Niceville Council Recap: $192,000 To A Developer For A Sewer Line Above Wetland. Homeless Encampment Under Rocky Bayou Bridge Discussed.

In Brief:

  • Niceville City Council approved $192,000 to Ruckel Properties, Inc., for a safer sewer line project with concrete pilings above wetlands in Deer Moss Creek.
  • The council discussed a homeless encampment under the Rocky Bayou Bridge, with collaborative efforts between Niceville Police and the County Sheriff’s Office to address the issue.
  • An Airbnb request for a property on Partin Drive was tabled, with the council recommending the requesters return next month for a zoning change.

The Niceville City Council approved a split decision by their planning and zoning board to give Ruckel Properties, Inc. $192,000, discussed a new encampment of homeless people under the Rocky Bayou Bridge, and rejected a request for an AirBNB to start up on Partin Drive.

Here are the details:

City Gives $192,000 for Safer Sewer Line

Niceville’s City Council voted unanimously to provide $192,000 to Ruckel Properties, Inc., for the developer to build a bridge with all concrete pilings. The bridge will safely hold a sewer line for years longer than a wooden version that will head to Phase 11 of Deer Moss Creek on Rocky Bayou Drive.

The city asked Ruckel Properties (RPI) for permission to create an above-ground, or aerial, sewer line above wetlands areas to provide service to that soon-to-be-developed neighborhood, and RPI agreed. In a move to ensure that storms or other acts of nature would easily spring a leak in the lines and cause waste to seep into the wetlands.

The $192,000 would pay the developer’s difference between wood and concrete pilings.

To this end, City Manager David Deitch argued to the council that they should approve the expenditure to avoid future problems. He noted that the bridges would eventually be incorporated into the city and would become the city’s responsibility anyway. “It’s my recommendation that we do this right from the start to protect the environment and to ensure the longevity [of the bridge],” Deitch said.

City Planning and Zoning Committee member Doug Tolbert then asked the city to consider having city staff update the city building code to ensure that the city would require this code level in the future. “We should adjust this code if we’re willing to pay this bill,” he argued. “direct your planning staff to update the code before a date [in the future] so that we can take action on this because we don’t want to pay this bill again.”

City Manager David Deitch told the city council he wants his staff to make the update Tolbert suggested, but there is a queue in front of this problem that needs to be fixed first. “We are working on it—but the comprehensive plan has to come first, and we are already in the process of working through the land development code.”

Homeless Encampment Under Rocky Bayou Bridge

A photo of a homeless encampment under one end of the Rocky Bayou Bridge span has been shared on social media in the Niceville Digisphere.

“We’ve been out to where they are at. It’s actually on the county side,” said Interim Niceville Police Chief Rob Lovering, “The County [Sheriff’s Office] is doing a trespass warning, and they’re gonna be cleaning it up, we’re gonna work in conjunction with that [effort].”

In other police news, the Niceville Police Department answered 2,100 calls for service in May and made 29 arrests in city limits.

Interim Chief Lovering noted that they had made progress in finding his replacement, adding that he and City Manager David Deitch have narrowed the field of candidates to take his job from 62 initial applicants to 20 contenders.

AirBNB On Partin Drive?

Back in 2011, the Florida Legislature voted in favor of a bill to remove local government’s ability to regulate short-term rentals—with the caveat that ordinances put in place before a certain date were grandfathered in. Then, State House Member Matt Gaetz and State Senator Don Gaetz for Niceville and Okaloosa County voted in favor of the measure.

Airbnb spent more than a quarter million dollars on lobbying efforts to nudge the state legislature to pass laws more favorable to the tech giant in 2023. Those are still small potatoes compared to the biggest spenders in the Sunshine State.

All that to say, Niceville has an ordinance that only allows for AirBNB in zones designated R-III (think condos and apartments), which was grandfathered in by the state law passed back in 2011.

The Question on the table was whether or not to grant the property at 728 Powell Drive (just south of St. Jude’s Episcopal Church) an exception to that rule and allow them to operate an Airbnb there—despite the fact that the land is not zoned R-III.

City Manager David Deitch asked the council to table (or hold off on deciding anything about the idea) until next month, but city attorney Dixie Dan Powell recommended the city reject the request and have the requestors come back next month to request a zoning change instead. The council elected to reject the request and have the requesters return next month for a change in zoning.

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