FWB lauds fee reductions as incentives to build in city

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The two hotels being built along the Miracle Strip Parkway are examples of projects that have benefited from the city’s policy of reducing some impact fees for certain developments, city officials said.

TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — The two hotels being built along the Miracle Strip Parkway are examples of projects that have benefited from the city’s policy of reducing some impact fees for certain developments, city officials said.

In 2015, the City Council approved a two-year ordinance that reduces water and wastewater impact fees by 75 percent for new development or redevelopment projects within the city. Last Tuesday, the council unanimously agreed to extend the ordinance for another two years.

Properties within Fort Walton Beach, and those voluntarily annexing into the city limits, are eligible for the fee reductions.

During the council meeting, city officials made reference to the 98-room Candlewood Suites that’s being built on the northwest corner of U.S. Highway 98 and Wright Parkway, and the 95-room Holiday Inn Express that’s under construction on a parcel just west of City Hall, at 107 Miracle Strip Parkway.

“I think it’s extremely valuable to create these incentives and keep these incentives (for) the hotel developments and things like that, to keep fees low, promote some business and sustain the growing economy that we have here in Fort Walton,” Councilman David Schmidt said during the meeting.

Under the extended ordinance, the city’s water impact fee would be decreased from $700 to $175 per “equivalent residential connection” and the city’s wastewater impact fee would be reduced from $807 to $201.75 per connection.

For a new single-family home, the total amount of impact fees would be decreased from $1,507 to $376.75, and the fees for a 100-room hotel would drop from $75,350 to $18,837.50, according to city information.

In another move meant to encourage development, the council in March 2016 adopted an ordinance to waive up to 100 percent of impact and connection fees for a period of two years for properties that are voluntarily annexed into the city.

Armed with that ability, the council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to waive $973,112 in water and wastewater impact and connection fees for local developer Jay Odom’s proposed Freedom Beacon Park mixed-use project.

Last month, the council gave final approval to Odom’s request to have almost 52 acres of Air Force-owned land annexed into the city. The currently vacant, wooded property is at 1900 Lewis Turner Blvd., just west of the county Courthouse Annex Extension and the C.H. “Bull” Rigdon Fairgrounds.

“I will tell you the ordinance that we have in place to waive these types of fees is really what made his decision to annex into the city instead of going into the county,” City Manager Michael Beedie told the council Tuesday.

The Jay Odom Group of Destin has a 50-year ground lease agreement with the Air Force for the property. The proposed Freedom Beacon Park could include about 300 multi-family units, a 102-room hotel, 55,000 square feet of retail/commercial space and 160,000 square feet of office space.

In addition to waiving the impact and connection fees for the project, Fort Walton Beach officials plan to use $400,000 in city utilities fund money to pay for extending water and wastewater services to the development site.

The city anticipates collecting $9,950 in monthly water, wastewater, stormwater and solid waste services user fees from the developer over the 50-year lease of the project site.

The city also will receive property tax revenue, but that annual amount is unknown at this time because FWB officials do not yet know the project’s overall property value, Beedie said.

“I just think the return on what is going to happen is going to be so much greater (than the city’s costs), and I think this will be an absolutely tremendous place for Fort Walton Beach,” Councilwoman Amy Jamieson said of Freedom Beacon Park.

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