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Sandestin Resort

Sandestin: Jolee Island, tennis center not going away

Sandestin’s owner is seeking approval that would allow him to redevelop the tennis center and Jolee Island nature preserve. However, Sandestin Development says they have no plans to move forward with either project.

Sandestin Development owner Tom Becnel said he has no plans to tear down the development’s tennis center and Jolee Island nature preserve, despite seeking a change to the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) openspace requirements that would allow him to do so.

In the aftermath of the March 13 public hearing held by Walton County Board of County Commissioners and the initial vote by the board to allow Sandestin Development’s Notice of Proposed Change to its DRI, the company has issued several statements to its residents and the public about its intent.

Becnel stated to The Sun that he has no plans to build at the resort’s tennis center or Jolee Island.

“There are no changes to the tennis courts anticipated any time soon, if ever,” said Becnel in a statement to The Sun. “This was a condition imposed on us by the county to redefine the site. We have to put everything into a box, whether residential, open space, commercial or resort services. We have no plans for Jolee Island. The action taken was to correct a mistake made in the historical record. Having the right to do something doesn’t mean you will do it.”

Becnel said he will have 1,873 residential units in his DRI entitlement that he can still build if the commission approves the updated NOPC, but he said he will not build anywhere near that number, with 60 percent being a good guess. That would give Sandestin roughly 1,123 additional units.

However, Walton County Planner Mac Carpenter said he has been informed that 500 of those 1,873 units were apparently sold to the Howard Group prior to Becnel’s ownership. So Sandestin Development has 1,373 units left after the sale agreement to the Howard Group from Sandestin’s previous owner, Intrawest/Fortriss.

Sandestin Real Estate Executive Director and Broker Kitty Whitney said in moving forward, Sandestin Development will first have its sights set on two parcels, neither of which are Jolee Island or the tennis courts.

The first construction that Sandestin Development will pursue, said Whitney, is at Osprey Pointe, situated just north of the existing Heron Walk and south of Jolee Island on the bay.

The second is a parcel known as 443, which is owned by Becnel and situated across from the Burnt Pine Clubhouse.

When submitted to the Technical Review Committee for approval in 2013, Osprey Pointe was classified as a minor development on 7.82 acres. The 443 parcel was also classified as a minor development in 2013 of 35 residential lots on 11.34 acres.

“His first interest is in Osprey Pointe,” said Whitney.

And her favorite for a third project is expanding the marina.

“We have requests from so many boat owners who want to come here with big boats, and we have a waiting list for slips, mostly from homeowners,” said Whitney. “Phase I would include adding 26 small boat slips and 14 larger ones. It is my understanding that these tentative plans have been aired through the state regulatory entities.”

The marina is adjacent to Jolee Island and the tennis courts.

“I believe there is an enormous loss to Walton County if we fail to get everyone informed and comfortable with our future,” she said. “With Sandestin being the largest resort and employer and home to many, it seems we all would want the community to join together.”

Asked why there would have been workshop discussion about building a high rise at Jolee Island if Becnel had no intention to construct one, Whiitney could not provide a definitive answer.

“You can’t do anything without a Development Order and a hearing becomes part of the process. It’s not easy,” she said. “It can take two years. It could possibly happen in the future, but not now. (There are) no current plans. If development was taking place around the tennis courts, we might have to move them, but we will always have tennis at Sandestin.”

As Walton County Commissioners ready to give final approval to Sandestin’s NOPC application to its DRI, Sandestin management wants community support as they move forward. However, not everyone is happy with the NOPC.

The Sandestin Owners Association issued a statement to its residents saying they had met with counsel and voted to take legal action. However, SOA President Roger Ganger told The Sun that no legal action has been filed yet as they are expecting the item to be placed on the county commission agenda for final approval at the March 28 meeting and will wait until that is over.

Many residents of the resort opposed approving the NOPC as the application allows for future construction of additional high-rise buildings on a resort that many feel already has enough people.

But Becnel said the main reason he filed the NOPC was to clear up inaccurate language in Sandestin’s DRI.

“The NOPC primarily served to clarify and correct the historical record,” said Becnel. “We counted and verified every residential unit, every square foot of commercial, every square foot of ancillary and every square foot of resort services and administrative square footage. We surveyed every parcel within Sandestin to determine what was on it today, golf lakes, buildings, roads, sidewalks, and open space, all pervious and impervious areas. This is the first time that detail has ever been supplied to the county or state.”

However, during the workshop, Becnel was granted preliminary approval to construct a 12-story mid-rise building on the beach side, and to construct a 16-story high rise at Jolee Island, the resort’s nature preserve. He was also granted preliminary approval to remove the tennis courts, which are adjacent to Jolee Island and the marina.

“As a resident of Sandestin, the idea that the wonderful tennis club will be re-classified as a residential parcel is ominous,” said Attorney David Pleat. “That clearly suggests it will be torn up some day in favor of residential units. That, along with the 3,000 other units will place a significant additional burden on infrastructure and traffic/congestion.”