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Author: Ken Garner

Owner wants to rezone 42 acres in East Milton to commercial

It’s All About Me, LLC, which owns the property southwest of SR 87 between Fortune and Hickory Hammock roads, is seeking the rezoning for future commercial development, according to a Development Services staff report. The property currently is zoned agriculture-rural residential with a future land-use of agricultural; the owner is asking to rezone the land highway commercial development, with commercial future land-use.

Destin businessman Craig Kruse, who already has developed a number of properties in Navarre and East Milton, is listed as the manager and agent for It’s All About Me LLC.

The Zoning Board is a volunteer advisory board appointed by the Santa Rosa County Commission. It cannot make final decisions on rezoning or future land-use requests, and the county commission isn’t obligated to follow the board’s recommendations. Regardless of the board’s decision Thursday, the commission will consider the application at its next special rezoning meeting.

Milton churches plan events to celebrate MLK

FRIDAY, Jan. 14
10 a.m. – Prayer breakfast, Santa Rosa County Auditorium, 4530 Spikes Way ($12 per plate)

SATURDAY, Jan. 15
6 p.m. – Commemorative program, Mt. Pilgrim African Baptist Church, 5103 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

MONDAY, Jan. 16: MLK Day
8:30 a.m. – Parade lineup at Milton High School
10 a.m. – Parade begins at MHS and travels south on Stewart Street t Elva Street
Noon – Block party, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

CANNED FOOD DRIVE
The fellowship churches also are collecting canned goods at each event as a service project. People are encouraged to bring canned and nonperishable foods which will be donated to area needy families in honor of Dr. King.

BoCC sets busy agenda for Thursday

Buffalo Rock

Shannon Ogletree, director of Santa Rosa County’s Economic Development Office, announced the identity of Code Name: Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Buffalo Rock, the nation’s largest single family-owned Pepsi and Dr Pepper bottlers, has agreed to buy 47 acres at the Northwest Florida Industrial Park at I-10 for a new distribution facility. (See separate story).

Whittle Building

After months of discussion, commissioners have decided to demolish the long-vacant Whittle Building so the Florida Department of Health can clean up chemical contamination beneath the property. The fate of the building at 6828 Caroline Street had been a pawn in the political maneuvering to try to keep the state from widening U.S. Highway 90 through downtown Milton. After a report from the county’s assistant environmental director, Tanya Linzy, at Monday’s commission committee meeting, commissioners voted without objection to move demolition of the building to the consent agenda for Thursday’s regular meeting. The commission will approve all items on the consent agenda with a single vote; commissioners can remove items from the consent agenda before voting if they have new information to discuss.

Septic-to-sewer

The county has asked $22.5 million from the state’s Deepwater Horizon funds to develop a multi-jurisdictional, countywide septic-to-sewer conversion program to “restore and protect” water bodies throughout the county that feed into the East Bay, Escambia Bay and Pensacola Bay. Program partners would include the Pace, Gulf Breeze and Holley Navarre water systems, the Town of Jay, and the City of Milton. Commissioners agreed staff should continue developing the project and voted without objection to move the item to Thursday’s consent agenda.

Navarre access roads

Commissioners agreed to commit up to $600,000 to pay for a Navarre Community Access Road project development and environment (PD&E) study. An FDOT Transportation Regional Improvement Project grant will match the county’s commitment to pay up to $1.2 million for the PD&E.

Planners have talked about creating an east-west alternative north of U.S. Highway 98 in Navarre for years; in 2019, FDOT approved a TRIP grant that allowed the county to begin a feasibility study for the project, concentrating on improving streets between Edgewood Drive and Panhandle Trail. The proposed corridor would connect collector roads and improve them with paved shoulders, sidewalks and medians, so that pedestrians are removed from traffic.

Thursday’s county commission regular meeting will begin with public forum at 8:30 a.m.; commissioners will begin considering scheduled agenda items at 9:30 a.m. The commission meets at the County Administrative Complex, 6495 Caroline St. in Milton.

Deed discussion dominates 3 ½-hour BoCC meeting

The city must have title to the property before it can begin the project’s first phase, building a new treatment plant on 24 acres acquired from the county in 2009 and rapid infiltration basins and a spray field on the 100 acres in question. The county and city in April 2022 approved transferring ownership of the property to Milton in exchange for treatment capacity at the new plant, but County Attorney Tom Dannheisser noticed a mistake in the legal description of the property and asked the boards not to approve the deed until the description had been corrected.

In December the county commission – with two newly elected members – tabled approval of the deed at the request of residents opposed to the proposed plant site until after the new city council – with four newly elected members – was seated.

On Jan. 3, the new council voted 4-3 to support the project as designed and to ask the county to honor its agreement to transfer ownership of the property.

The county commission uses its committee meetings to hear input from staff and residents and ask questions about issues on which they’re expected to make decisions, then decides whether to place items on the regular meeting agenda.

Commission Chairman Colten Wright said his opinion was unchanged from December, when he was the only commissioner to vote against tabling approval of the deed.  Commissioner James Calkins seemed sympathetic to residents and environmentalists’ concerns, but said it would be easier to vote against approving the deed if the opposition could offer an acceptable alternative. Commissioner Kerry Smith, who represents the district in which the plant is proposed, suggested a special meeting of the county commission and city council to try to work out a better solution, but Wright said at this point he didn’t believe that would be productive.

The deed approval will appear on the regular agenda for Thursday’s meeting, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the County Administration Complex, 6495 Caroline St. in Milton. Public forum will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Council to again consider resolution supporting treatment plant plans

The council narrowly passed the draft resolution, 4-3, at its Jan. 3 executive committee meeting. Three newly elected councilmembers – Mike Cusack, Marilynn Farrow, and Jason Vance – voted against the resolution; a fourth, Gavin Hawthorne, supported the resolution but said he has concerns about the proposed site of the plant.

Santa Rosa County commissioners may have rendered the resolution moot before council meets tomorrow. The commission meets later today, Monday, Jan. 9, and is expected to discuss approving a corrected deed to transfer ownership of property the city needs to dispose of wastewater from the new plant. If the county decides not to honor the April 2022 memorandum of agreement outlining terms of the deal, it could force the council to consider taking legal action against the county or begin looking for a new location for the project.

Either course could significantly delay the massively complicated and expensive venture. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the city to remove the discharge of treated wastewater from its existing plant into the Blackwater River by Dec. 31, 2025.

The county commission meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. at the County Administrative Complex, 6495 Caroline St. with public forum. The commission will begin considering advertised agenda items at 5:30 p.m.

The existing plant on Municipal Drive is permitted to treat up to 2.5 million gallons daily but is nearing capacity. The city acquired a 24-acre parcel from the county in 2009 on which to build the new treatment plant, which initially will process up to 2 million gallons of treated wastewater daily and can be expanded to process up to 8 million gallons.

The city’s plan calls for a gradual transition to the new plant. One of the remaining challenges is to find more wastewater disposal capacity. The property Santa Rosa County had agreed to give Milton in exchange for capacity credits can only dispose of up to 1.256 million gallons per day of treated wastewater. City staff continue to search for additional land on which to dispose of effluent.

FDEP currently is considering a permit to allow use of the property in question for wastewater disposal. So far, the city has acquired approval from several state and federal permitting and funding authorities and had expected to bid construction of the project’s $49-million first phase this spring, but that timeline assumed the city would hold deed to the disposal property.

County to discuss deeding land to Milton for wastewater disposal

‘Technicality’ complicates city-county land swap

When last it met, the county commission tabled discussion of whether to approve a corrected deed transferring 100 acres the City of Milton needs for its wastewater treatment plant project. The city and county agreed to the transfer in April, but County Attorney Tom Dannheisser recommended staff correct an error in the legal description of the property before the parties made the exchange official. Since then, critics of the proposed location of the facility have ratcheted up efforts, convincing the commission to table voting on the deed until after Milton’s four newly elected councilmembers were seated later in December.

Milton Mayor Heather Lindsay is expected to appear at Monday’s meeting to answer commissioners’ questions about the project, the largest ever undertaken by the city. To prepare, she asked the Milton City Council at its Jan. 3 executive committee meeting to consider a resolution supporting the city’s plan, including the proposed location for the new plant and wastewater disposal field and asking the commission to honor its agreement and approve the corrected deed.

The city council narrowly approved Lindsay’s proposed resolution, which must pass at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday to become official, with a 4-3 vote. The four newest councilmembers voted 3-1 against the resolution; Gavin Hawthorne, who voted for the resolution, told the council he does have concerns about the project’s proposed site.

Expect plenty of discussion of this issue, as the project site’s naysayers hope to persuade the county to keep its land, delaying the city’s project or even convincing it to seek a different location for the plant.

Beginning of the end for county septic tanks?

The county has asked $22.5 million from the state’s Deepwater Horizon funds to develop a multi-jurisdictional, countywide septic-to-sewer conversion program to “restore and protect” water bodies throughout the county that feed into the East Bay, Escambia Bay and Pensacola Bay. Program partners would include the Pace, Gulf Breeze, and Holley Navarre water systems, the Town of Jay, and the City of Milton.

Staff are asking the commission to approve continued development of the program in case the grant is approved.

County asked to greenlight Navarre access road study

Staff will ask the commission to commit up to $600,000 to pay for a Navarre Community Access Road

project development and environment (PD&E) study. An FDOT Transportation Regional Improvement Project grant will match the county’s commitment to pay up to $1.2 million for the PD&E.

Planners have talked about creating an east-west alternative north of U.S. Highway 98 in Navarre for years; in 2019, FDOT approved a TRIP grant that allowed the county to begin a feasibility study for the project, concentrating on improving streets between Edgewood Drive and Panhandle Trail. The proposed corridor would connect collector roads and improve them with paved shoulders, sidewalks, and medians, so that pedestrians are removed from traffic.

2023: Santa Rosa County faces a busy agenda

Santa Rosa County 2023 Priorities

(a partial list)

* Coordinating the design, permitting and construction of the capital projects approved in this year’s budget (For more information, go to: https://county-santa-rosa-fl-budget-book.cleargov.com/7182/capital-improvements/capital-improvements-one-year

* Completing design and beginning construction of the Woodbine Road/Five Points traffic improvement project

* Continuing maintenance of county drainage systems and outfall/discharge areas

* Constructing the Metron Estates drainage improvement project

* Completing design and beginning construction of the Ashmore drainage project

* Updating of facilities at Swenson Park

Other items of interest sure to come up in 2023:

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Triumph Gulf Coast has approved $33 million for economic development projects in Santa Rosa County, most prominently a $15 million grant to help buy and develop the 192-acre Milton Interchange Park. Several businesses already have expressed interest in locating in the county’s newest industrial park because of its close proximity to Interstate 10 in East Milton.

Four projects have committed to the nearby I-10 Industrial Park: Damian’s Ice Cream, Hershey Ice Cream, Lovell Government Services and Code Name: Plane, Trains and Automobiles. Triumph – which is responsible for distributing funds collected to compensate for damages caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill – has approved $3.5 million in the 88-acre site southeast of State Road 87 South’s intersection with I-10.

Santa Rosa Park East (120 acres north of U.S. Highway 90 east of Milton) received $6 million from Triumph to help build industrial facilities. Pensacola State College opened a truck driver training academy at the park; Project O’Brother has agreed to locate a facility in the park and Project Induction is considering locating a facility at the site.

Leonardo Helicopters is expected to move into its $8.5-million Triumph-funded facility this year as part of the 40-acre Phase One development at Whiting Aviation Park. Leonardo provides and maintains the U.S. Navy’s new training helicopters at NAS Whiting Field.

There also is plenty of activity at Santa Rosa Industrial Park, Whitaker reported. An Amazon distribution warehouse opened this fall, Element Outdoors celebrated its ribbon-cutting in December, Gulf Cable is building a 120,000-square-foot facility, Project Chicken Run is expected to open in May and Project Hard Metal is expected to buy an 8-acre parcel this year.

COURTHOUSES

Whitaker said staff hopes to finish moving into the new Santa Rosa County Courthouse on Avalon Boulevard the week of Jan. 13 and open the facility to the public Tuesday, Jan. 17. When the transition into the new building is completed, a contractor will remove portable buildings from behind the old courthouse on Caroline Street and make repairs to the Oak Street site as previously agreed with the City of Milton.

When that’s done, Whitaker said, staff will present options for the old courthouse’s future to the county commission, including appraisals of the property’s value with the building and as a vacant lot.

GROWTH

Staff is reviewing the Land Development Code’s wording and preparing to recommend changes for the commission to consider based on issues identified since the 2021 LDC update. Staff expects to present that report in January, with discussion, public hearings and adoption of approved changes during the first quarter of 2023. Whitaker said staff is working with Commissioner Kerry Smith to develop options for implementing road concurrency. Smith campaigned promising “roads before growth;” road concurrency mechanisms ensure that transportation infrastructure is sufficient to support new development before it’s built.

WATER

The county is coordinating a regional project to convert septic tanks to sewer systems, prioritizing impacted waterways. All agencies that manage sewer systems in the county will be involved. Whitaker said that, depending on grant funding and deadlines, the county hopes to start the project this year.

Staff also continues to work with Eglin AFB and the Holley-Navarre Water System to stop discharging treated wastewater from the Navarre Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant into Santa Rosa Sound by pumping the effluent to rapid infiltration basins planned for Air Force property on the mainland.

DRAINAGE

Commissioners approved funding for 18 stormwater drainage projects as part of the 2023 capital improvement plan.

ROADS

Commissioners approved 14 road projects as part of the 2023 capital improvement plan.

Looking ahead: Milton hopes 2023 brings more answers than questions

A $70-million project to replace the city’s existing wastewater treatment plant depends on cooperation from Santa Rosa County, a last state permit approval, and the continued support of state and federal funding authorities.

Widening Caroline Street will reshape the city’s historic downtown; the Florida Department of Transportation expects Hanson Professional Services, Inc., to begin designing the expanded section of U.S. Highway 90 as soon as next month, despite years of opposition from the Milton City Council.

The Milton-Bagdad Riverfront Master Plan is on hold waiting for the county to decide what to do with the old courthouse property.

The Riverfront Master Plan, approved in 2015, imagined the new judicial facility being constructed on the footprint of the courthouse or immediately behind it, closer to the river. Advertising for requests for proposals to redevelop the waterfront now, without knowing what will happen to the old courthouse, would be premature.

City Manager Randy Jorgensen recently offered brief comments on these issues but emphasized that city staff will continue to deliver the everyday services residents expect.

“We make continuous improvements to the road system, park system, multimodal transportation system, public safety equipment and facilities, landscaping, sewer and water utilities, (information technology) infrastructure, stormwater management system, natural gas utility, festivals and events program, and youth and senior programs, to name a few,” he said.

Below are Jorgenson’s comments on some of the city’s ongoing projects:

North Santa Rosa Wastewater Reclamation Facility

  • Jorgenson is seeking a project manager to coordinate funding, permitting and tasks related to the massive multi-agency project.
  • FDEP should be almost finished with its review of the permit application to dispose of 1.256 million gallons of treated wastewater per day on property currently owned by Santa Rosa County.
  • When FDEP approves the city’s permit and the county approves a corrected deed for 100 acres on which to dispose of treated effluent from the new plant, Phase One construction can begin.
  • Staff is actively seeking more property on which to build additional disposal systems. The new plant initially will be permitted to treat up to 2 million gallons of wastewater per day, with plans for future phases to expand capacity to 4, 6, then 8 million gallons per day.
The Florida Department of Transportation expects design work for the widening of Caroline Street to begin as soon as next month

Caroline Street (U.S. Highway 90) widening

  • Jorgenson said he expects city staff to have “extensive” involvement with FDOT and its design contractor – presumably Hanson Professional Services, with which FDOT is negotiating a final agreement for the work. “That will be, probably, a 24-month process,” Jorgenson told Councilman Mike Cusack at the council’s Jan. 3 executive committee meeting. “It will involve a number of outreach hearings with the community; we have informed DOT of the desire of the Planning Board, the Community Improvement Board and the city council to be deeply engaged in those discussions, along with staff.

“We’ll be at that table without question.”

  • City officials will emphasize to FDOT their desire to implement 360-degrees Complete Streets design principles, to protect the Imogene Theatre during construction, and to enforce a 25-miles-per-hour speed limit through downtown.
  • Jorgenson said the future of efforts to stop the project in favor of an alternative route is “to be determined.”

Riverfront Master Plan

  • Jorgenson had a message for the old courthouse’s owners: “Please, Santa Rosa County, determine your intent,” adding that he hopes the county will remove the modular buildings behind the courthouse and restore Oak Street as soon as possible.
  • Asked whether the city might consider owning and/or managing the building, Jorgenson said, “The city should accept assets, not liabilities, in my opinion.” He said staff does not have a preferred outcome for the property, but ideas range from park space to commercial and/or residential development.
  • Staff has developed a concept plan to open a city-owned RV park on riverfront property east of Broad Street near Carpenter’s Park.
  • The Milton Marina at the end of Quinn Street could be developed with other city-owned property in the area or included in a private mixed-use development project.
  • The city will continue to extend the boardwalk as funding is available.


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