I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Property Rights, Development, and the Government's Role in Growth

Residential Construction has exploded in Beulah, blowing out our infrastructure.  Now what, allow more--on one of the last big parcels in Beulah, one that the county controls currently?!?

Beulah is growing, it has been for years.  When I came aboard the County Commission, in late 2016 less than two years ago, this phenomenon was already well under way and I knew it coming in.

I get it, and now it is my problem, I inherited it, yes, but now I own it as your county commissioner in this district.

And we all get it.

Developers want to make money.  We all want to make money.

So residential development has blown up in Beulah because it is close to the freeway, close to town, and close to Navy Federal Credit Union.   Land WAS (used to be) affordable-- So it was the perfect location to build, and it created the perfect storm in terms of traffic.

Because the infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth.  Everyone knows this.  I know it because I live here and we here lived here a long time--way before the growth explosion happened.

So now we are at a crossroad.  Infrastructure is planned and under construction around Beulah.  More is Planned.  We will get another interchange within the next 5-8 years.  That's coming.  4-Lanes for 9-Mile Road?  Yes, that's coming late next year. Improvements and traffic signals on Mobile Hwy--check, they're coming.  fixes to north south county roads (Klondike, 8-Mile Creek, Beulah Road)?  In planning right now as we speak.  A modernized fire station, it's coming.  Elementary school?  (needed but not up to us, up to ECSD).  I say all of this to say this:  Typically, infrastructure follows growth--it's just the way it works--otherwise the government builds roads to nowhere, bridges to nowhere, and airports that are not essential.  Growth drives infrastructure unless you live in a High-TAX blue state that charges exorbitant, destructive development fees like Mello-Roos fees in California for instance.  Luckily and thankfully, we're a red state and a red community.  We don't do that here.

Meanwhile, private developers have purchased properties in Beulah that are zoned a certain way, with the intention of developing said properties.  And once these properties are zoned by the county and purchased by private individuals, and once these private individuals jump through the development review hoops to get approval for construction--they have the RIGHT to build what they have planned!

It's called private property rights--and I am a strong supporter of private property rights, within the bounds of zoning by the county, in order to manage growth appropriately.

So now that the growth train has left the station out here--what are the only means by which we can mitigate the impacts of more out-of-control residential growth?

1.  Plan.  I have impaneled a 9-member, BCC sanctioned committee to study this issue and bring a master plan concept forward to the citizens in order to help address this issue going forward.

2.  Look closely at up-zonings.  I have voted against the last three that did not meet the public interest (i.e. they would have exacerbated the current traffic and infrastructure problems in Beulah).  I'll continue to vote against these and PUD's that don't help the situation out here dramatically--unless there is a compelling reason not to do this.

3.  Don't exacerbate the problem with Government-Owned property.  We will soon own OLF 8 in the heart of Beulah and we will decide how it is to be zoned.  Tabula Rasa.  Blank Slate.  If we make solid decisions with how we allow it to be zoned and developed--we can help mitigate the out-of-control growth in residential construction out here that has blown out our infrastructure.  If we're smart.  If we allow more high-impact, high-density, traffic-exacerbating residential construction on this soon-to-be acquired property---then we are only making the problem worse.

I won't vote to make things worse.

"Town Center" coming to Beulah?

Project 52, a new mixed-use development in Beulah directly across the street from NFCU and adjacent (east) of Nature Trail--will have retail, restaurant, and other amenities to include a "Town Center" feature.

I have recently been told about and I have seen conceptual drawings for "Project 52"--a soon-to-be constructed mixed-use development coming to Beulah.

Interestingly-a large component of this development will be a "Town-Center" concept at the northern boundary of the property--directly across the street from the sprawling NFCU campus in Beulah.

And with 9-Mile road having pedestrian and bike friendly sidewalks installed on a two-mile stretch from the interstate to Beulah road as a part of the 4-lane project currently under construction--this creates a very walk-able community.  This is something many have been clamoring, congratulations! you go, voila!  It's coming!

There will be walk-able spaces, retail, restaurant, and a medical office facility--as well as over three hundred residential apartment units--within the footprint of "Project 52".  (This project is directly adjacent to the Nature Trail Subdivision, and adjoining the 68 Ventures mixed-use project [Pathstone] that is directly to the east.)  Pathstone, like Project 52, will contain additional restaurant, retail, and even more housing options---- 982 units total---all built in a walk-able manner complete with sidewalks--directly across the street and within walking distance of NFCU's campus and very near the on-ramp to I-10.

Once both of these properties are built-out and online--the nearby residents and employees of NFCU will have even more of  a walk-able, bikable option for housing, restaurants, retail, and other quality of life amenities very close to where they work....all built and provided by the PRIVATE sector--as these sorts of amenities should be in my opinion.

The Residences at Nature Creek, another nearby residential development, is already well under way with their construction across the street from Pathstone and Project 52, on the north side of 9-Mile road--directly adjacent (east) of the NFCU campus.  This development will have 232 more, new single family homes and apartments once construction is completed--within walking distance of NFCU.

So the million dollar question is this:  With so much residential construction already completed in Beulah, and with so much coming online and under construction near NFCU already--including this new "Town Center" (within walking distance)---And you can see it all in this diagram, here---why in the world would we consider allowing for the development of even more high-impact, traffic-

Friday, November 16, 2018

Escambia County: A Classy Organization that Says Farewell to Departing Members with Class

The County gave Commissioner Robinson a classy, well-attended thank you celebration and send off today--I was honored to present him with a framed proclamation, a plaque, and a gift as our way of expressing the County's appreciation to Grover C. Robinson IV for his 12 years of public service to Escambia County

This afternoon was an occasion to celebrate Grover Robinson's 12 years on the Escambia Board of County Commissioners as the District 4 Representative--and Escambia stepped up for the occasion.

The county staff did a superb job of organizing, planning, and putting on a nice goodbye party for one of our own that will be leaving after giving 12 years of service to this board.  How classy, what a class act Escambia County is! 

Grover was presented with a framed proclamation, a very nice plaque, and a parting gift as well as a nice celebration for friends, family, and other elected officials to attend. 

Appetizers, beverages, and just an opportunity to say "Thank You" to a member that has given a significant portion of his life to this board in public service.  That is the right thing to do.

Other boards locally that do nothing for their departing  members beyond a small plaque should seek to emulate the County's method for honoring elected representatives that are leaving. It's appropriate, and it is classy.

In speaking with staff today, I was told  "Yes, we do this for all of our commissioners that leave the board."  "We provide food and beverages and a nice gift for the commissioner who is leaving--as a respectful gesture of thanks and gratitude."

How refreshing this perspective is compared to other organizations with which I have worked.

What a classy organization full of great people. 

The County gave Commissioner Robinson a classy, well-attended thank you celebration and send off today--I was honored to present him with a framed proclamation, a plaque, and a gift as our way of expressing the County's appreciation to Grover for his 12 years of service to Escambia County

As Grover himself said it today...."We are fortunate in Escambia County that we have the finest citizens working for us!"  He is right!--

I can't say enough great things about this staff...professional, courteous, respectful, knowledgeable,  and timely with information.  What a great place to serve as an elected official.  I am blessed to have the honor of serving here and I am thankful!

And we wish Grover much success in his new role as Mayor of the City of Pensacola as we say good bye to him--he's going to do a great job for the citizens!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What is the Realistic Timeline for us to #OpenOurBeach ?

This is a rough depiction of what our timeline looks like going forward in our effort to get Perdido Key Beach access #4 open for the general public that paid for it.

Yesterday was a profound day in the quest for Escambia County to #OpenOurBeach that we have owned for nearly 5 years but that we have chained-off from public access.

The Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to grant the county a Conditional Use Permit for the public park and beach access at Perdido Key.

The four hour meeting--complete with lawyers and nearby condo owners fighting hard against the opening of this beach--can be watched here.

Kudos to the citizens that showed up and fought for this public beach access.

But now that we have the Conditional Use Permit--what's next?

According to staff that are extremely knowledgeable on how this process will play out going forward, we could realistically be celebrating Independence Day at this brand new public access park in Perdido Key!

Of course, there is a chance that the nearby condo owners could have their attorneys file suit to try to stop this...I hope they don't.  (they REALLY do not want the general public having access to this beach that they consider their private beach;  they love the comfortable status quo they have enjoyed over the last several years where only THEY get to enjoy this beach...)

But barring anything unusual, and if the BCC identifies the funding source and votes to authorize the spending necessary to complete this project----- this beach should be open for use by ALL ESCAMBIA CITIZENS by the Summer of 2019!

It is going to be awesome when we #OpenOurBeach !!  I will be one of the first ones out there enjoying it when we get it done.  I might even drag a cooler with me :)

More Housing in Beulah---on the OLF 8 Field?????

9 Mile road will be 4-laned in late 2019, and will have 
walkable, bikable sidewalks from the interstate to Beulah Road.  
There are already more than 2,000 new residential units 
under construction or planned within
walking distance of NFCU's campus...why do we need more?

It confounds me, the idea some are putting forth about building MORE housing in the I-10/9-Mile Road area of Beulah, the current epicenter of growth in Escambia County.

More than just wanting more housing where we don't need it, these same folks want it to be high-impact, high-density housing (Condos, Townhomes, and Apartments). Yes-- these same folks want to fill the OLF 8 field we are soon to be acquiring--with more housing!?!

This is a terrible idea for many reasons, not the least of which is we don't need and cannot take any more high-impact, high-density residential out here in Beulah!  And if we fill the OLF 8 we are soon to acquire with a Fancy Mall encircled by condos, townhomes, and apartments--we can kiss our $30 Million Dollar Triumph grant to create jobs good bye.  This would be disastrous.

Folks, I live out here in Beulah and I have owned a home across from the NFCU campus for nearly 15 years.

There has been growth, tremendous growth.  I have lived it.

But the infrastructure of our area simply HAS NOT kept pace with the growth.

It is for this and many other good reasons that I have voted against the last several big residential projects in the Beulah area.  It's because we can't take any more growth in residential until our infrastructure catches up.

We are working the infrastructure projects as quickly as we can, but we are way behind the curve, way behind.

So looking forward to completing a master plan for our soon-to-be-acquired OLF 8 property, (regardless of who pays for it, the county or NFCU) we need to ensure that if I get out-voted and we

leave open the possibility of building more housing on OLF 8--that the planner look at how much is already constructed, under construction, or in the planning pipeline to be constructed already within walking distance to NFCU's campus.  This must be considered.  The planner should also consider the fact that most residents out here in Beulah DO NOT WANT a town of Beulah to be built out here!  They want some amenities, some restaurants, some shops--but the folks that elected me have told me point-blank that they want to retain the rural charm of this area--they don't want it to become a city!

So we come to a big decision point on Monday of next week.  Do we destroy the remaining rural, charming characteristics of Beulah by building towering high-density residential on the OLF 8 field? we listen to the people of this area that have lived here for decades and DO NOT WANT that?

I believe we can achieve a compromise that limits new housing in this already over-crowded space, makes smart decisions about the  development of the OLF 8 (Including adding a minimum of 1000 good jobs on the site to keep us in the running for a $30 Million Dollar Triumph Grant) while

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Newpoint Chapter Comes to a Close….Vindication

People lost their careers and went to jail--just as I correctly predicted when I learned about the Newpoint cover-up in late March of 2015.  This whole fiasco also helped pass the appointed superintendent model locally --a historic silver lining for Escambia that was, in part, born of the Newpoint mess

If you steal from the state, if you steal from students, if you try to cheat the system—eventually it will catch up to you and the wrongs will be righted.

So it is with some satisfaction that now we see another person involved in the Newpoint Charter Schools fiasco get sentenced tojail.  Good—that is a good outcome. Rip off teachers, steal money from kids, you deserve to go to jail so far as I’m concerned.

But that is an outcome that almost didn’t happen…and it happened too late for the taxpayers (the school got bonuses for BOGUS test scores before the whole thing tumbled down on them…) and it happened too late for many students that were subjected to that school and all of its spectacular dysfunction for far too long to keep negative headlines out of the press.

As a staunch school-choice and charter school supporter—it is and was somewhat ironic that I was the board member that received the whistle blower’s complaint and ACTUALLY did something with the information.  If I had not blown this up—my prediction is that Newpoint would still be operating in Escambia County today.  Sad, right?

I won’t rehash how it all went down-but there are a few of us that know the whole truth. For those that want to know the truth about how it went down, and what the Judge meant when he referred to “misfeasance” by public officials in his sentencing yesterday—I’d suggest the following blog posts (here here here here here and here) as a primer.  You'll get the flavor if you read them.

The nefarious conduct at Newpoint was being actively swept under the rug by district staffers at the behest of the superintendent’s office throughout 2014 and into early 2015.  That is a fact, and it is also factual that multiple staff members told me this point blank:  “We were told NOT to tell the school board about all the problems at Newpoint.” (these employees and the Newpoint Whistle Blower were the heroes of this story—they risked their jobs by telling me and doing the right thing)

I made the decision to unilaterally report the misconduct to the State Attorney’s Office, over the strenuous objections of the Superintendent, when I went to his office to confront him about the accusations.  He told me I was wrong.  “You are making a mistake –you  are wrong!” he yelled. 

Here’s the thing, though.  I was right, and he was wrong.  He was a part of the problem and he is

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Leadership Pensacola (LeaP) Spends a Morning with the Board of County Commissioners

LeaP class 2019 spent the morning with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners today

Today the newest Leadership Pensacola class spent the morning with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners. 

Leadership Pensacola (LeaP), is a project of the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, designed to cultivate and incubate leaders in the community.  From the Pensacola Chamber Website about LeaP:

"Leadership Pensacola (LeaP), a program of the Pensacola Chamber Foundation, aims to develop community-minded leaders during its 10-month-long program. LeaP is designed to help participants acquire an understanding of the issues facing the Pensacola area and to gain the leadership skills necessary to resolve them. Candidates sought come from a cross-section of the community – men and women from different political, career, educational, social and cultural backgrounds. Participants accepted into LeaP are involved in a balanced combination of retreats, day-long seminars and community projects. The program is refined annually by a committed group of LeaP alumni. Area decision-makers offer their time and expertise while tours and interactive exercises are built into each day."

The class of 2019, roughly 40 of them,  heard first from commissioner Lumon May.  He spoke to the group about his reasons for serving on the County Commission, and his thoughts about this service.

I came into the room right after Commissioner May, and my portion of the session was to take questions from the group, describe the day's Committee Meeting, and tell the group a little bit about what the biggest issues of the day would be.

The discussion centered on the complex, lengthy land swap between the U.S. Navy and Escambia County--the OLF 8 issue.  I had the opportunity to give the history of the issue, the current state of the project, and my personal thoughts on the matter--as the chairman of the board and as the representative of the district where OLF 8 sits geographically.

LeaP class 2019 spent the morning with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners today

Several great questions were asked, about OLF8 and even about Public Beach Access on Perdido Key.

After the Q and A, the LeaP class came down to our chambers to sit in on the Board's workshop.

It was good to see so many citizens interested in what we do and how we do it, I enjoyed speaking to this group and I look forward to seeing how this class progresses going forward.