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Santa Rosa moves forward with 868-lot subdivision

Despite the pleas from Santa Rosa County residents, commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with construction plans for an 868-lot private subdivision.

Residents on Bell Lane, where the “Pace Commons Phase One” would be located, object to the proposal which would include installing large pipes to carry stormwater to a retention pond that would be owned and maintained by developer Edwin Henry. Constructing the three “open-cut crossings” under Bell Lane and Sterling Way would mean traffic would be disrupted on those streets. However, county officials said Thursday that one lane of traffic will be open always and the work will be from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly.

The project engineer, Tom Hammond of Hammond Engineering Inc., of Pensacola, told commissioners the project features a regional pond to handle stormwater runoff from the Phase One site as well as properties nearby. The pond is a former borrow pit. The board approved the subdivision nearly two years ago.

In addition to having one lane open, he assured commissioners there would be access for ambulances and other emergency equipment while the road construction takes place.

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole, the board chairman, liked the idea of creating the privately-owned pond that would catch local stormwater, a chronic problem in the fast-growing county. District 3 Commissioner James Calkins also liked the plan: “It makes sense.”

However, Terry Chapman, a Bell Lane resident, said dozens more people oppose the project beyond the handful of speakers Thursday morning. She said social media posts show 53 people disagree with commissioners. She is concerned that the area of the retention pond has loamy, muddy soil which would be a poor filter for stormwater.

“Holding ponds are designed just for that purpose,” Cole said.

That water, she pointed out, would find its way into nearby Mulato Bayou and Escambia Bay. She also said there are 52 acres of wetlands on the property. Unfiltered stormwater could affect wildlife and sea life, she said.

In other action earlier in the meeting, the board unanimously approved hiring DeVann Cook as county administrator. He had been serving as interim administrator since the resignation of Dan Schebler last summer. Cook will be paid $155,000. The salary was effective Jan. 20. Commissioners also hired Brad Baker as assistant county administrator at an annual salary of $135,000 effective Jan. 20.

Tom Ninestine is the managing editor at WUWF. He began August 1, 2019. Tom is a native of Geneva, New York, and a 1983 graduate of King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he studied journalism and political science. During a 29-year career in newspapers he worked for the Finger Lakes Times in his hometown; The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; and the Pensacola News Journal from 1998-2016.