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AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Could This Move Spell the Beginning of the End of The Okaloosa Housing Crisis?

In Brief:

  • The Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to seek Eglin Air Force Base’s support to acquire a 200-acre parcel of land for affordable housing and commercial space, addressing the high median home sale price in the area.
  • This initiative follows a collaborative March meeting between local government leaders and the Air Force to identify potential land for development, with Northwest Florida State College also expressing interest in expanding its campus.
  • The process of acquiring the land involves various considerations, including price, funding, and construction plans, with potential challenges due to leadership changes at Eglin Air Force Base.

With a unanimous vote, the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners voted to send a letter to Eglin Air Force Base Commander General Jeffery Geraghty asking for his support for the county to purchase or otherwise acquire a parcel of land that currently serves as Eglin Air Force Base’s golf course.


Commissioners say they hope to use the roughly 200 acres for affordable housing and commercial space in a community where April 2024’s median home sale price was $450,000, according to real estate website Redfin. 


In March, leaders from local governments and the Air Force pow-wowed to identify the pieces of land Eglin might be willing to part with –  provided the local governments came up with acceptable uses. This letter would tell the Air Force brass that Okaloosa County Government will work as the lead representative for other stakeholders that want some of the orphaned property 1600 or so acres of property previously discussed at that March meeting. 


“We are doing what we can, realizing we are not builders and developers. That’s not what we do,” said Okaloosa County Administrator John Hofstad. 


“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” added District 5 Commissioner Mel Ponder, “The potential for this is amazing.”


“This is huge for our community,” Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel piggybacked, “We need to find places to build affordable housing.”


Commissioner Nathan Boyles noted that the journey from sending this letter to Eglin leadership to a sale or transfer of Eglin’s Golf Course will take a while. “But the big thing for the commission to stay focused on in the future after I am gone is identifying what the real community needs are – and that these parcels have the opportunity to fill those as opposed to just development for development’s sake.”


RELATED: Okaloosa Commissioners May Buy This Piece Of Niceville-Area Land To Build Affordable Housing


Northwest Florida State College has also sent a letter of intent to the base, asking for about 73 acres of land to expand the campus north to the south shoulder of Spence Parkway as it cruises east and west to the north of the City of Niceville. 


According to the proposal submitted in the Okaloosa County Commissioners’ agenda packet for May 21, they would use the land to build four types of developments:

  • Single Family Homes, Condos and Townhouses for purchase by residents | 26.5 acres
  • Four and five-story apartment blocks | 39 acres
  • General Commercial Buildings | 12 acres. This portion of the commercial building would feature a movie theater, entertainment complex, and big-box stores (the Target you’ve all been asking for!).
  • Streetfront commercial buildings | 10 acres. This commercial project would feature two-story shopping plazas, retail stores, and an internal arcade. 


What Happens Next?’


Long story short, General Jeffrey Geraghty will move on to his next assignment soon, but he has intimated through his actions, including his sending of representation to the March meeting, that he is willing to initiate moves to relinquish land so long as the developers of the land improve overall conditions for the Air Force in the area—according to an Okaloosa County source with knowledge of the situation. 


The source noted that this would mean adding workforce housing stock in the area. Eglin’s leadership has made its concerns about housing stock known in the last couple of years and cites the hot real estate market as a part of the issue. 


In addition – other sources with knowledge of the situation say the return of Major General Scott Cain to the Eglin Chain of Command has caused anxiety about the ability to pull off housing construction with county leadership. The source says county leadership worries he will be less amenable to the idea of selling off Eglin property due to his order to close Eglin facilities like redneck beach to the public during the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020.  


Regardless of who is in charge – this process is still a couple of years away. The County and the Air Force will still have to work out everything from the price of the land to acquire, where the money will come from, what the strings attached will be, and who will end up doing the construction. 


But that’s progress, right?

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