“It seems like we are putting the cart before the horse on this one,” Councilman Nodjomian quipped before a 5-0 vote to approve the reduction of parking spaces for a potential hotel from 1.3 spaces per room to 1 space per room at January 11th’s council meeting.

The councilman’s problem stems from the area where the hotel would go. It’s in an area that the Eglin Air Force Base Joint Land Use Study calls APZ-1, or Accident Potential Zone 1. This is the area that is on the Eglin’s runway’s trajectory where lots of destruction and death could occur if a plane were to crash there. In order to mitigate the potential damage and nuisance from planes flying directly overhead, builders are required to build with thicker windows and walls to dampen the noise. There are also height restrictions in place for buildings in the area.

Understandably, the Air Force wants to keep high density buildings like office parks, apartment complexes, factories and hotels out of those areas – in case the worst were to happen.

The Council also has a compelling interest to keep high density buildings out of the area as well. Councilman Sal Nodjomian noted that there could be significant consequences for towns and cities around Eglin due to loss of mission on base due to construction of buildings which don’t meet the needs of the Eglin Air Force Base Joint Use Study.

Councilman Nodjomian cited towns near a base in the Norfolk area which, faced with a base closure, banded together to buy out all of the buildings in APZ-1 in order to make themselves more attractive to the government – and keep the base open.

The gambit worked and made an impression on the councilman. It highlighted the severity of breaking the joint land use study for areas like ours which rely economically on the bases near them.

While the APZ is backed by the base and the city, the City Council has final say on whether or not something can or can’t be built there.

The hotel was ostensibly on the agenda to discuss parking spaces. The new hotel development that is planned on the north side of John Sims Parkway may have more than a little turbulence going forward.

The agenda noted that the hotel was requesting a change from 1.3 parking spaces per hotel room down to 1 parking space per room – but it was the overall zoning of the hotel that caught councilman Nodjimian’s eye.

The hotel, which has not been named yet, is linked to the group that owns the Towneplace Suites in Niceville, according to the representative from Choctaw Engineering who answered questions for the builders.

Councilman Nodjomian noted that the planning and zoning committee has a non-voting member that represents Eglin and did not return a favorable recommendation on building the hotel in the first place.

Only issue was – those comments weren’t given to the planning and zoning committee in time to be considered when they approved it. It was after the fact the Air Force submitted its hesitation with the project.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the parking lot variance – but the project has a lot of ground still to cover before it becomes a reality.

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