A rendering of what the Landing marina would look like. [ Landing at SGI, LLC ]

Opposition voiced to St. George Island marina

Franklin County commissioners got a first look last week at an updated proposal to create a multifaceted marina and resort on St. George Island, known as the Landing.

Based on opposition from the public, and concerns by commissioners, it is safe to say the proposal landed with a thud.

Backers for the project – a management team comprised of representatives from Gen Land Corp. out of Quincy; Edgewater Resources, an engineering firm out of Michigan with offices in Pompano Beach; and Garlick Environmental, based in Apalachicola –  began their March 5 presentation in front of a packed county commission chamber by stressing they had modified the project to capture “the laid back feel of the market.

“When we started with Dan Garlick, he was an easy choice because of his local knowledge and knowledge of environmental issues,” said developer Clint West. “His death was a big blow, and his team has picked up the project.”

The bulk of the presentation was provided by Ron Schults, president of Edgewater, who outlined aspects of what is being proposed for the planned unit development within a 26-acre site along the bay shore just to the west of Franklin Boulevard. 

“Our goal here is to do a sustainable, environmentally sensitive project,” Schults said.

To secure the PUD, the Landing would have to convince commissioners to blend strict density and setback rules regarding the commercial recreational and single family residential zoning that exists on the property, which features one mile of shoreline on Apalachicola Bay.

Schults outlined state-of-the-art technologies that would be implemented, including a membrane bioreactor for wastewater treatment, electric crane drystack, solar capacity, and boardwalks that lessen the percentage of impermeable surfaces.

“We can increase the size (of the wastewater treatment plant) to get neighbors off septic,” Schults said. “The wetlands are doing very well and the habitat is doing extremely well. The idea is to put bungalows into the landscape, not a three-story Holiday Express on the beach.”

In addition to the “green” steps the project is taking, Schults said the Landing would be a “pedestrian-friendly, golf cart community.” He said the marina would be conscious of the sensitive oyster habitat just offshore and that the proposal calls for the creation of the Garlick Memorial Shoreline that would combine an experimental mangrove habitat with features of a “living shoreline.”

The buildout would include 20 single-family homes on the westerly side of the site, with the center featuring bungalows, elevated walkways, a pool and beach club. To the east is a marina and amenities for 10 seasonal boats, a dry stack marina and a 2,500-square-foot restaurant and 2,500-square-foot meeting room.

The commission heard from a long queue of speakers, beginning with retired attorney and businessman John Alber, of Apalachicola, who asked what the effect of another luxury development would have on the county’s housing needs.

“How can we be sure the promises underlying this development will be kept?” he asked. “Every marina development in the world has glossy slides like this and optimistic assessments. Marina are capital intensive industries, often with a lot of debt service. When there’s a downturn everybody flees and promises aren’t kept.

“Around the country marinas are going bankrupt. In the worst of times it’s a bloodbath,” he said. “How do you assure that these most important promises are kept? I would say the easiest way is to deny the permit, and turn your attention to affordable housing.”

Speakers went on to question the risks inherent in putting a sewage plant in a hurricane-prone area, the need for generating housing where service workers can live, the destruction of salt marsh and seagrasses among the environmental threats, the diminishing of water quality and the effect on emergency services.

“Overwhelming is the only word that comes to my mind,” said Eastpoint’s Dottye Thornburg. “It breaks my heart and is overwhelming for this tiny island and not anything we need or anything we want. The traffic will be undeniably horrible and what about the little businesses right there? I just see them dying.”

Apalachicola’s Xochitl Bervera, who works as an oyster farmer, and Eastpoint’s Wayne Williams, who heads up the local association of oystermen, both spoke against it.

“The bottom line is the more tourists, the slower the recovery of the reefs,” said Bervera. “If we want reefs to come back faster we actually need fewer people on St. George Island. I would like to see us be talking about what we need for our children and grandchildren, instead of assuming the younger generation will just be here to work for the tourists.”

Barbara Sanders, who lives on the island, urged commissioners to consider the impact on traffic, especially in the event of an evacuation.

“I would suggest we cut to the chase,” she said. “They (the developers) are going to say they’re going to sue you. Let’s go straight to purchasing the property and save ourselves a whole bunch of money.”

T. J. Saunders, a regional director of the Florida Guides Association, urged commissioners to consider the presence of fuel availability and storage on the site, and local charter captain Brett Martina asked them to factor in the charm that exists in Franklin County.

“Are we trying to change the personality of our community?” Martina said. “I know a lot of our younger generation that can’t afford to build. Think about the personality of our community.”

Island charter captain Krista Miller spoke bluntly. “We can’t use taglines like ‘The Florida you remember’ and then turn it into the Florida everybody wants to forget,” she said.

The four commissioners at the workshop (Cheryl Sanders was absent as she recuperates from recent knee replacement surgery) all said they had concerns without voicing a firm stance either way.

“I grew up here, I don’t want it to be a 30A, I don’t want it to be Panama City Beach,” said Jessica Ward, noting that some of what she sees goes against the existing comp plan.

Ricky Jones said his primary concern was the effect that dredging in the area would have. “That’s a pretty big issue. Dredging is not always easy, especially after 30 or 40 years. That’s something that has to be addressed,” he said.

“My main concern is oyster habitat,” said Ottice Amison, who sits on the community board of the Apalachicola Bay Systems Initiative. “My most immediate concern is the environmental impact this is going to create. We’re $30 million into pilot studies; imagine how many tax dollars are going to go into a total restoration? It’s going to be millions more dollars spent on this bay.

“I got a lot of questions,” he said. “I haven’t heard one ‘pro’ out of this. Is there anybody here supporting this, outside of the developers?”

St. George Island businesswoman Julie Krontz then spoke out, saying that there are a lot of supporters for the project.

“I do feel they are really trying to put something aesthetically pleasing for the island,” she said. “You’ll see they’re trying to be environmentally friendly. We know it can be done safely, let’s make sure it’s done safely. We have a problem already on the island with wastewater. If this can help with that, that is another benefit.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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