The city of Destin has added two amendments to its charter with overwhelming approval on Election Day.
One of the biggest changes will be a maximum building height. According to the amendment, which passed with nearly 83% of the votes, no new buildings can exceed six stories (75 feet) in height, unless approved by 60% of voters in a general election.
Outgoing Councilman Parker Destin, said the amendment is part of an effort to control the “unbridled growth” the city has seen since the late 90s. Properties with vested rights are not subject to the height limit.
Destin said there are too many big buildings in the city, some of which are simply “subdivisions but vertical.” Sitting on a peninsula, that kind of growth isn’t sustainable forever, he added. Especially during tourism season when the city’s population off 13,400 can double or triple.
The amendment may be a long time coming. In July, Destin said he wished the amendment passed 20 years ago.
“The horses are out of the barn,” Destin admitted. “But I don’t think it’s ever too late. I think we have a brighter future.”
That future includes the city’s ongoing quest to buy back beaches and expand public access. As Destin said “the beaches haven’t grown, but the people who access it have.” The city recently closed on property in the Crystal Beach area.
The other amendment prohibits the city from abandoning or vacating any public right-of-way if the right-of-way shares a boundary of water. The issue is in regard to a 0.05-acre portion of public right-of-way in front of 604 Harbor Lane that has been used by people to get to and from the waterfront.
It was a point of contention between the resident at the property and those who use the right-of-way, but the amendment will probably not have an effect beyond that specific piece of land, said Destin. It is, however, an example of “pro-citizen government.” It passed with a nearly 75% majority of votes.
Tuesday’s election also brings four new councilmembers — Dewey Destin, Kevin Schmidt, Teresa Hebert and Johnny King. Dewey Destin, who is Parker Destin’s father, served on the city’s first council back in 1984.
“Originally, the idea was to create a city for the people who lived here and claw back their own rights,” said Parker Destin. “Before (the council) the city was under authority of only one Okaloosa County commissioner. We’re going back to that original idea.”
After losing a close race for District 5 Okaloosa County Commissioner, which went to former state Rep. Mel Ponder, Parker Destin said he hasn’t written off politics yet. For now, he’s focused on his family, his restaurants and serving on nonprofit boards.
“We’ve got a fantastic mix of new council members coming in,” he said. “I’m really hopeful for the future.”