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

🏡 Okaloosa County Commissioners consider buying part of Eglin Golf Course for affordable housing. 🤔 Concerns arise, but a potential solution to the housing problem is on the table!

Okaloosa County Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward on the chance to buy the northern part of the Eglin Golf Course for affordable housing. 

But unanimous doesn’t mean enthusiastic. 

The Commission voiced their concerns about the potential purchase of the 170-acre parcel between Twin Oaks Park and Northwest Florida State College, which hugs the southern portion of Spence Parkway. 

According to Okaloosa County insiders, the potential for a purchase by the Commission, which was ‘dead in the water’ after last fall, got new life after a meeting between County Commission Chairman Paul Mixon and the local Air Force’s top brass. That discussion led to Tuesday’s emergency meeting. “They had given this in the methodology and hoped that this would be the potential of homeownership,” Mixon told the other commissioners, “So that there’s a way that individuals find a better sense of financial freedom and take better care of where they live with solving this housing problem. But giving them a way to do that, and if we can do it in an affordable or an attainable fashion.” Previously, the Air Force had only discussed a long-term land lease. This potential deal would see the Air Force sell the land to the County. The County could then sell the land to a developer who would sell the land to individuals, or the County could sell the land directly to individuals. The former seems more likely. 

Chief among the commissioners with misgivings was District Three Commissioner Nathan Boyles. The Commissioner represents the western portion of Niceville and parts of Crestview and Fort Walton Beach. 

Boyles, who will not seek re-election this year, noted that the purchase would have to be made with general revenue reserves and would not end the affordable housing issue for the Niceville area or Okaloosa County generally. “It certainly can help,” Boyles said in an interview after the meeting, “but we’re not going to fix the problem with a 170-acre parcel from Eglin.” During the meeting, Boyles cited the current cost of land in Niceville, the need for density in this tract of land if developed, and the need for a return on investment regarding tax revenue from the land as misgivings for him. 

RELATED: Read about current Commission District 3 Candidates

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Boyles added that he believes the housing shortage is an issue – but a better issue to face than the opposite one (too much housing). However, it comes down to dollars and sense for the Commissioner. “Affordable or attainable housing doesn’t just get created with fairy dust, right? Someone in the deal has to be willing to take a loss,” Boyles said. 

Commissioners Carolyn Ketchel and Trey Goodwin added to that sentiment. They proposed a scheme where seniors could buy land on the property as a way to retain equity while also downsizing to an appropriate amount of space for their needs. Both liked the idea Commission Chairman Paul Mixon brought up: a land trust that would handle the real estate deal on behalf of the County, similar to the way Escambia County operates its affordable housing scheme. The County would own the trust and sell the property, probably to a developer who would then build homes and sell them on to the end user. “we’re not looking to get into the housing business,” Goodwin said, “I’ll tell our constituents right now, I know well and good. I was not hired to create an Okaloosa County Housing Authority, and I have no intention of doing it. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t partner with the private sector and be successful, and I think that may be where the opportunity comes.”  

County Commission Chairman Paul Mixon, who was approached by Eglin Leadership last week about the potential land sale, said the Commission had other examples in Florida to look at for precedence. Mixon cited a project under construction in Naples, Florida, that used a similar model. 

Niceville City Manager David Deitch attended the meeting and added that he wanted to see the housing project happen as a way to make it more possible for city workers to live in the city limits. “I have approximately just over 200 employees that work for me,” Deitch said, “The vast majority of them do not live in Niceville. My cops, firemen, public works folks, those who are serving our community day in and day out for years and decades at a time. They don’t live in Niceville. And so this would give them the opportunity not only for homeownership to build the equity that Commissioner Mixon talked about.” 

 

a man at a dais speaking.
Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles speaks about the orphan land under discussion at Tuesday's special meeting of the Okaloosa County Commission in Crestview.

How To Pay For The Land

The land would still need to be paid for. That’s where the commissioners felt a lot of thrash. They all agreed they wanted to avoid the use of general fund dollars for the property. The general fund comprises unrestricted cash from property taxes that can be used on anything – as opposed to restricted monies that can only be put toward specific uses.

The Commission and staff discussed possible accounts from which they could pull funds for a theoretical transaction. During the conversation, they came up with about three million dollars: one half from the money generated from current Okaloosa Housing Authority Rents and the other half from COVID-19 (CARES) money. 

Should the Air Force ask for more than three million dollars, the Commission could dip into their reserves. “This board has worked very hard to build our general fund reserves up to a very healthy amount considering where we were ten years ago,” said County Administrator John Hofstad, “So we’d probably be a combination of funding that we would use to acquire, you have the development related issues with that property as well, providing water and sewer capability, that property. So, there are a lot of unknowns going forward. And we are very early in that process.” 

Commissioners seemed pained by the thought of using reserves to make up the difference on a land purchase. “I would rather not go the route of using any reserves or ARPA funds,” Chairman Mixon said; “but I think this is something that would come out over the time of us putting a plan together, but I believe stepping in the direction of a land trust would be in our best interest.”

Deed Restrictions

Should this land switch from a golf course to The County’s (or the City of Niceville’s) newest residential area, the commissioners said they would want to see a deed restriction put in place to ensure the homes stayed in an affordable price range. 

In a text message after the meeting, Mixon added, “I believe the only way it will be successful is to have restrictions on the career field of owners, caps on equity growth for a season of time; I would suggest 20 years so that it could potentially gain value at no more than 2-3% per year. There will have to be other funding mechanisms to purchase the land to keep this an affordable project.”

Commissioner Boyles agreed – adding that the Commission needed the deed restrictions in place to get their money’s worth out of a potential project. “Certainly, I think those are on the table,” Boyles said of the deed restrictions, “I would expect them to be on the table.”

Next Steps

On the motion of Commissioner Boyles, the Commission decided to move forward with a letter that would accomplish four tasks on behalf of the County. First, it will thank the Air Force brass for the opportunity to buy the land, then it will let them know the Commission is interested in owning the land. It will then ask what the potential deed restrictions or covenants the Air Force would place on the land would be. Finally, it would ask for a cost estimate from the Air Force. 

From there, County and Air Force negotiators would hammer out a deal that would work for both parties and send it to the Federal Government in Washington D.C., where it would be added as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Should the NDAA pass through Congress, the deal could move forward. 

But, as you might’ve heard, the government in Washington can be a bit gridlocked. For that reason, City Manager Deitch is not expecting a rapid turnaround. “It’s a long way off, but there’s momentum heading in the right direction,” Deitch explained. 

 

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