want your ancestors laying next to a wastewater treatment plant? I don’t.”

Another Milton resident, Jerry Couey, made similar points, saying that the plant has “a legitimate chance for failure” while also potentially moving toward Blackwater River.

“There’s an opportunity for massive failure there, and it’s a straight shot to the river,” Couey said.

Milton City Manager Randy Jorgenson explained that the discussion veered off topic and that discussion regarding the location of the plant should be contained to city council meetings.

“The location of the treatment plant on the city’s property is a decision to be made by the city council,” Jorgenson said. “That decision was first made 14 years ago in 2008. The council has never changed its position on the facility’s location.”

District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright agreed with Jorgenson, saying that conversation “needed to get back on topic.” He also voiced his support for the item while explaining that the BOCC has no authority over deciding the plant’s location.

“Those are all questions and conversations that should be had at city council …”  Wright said. “So, I fully support this as written and what’s before us tonight.”

District 3 Commissioner and acting Chairman James Calkins moved the wastewater item to the Thursday meeting’s consent agenda without objection. The item will officially allocate 100 acres of county-owned land to the Milton RIBS when the consent agenda passes.

Judge decides ‘essential requirements of law were not followed’ when Santa Rosa canceled Adams Sanitation hearing

“No, there’s nothing that says that they should be denied the right to appeal, even if it can be shown that the application was faulty,” said Dickey. “It says that the county can tell them how to fix it, and they can amend it, but there’s nothing that says they’re denied a hearing just because of a faulty application.

“So I think they’ve met their burden in showing that they had the legal right to the quasi-judicial hearing that’s referenced in the ordinance,” Dickey continued, “and they were not given that hearing.”

County Administrator DeVann Cook, who was serving as interim administrator at the time, informed Adams in late August that their hearing was canceled, saying that the county doesn’t authorize appeals for denied residential solid waste collection permits, therefore canceling the hearing to not “waste the time, energy, and resources of the Board or county staff.”

“In this case, there is no factual dispute concerning the application filed by Adams Sanitation,” Cook wrote in an email to Adams legal representative Nathan Boyles. “The Board has not granted any franchise, and the county has not entered into a written franchise agreement, authorizing Adams Sanitation to collect residential waste in the South End. These facts are irrefutable.”

Dickey spoke to this, saying that Adams was correct regarding Cook’s seemingly one-sided decision to cancel the hearing.

“I do think Adams is correct also as far as the unilateral action taken by Mr. Cook, or at least his signature on the document,” the judge said. “I do think – and I’m in no way implying or saying that this was the intent, but the end result was that it did take this hearing out of the sunshine, and it should have been done by the board in a quasi-judicial fashion by following due process.

“So, Adams was not given their procedural due process,” Dickey continued. “Therefore, the essential requirements of law were not followed.”

In this case, since the BOCC is a quasi-judicial court in a quasi-judicial hearing, Dickey granted a writ of certiorari that would compel the Santa Rosa commissioners to hear Adams’ appeal regarding the denied permit.

Dickey gave Adams’ attorney George Mead until Wednesday to draft the writ before giving it back to her for additional edits.

“Give me the draft to start with,” Dickey said, “and then get it in Word because I’ll edit it and put my own language in there.”

Once the writ is official, Adams Sanitation will have a newly scheduled quasi-judicial hearing to appeal their denied trash collection permit.

Behavior analyst gets go-ahead by commissioners to work in historic Bagdad home

Deaf behavior analyst Marlene Loewen had her rezoning request approved by the commissioners on Jan. 27 to work out of a small medical office to continue her work with autistic children.

The land located off Old Bagdad Highway was zoned as Historical Single Family (HR1) and was changed to Historic Commercial (HC1) zoning to allow the office space as a medical office.

“We work with autistic children, as well as adolescents and young adults,” Loewen said. “We do use the facilities for when my teams come in to get new therapy supplies (or) to write their medical notes.”

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole initially saw the rezoning as a problem, saying that the HC1 zoning stays there if she were to leave.

“If we change the zoning on this property, and I applaud you for your work and what you want to do,” Cole said, “but if at some time you say, ‘We’re going to take our work somewhere else,’ the zoning stays on that property.”

Loewen responded, saying she understands and likened her property with those around her own, which according to zoning map is true – every property surrounding her property is zoned as HC1.

“Just like it’s across the street for that gentleman,” Loewen responded to Cole’s comments. “As well as the gentleman to the right of us and the gentleman to the left of us. They live in a home on HC1. Like us, they could sell tomorrow and the same thing could happen.

“Look at the zoning,” she continued. “We’re surrounded by the same property I’m asking for.”

Bagdad citizen David Bailly told the commissioners that the current building was not Loewen’s home, rather it was just a business.

“This is clearly a business,” Bailly said. “The closest model to what we see … is that it is a daycare. I’m not trying to discredit what they do, but we see children n coming and going multiple times during the day.”

Loewen took objection to Bailly’s comments, saying she is not a “glorified babysitter.”

“I am a Medicaid provider, Medicare provider, TRICARE provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, United, Cigna,” she said. “I am not a daycare, and never will be. I am not a glorified babysitter. I teach children to speak. I stop them from hurting themselves and their families.”

“HC1 in Bagdad means you open something in an HC1 area that reflects the culture of the time,” Cole said after reading site use requirements in historic Bagdad. “Again, I applaud what you’re doing, but having been involved for the last 20 years in Bagdad and knowing where it’s come from … I’m not going to be able to support this request.”

Cole also followed by stating his previous concern again that the land would remain HC1 if she were to leave, to which she responded that the other HC1 property holders would be the same.

Cole later changed his mind after District 4 Commissioner Dave Piech and District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright disagreed with Cole, saying the same thing that Loewen had twice before – she’s surrounded by HC1 zoning.

“Based on the clustering of the other HC1 zoning around it, I don’t see how this would negatively affect the neighboring properties,” Wright said.

Piech said he sees her business as any of the other small businesses that operate out of former homes.

“Your operation is no different to me than a defense attorney seeing an accused felon,” he said. “I respect Commissioner Cole’s work with that area and things, but as I … look at the facts and the data here, I’m inclined to support your request.”

Cole then said that the commissioner brought up “good points,” even though they are the same points of evidence Loewen initially gave as her reasoning for the rezoning, and he moved the item for approval without objection.

Property near old Moors golf course slated for development

On Jan. 27, the commissioners allowed an apartment complex to be built within a Highway Commercial Development (HCD) district, moving forward the plan of a large mixed-use development.

SNS Realty Inc. plans to create a development of homes and commercial property near the Moors Golf and Racquet Club between Moors Oaks Drive and Avalon Boulevard, according to SNS Managing Broker Rodney Sutton.

“There will be single-family homes,” Sutton said. “We envision apartments, single-family homes, retail, commercial all mixed into a master plan.”

However, SNS brough the conditional use request before the commissioners to allow the future apartments to be built on the HCD portion of the property rather than the residential side, moving the apartments away from the subdivision adjacent to the property.

“The (residential) zoning in the back would actually allow 3,000 apartment units as currently zoned,” Sutton said. “What we’d like to do is take the apartment component and move it to a more appropriate place on the property which is the commercial frontage.”

Sutton also told the commissioners that they will increase the setback of the apartment, moving it from the required 30 feet to 150 feet, while also installing a stoplight on Moors Oaks Drive.

Although a traffic signal will be added, Milton resident Dan Arner said he did not approve of the signal addition after the construction, preferring it be added before construction begins.

“We need a traffic light there before construction starts,” he said. “You can hardly get in and out of the Moors Golf and Racquet Club now.”

Sutton then told the commissioners that they would be more than happy to install a traffic light prior to construction, but the Florida Department of Transportation regulations may not allow it.

“In our experience with these projects, the state won’t allow us to put the light in until it’s warranted. Period,” Sutton said. “We’d love to put the light in early because it would help us in the marketing of the property.”

Planning and Zoning Director Shawn Ward informed the commissioners of the process the developer and county can take with installing the traffic signal.

“If (FDOT’s) counts warrant that at that time, they’ll allow the developer to go ahead and install that, but the county will basically have to pay for that signal and seek reimbursement from the developer,” Ward said. “That is something certainly we can have that discussion with FDOT on.”

Being in District 2, Cole motioned for the conditional use’s approval without objection.

“Quite frankly, looking at the piece of property all the years it sat vacant and unused … I think the applicant has provided an excellent project,” Cole said.

Discussion of Coldwater Creek RV park pushed to March due to septic worries

Another RV Park request came before the commissioners during the Jan. 27 meeting, but a decision is still yet to be made on approving or denying the project after the commissioners voted to continue the item during the March 24 meeting.

The location of the potential RV Park is next to Coldwater Creek just off Hutchins Road in Milton, which citizens like Nathan Green oppose the location.

“To put a commercial property on the Coldwater Creek, one of this county’s best natural resources, sounds a bit crazy,” said Green, owner of 60 acres immediately adjacent to the subject property.

He also discussed the problems with constructing septic tanks near the creek since there are no county hookups for sewage where the site is located. Green said told the commissioners that the park would sit on a bluff roughly 30 feet above the creek.

“So, even with the best engineering I know what flows downhill” Green said. “And I am convinced the septic systems on that property will eventually leach down into the Coldwater Creek.”

Speaking on behalf of Sandy Creek RVP, Robert Preston told the commissioners that he does not believe the highly engineered septic tanks will prove problematic to the ecosystem or neighboring homes’ health.

“I understand the concern; we’re all concerned about our waterways and making sure they’re not polluted,” he said. “I think if we are still concerned that there would be sewer that would leak from our systems after brand new systems are designed and engineered, then we have other issues that aren’t revolved around my park.

“We should be able to trust those agencies to appropriately engineer and design those systems,” Preston continued.

Another point that Preston and the commissioners made regarding the septic tanks is that Preston’s land is currently zoned as a rural residential agriculture zone, meaning he is allowed to construct one single-family home per acre without asking permission.

This would mean roughly 17 to 20 homes, each with a septic tank, could be built rather than the 10 RV pads that Preston looks to implement.

Resident of Bell Lane Sherry Chapman explained she in not fond of the rapid growth, especially near places that were once rural.

“When we moved where we live, we live on Bell Lane, things have grown up and it is like a freaking zoo,” Chapman said. “These people do not deserve this.”

The commissioners voice their concern with the septic tanks, with District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole saying he would not approve the conditional use unless a sewage system other than septic is used.

“The only way I’d vote in support of this is if a consideration for the conditional use was a small packaging plant with a RIBS system to dispose of (the waste) rather than the septic tanks,” Cole said.

District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright voiced the same opinion as Cole while also reconciling the fact that the concerned residents near the creek use septic tanks for their own homes.

“I’m inclined to support this if … the septic tanks wouldn’t be there and you would have some kind of packaging plant,” Wright said. “At the same time there’s a number of septic tanks for the people that are in this room that are across the street.”

With the packaging plant being the leading idea among the commissioners, county attorney Tom Dannheisser told the commissioners it was not a good idea to set the packaging plant as a condition before a study is done on the land showing a plant would be feasible.

“I wouldn’t do a condition because it’s kind of arbitrary,” Dannheisser said. “We don’t even know if it’s, theoretically, engineering-wise feasible.”

This led to District 3 Commissioner James Calkins motioning for a continuance of the item until March 24 meeting where Preston will tell the commissioners if his land is capable of housing a packaging plant.

‘Healthy conversation’ leads to compromise on Pace subdivision

Plans to close down Sterling Way and Bell Lane to construct proper drainage pipes for the 868-home Pace Commons were changed to accommodate the citizens.

The commissioners passed without objection allowing developers to open-cut parts of Sterling Way and Bell Lane to provide proper drainage to a future 868-home subdivision, but not before accepting the head engineer’s changes.

The head engineer for Pace Commons, Tom Hammond, told the commissioners Jan. 27 that lane closures will occur during construction of the 60-, 72- and 96-inch pipes rather than complete road closures.

“We’re proposing no closing until 9 p.m., two lanes all the time until 9 p.m.,” Hammond said, “and there will be at least one (lane open) until 6 a.m. We won’t impact the cross sections of either road except during that time.”

This was the answer to many questions raised by citizens during the committee meeting, where Milton resident Jerry Couey questioned the commissioners on why drainage was not thought of when the preliminary plat was approved back in 2020.

“Do you see the public’s perception of how this works?” Couey said. “And now we’re going back door, disrupting the public and have something we have to deal with forever.”

Although no roads will be completely closed during construction, Milton resident and current zoning board member Kerry Smith questioned the commissioners on possible contingency plans made once construction begins.

“Do we have any guarantees that we’re not going to have any issues?” Smith asked. “(So) that we’re gonna, ‘Oh, yeah well, we didn’t see this coming so we’re just, eh, sorry. We have to shut this down for the day.’”

Smith also questioned whether or not the private borrow pit that all of Pace Commons stormwater will runoff to will be “dedicated to the county” some time in the future, leaving Santa Rosa on the hook for maintain it.

“So, these are the questions we need to ask now and make sure they are really clear,” he said.

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole responded, saying that the future is not certain and, for right now, the holding pond is private.

“I don’t see how we could make it any clearer; it’s already documented in the county through all the plans and engineering submissions that it’s going to be private.” Cole said. “Who knows what the future is.”

According to Hammond, the drainage system and holding pond are all private since “Santa Rosa County doesn’t allow private water in a public stormwater pond.” He also said the pit will be expanded and meet all Santa Rosa code standards prior to use.

District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker, calling in to the meeting due to a scheduled absence, said that these changes were a “product of healthy conversation” during the earlier committee meeting, saying he is thankful for that discussion.

“I don’t see where we could really get a better compromise for citizens,” Parker said.

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