Sandestin Investments owner Tom Becnel held a Town Hall meeting for the resort's homeowners last week to try to bring all of Sandestin together on one page as he is set to move forward with his plans to build.
Becnel's Notice of Proposed Change to Sandestin's Development of Regional Impact was given the green light by Walton County Commissioners last month, but many Sandestin residents have vocalized their opposition to any more construction taking place on the resort.
Becnel took two-and-a-half hours to go through the history of the resort, which was platted in 1972, addressing items that have caused confusion and his plans for the future.
Through the years, Sandestin has changed hands several times, but Becnel said the original plans were to bring it to where it is today.
He explained that development was already underway in the golf-course community before DRIs existed, and when the state established DRIs in 1974, the west side of the property was vested and was not included.
Through the changing of hands, Becnel said that none of the previous owners kept accurate records and guessed at the number of units in buildings and the sizes of lakes and other lands, and his demand for an accurate accounting is one of the things that brought them into the need for filing the NOPC. An NOPC is required to change numbers, even if it is a correction.
"This is the first time in the history of Sandestin that there has been an accurate count," he said.
Addressing the issue of open space, Becnel said the county's comp plan calls for 25 percent open space.
"We have 49 percent. We have twice what is required," he said.
He said some of that comes from an equestrian center and horse trails that were never built, and the golf course's buffers.
"People were saying I was taking their back yards. Not true," he said. "The plat had easements. Those are the buffers. The buffers were there for a purpose. The fairways are the defined areas maintained. Off the golf course you have the ruff. There is no ruff. The ruff is the buffer. The original development included the ruff in the plat and put it on every document. You can't build on it. I don't have any use for your back yard. I can't build there either. It meets the definition of open space and should be included."
Addressing the topic of the tennis center Becnel said there is no planned change for the tennis center.
"It is not going away. County staff said if one day I might develop it I must reclassify four acres as residential," Becnel said. "Unless you are there you don't understand the process we had to go through. I have no plans to infringe on tennis. If we do, we will replace it."
Another hot topic has been the issue of Jolee Island being developed.
"Jolee Island is another mistake we discovered. We discovered there were 96 residential units dedicated there at one time and when the overlay map was done it was (designated) residential conservation," Becnel said. "We found the error and corrected. The state agreed it was a mistake. I have no intention to develop it today, tomorrow, and probably not five years from now.
"It was always intended to be developed and when we do we will develop in a responsible way," he added. "I want to build and maintain. We have to conserve the last of the inventory we have for future use."
Becnel still has 1,300 units he is allowed to build, but he said he will not build 1,300 units.
As for his immediate plans, on his short list is a condominium complex close to the north entrance called Osprey Pointe, condos across from the club at Burnt Pine, and a chapel to be situated west of Bayside Condos.
He said Sandestin also needs a high-end apartment complex somewhere.
"We're looking at that and we are looking at expanding the conference center. That is a high priority. We start working on that next month. Beyond that I do not have any identifiable projects," he said.
Addressing the effect the controversy has had and could have on tourist dollars at the resort, Becnel said, "We have to get out of this controversy. If people see turmoil, they won't come. We need to bury the ax and clean up our house. That requires a unified message. The SOA (homeowners association) should be our goodwill ambassadors. We could merge advertising dollars."