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Niceville Council Approves Variance for Waterview Express Oil Change

The Niceville City Council has unanimously approved a variance for Valparaiso Realty Company to build an Express Oil Change on John Sims Parkway, sparking both support and opposition. The decision comes after a split vote by the Planning Commission and concerns voiced by residents, highlighting the ongoing debate over aesthetics, environmental impact, and the unguarded left turn lane.

The Niceville City Council unanimously approved the request of the Valparaiso Realty Company for a variance that will allow them to build an Express Oil Change location on their property along John Sims Parkway. 

Developers cleared the land where the building will sit before the approval of the variance. The Niceville City Planning and Zoning Commission failed to support the variance on a 3-3 tie vote on February 5. 


Patrick Pat Byrne Niceville
Valparaiso Realty Company owner Pat Byrne speaks to the Niceville City Council about the companies request for a variance to place an Express Oil Change on John Sims Parkway. Engineer for the project, Matt Zinke looks on - as do members of Niceville City Staff.

Valparaiso Realty Company Owner Speaks

Valparaiso Realty Company owner Pat Byrne spoke for his project in front of the Council. “I want to apologize to the council that this was not in front of you in the Fall,” Byrne said, “it’s my responsibility that we weren’t here much earlier. And when it came to our attention, it got on the agenda in front of you as quickly as possible.”

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He attempted to allay concerns about the project’s impact on the city’s aesthetics and the wetland area that it abuts. “Our lease with Express Oil has extremely stringent environmental rules they have to follow,” Byrne said, “It’s more than the average lease because of the nature of the business.”

He also told the Council that the land was not waterfront land. Instead, he says, it backs up next to wetlands. He explained another landowner owns the waterfront behind the land where the Express Oil will sit. “So let me just say on the property appraiser website, it’s clear, we don’t own the waterfront behind it. And there’s wetlands to the south to the rear of the project. And we chose a site for Express Oil precisely because [of]those wetlands and the visual barrier that they offer.”

The land behind the portion of the parcel of land Express Oil will occupy is owned by Patrick Byrne II, according to the Property Appraiser’s website. 

The Planning Commission’s View

Judy Byrne Riley, the Planning and Zoning Commission Chair for the city of Niceville, told the Council one reason they had a split decision on approving the land use was that they began clearing before they secured the variance for the building. ” So, had we had this in October? I think it might have been different,” Riley said, “we do realize that it’s not waterfront, but it is water view. It’s a beautiful piece of property. I think perhaps that was part of why other members of the Planning Commission might want to speak to that, but we did not approve it because of the 3-3 vote.” 

Dissent Evaporates Between Keyboard and Council Chambers

Despite hundreds of comments on social media decrying the use of the property for an oil change business, only one citizen not on a board or Council voiced dissent at the meeting. “I’ve never spoken before a council before,” resident Christina White said, “I’ve watched Parks and Recreation,” she quipped – and got a laugh from the audience. She voiced concerns about the aesthetics of the building, her environmental concerns, and the proposed unguarded left turn lane, which City Councilman Sal Nodjomian brought up earlier in the meeting. She added when her family comes to visit from Ohio – they comment on the number of businesses she lumps together with the soon-to-be-built Express Oil Change on John Sims. “They seem to be, like, ‘this is just a place to leave your stuff until you get to Destin,” she said her kin tell her, “They always ask, well, ‘what are we doing to make this better for our kids.’ And it seems as if the choice is of late [to] not [do] anything to better the town per se.”

Councilman Nodjomian responded to the comment directly, “Let me address what I think you said head-on; I imagine you’re probably talking about storage facilities and things like that. Not one of those (storage units) came before Council. Every single one of the storage facilities that was erected, was erected on a piece of property that was zoned already for that activity. So there wasn’t a single time that we had an opportunity to say ‘is that something we really need here?’ And even this thing that Mr. Byrne is bringing forward as a PUD, he has the right to develop within that area after he comes and talks to us. And as long as he adheres to all the rules and regulations,” Nodjomian said. The councilman reiterated Bryne and his company planned to develop the land’s two commercial standards, which include setbacks and stormwater requirements for commercial buildings. 

“So let me encourage you to become more involved so that you’re very proud of your city,” added Mayor Dan Henkel, “And when your family comes down from Ohio, and says me this just looks like a drop-off point. You can correct them and show them exactly what Niceville is all about. Because this is a great place to live, a great place to work, and a great place to play.”

Thus far, no completion date has been announced for the building. 

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