This Week in Pier Park – First Retail Sign and Paved Street

Sometime in the last week they paved the road down the main Boardwalk of Pier Park in Panama City Beach. I was there last Tuesday and was told by a friend that it was paved when he walked it on Christmas. It never ceases to amaze me how quick some things happen.

Quiznos Sub is the first to have their retail sign up. They will open with the rest of The Boardwalk in February. Windows have been going in and will continue to be installed through next week. Enjoy the pictures below. Click on them to make them larger.

Click here for all posts on Pier Park.

Panama City Beach TDC Meeting Notes – Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance – cont.

Notes from the December 21, 2007 TDC Turtle Lighting Ordinance Workshop

The December 19th meeting reconvened with 8 board members present.  Gary Walsingham was absent.

Board attorney Doug Sale advised the board he felt they had three possible courses of action.  The first option was to approve draft ordinance 12.20-1 that is a refined version of his 2.18.2007 draft.  12.20-1 provides for some limited grandfathering of existing light sources for economic reasons regardless of whether they meet the public safety exceptions in the draft. However, Sale advised that U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service communicated to him that the limited grandfathering proposal included in this version is unacceptable.  The second option was to approve draft ordinance 12.20-2 which is acceptable to the Service.  12.20-2 removes the limited grandfathering clause and instead provides for a extended compliance period until May 1, 2013.  Sale advised that the third option was to do nothing.

Sale also reiterated that not recommending an ordinance acceptable to the Service would likely put further beach renourishment projects (including the scheduled 2008 program) in jeopardy. However, Sale explained that there is some uncertainty about whether the Service has the statutory authority to require a lighting ordinance as a condition of our beach renourishment.

Yanni Patronis expressed concern about whether passing a lighting ordinance for beachfront property would result in further revisions that include non-beachfront property that may be found to have an effect on the turtles. Sale responded that he did not feel this was the case because the Service would not be able to make a connection between non-beachfront lights and renourishment.

Mike Bennett asked why the board was not also considering including nest relocation in the ordinance.  Lorna Patrick, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, advised that they no longer considered relocation an acceptable solution for lighting issues.  Patronis explained that he felt that PCB was an excellent location for relocations since our tourist season coincides with the nesting season.  Patrick stated that relocation would not be needed if ordinance 12.20-2 passed.

Marty McDaniel asked Patrick whether the Service will agree to look at other options(e.g. relocation), rather than non-beachfront lighting, in the event that regulation of beachfront lighting was found to not be enough to protect the turtles.  Patrick advised that she could not speak for Service but expressed confidence that no further action would be required if 12.20-2 passed.

Gayle Oberst explained that she was worried about the costs of compliance for all beachfront property owners, not just commercial businesses.

Buddy Wilkes asked whether it was possible to increase the bed tax to help cost-share compliance costs with private property owners.  Sale explained that this would be possible.  CVB resident Dan Rowe also suggested that the proceeds of the current 3rd beach renourishment cent could also be used.

The floor was then opened up for public comment.  Julian Bennett discussed other alternatives that could be explored instead of passing a lighting ordinance.

Julie Hilton expressed her belief that the proposed ordinances would not meet the goal of helping the turtles.  She referenced Wednesday’s testimony of the wildlife and lighting experts whose appearance her company facilitated.  She reported that the compliance cost of draft 12.20-1 for her four hotels would be $5 million which would be economically disastrous for her company.  She did, however, express that she could agree with draft 12.20-2 or her own draft that she then distributed to the board.

Charles Hilton expressed that the 5 year compliance period in draft 12.20-1 could not be met for his properties since the problems were unfixable.  He stated that rebuilding was the only option.  Hilton also advised against the board passing an ordinance for appearance purposes that they did not expect to be enforced.

Betty Briard, a property owner in Aquavista, suggested that the board either postpone the issue for further study(especially due to the fact that new drafts were just distributed today) or decide to challenge the Service.  She also expressed her opinion that the individual owners in Aquavista would likely ignore any ordinance that passed just like they ignore rules passed by their own property owner’s association.  Briard also questioned how much the TDC was spending  on this process of considering a lighting ordinance.

Doug Gilmore from the Driftwood Lodge and Osprey Motel discussed the nests that were located behind his properties this past season.  He explained that he believed that 100% of the hatchlings successfully reached the water.

Diane Brown asked the board to ignore Wednesday’s assertions by Dr. Fletemeyer and lighting designer Robert Laughlin that the Service was relying on untruths.  Brown disagreed with any assertion that the public would be disappointed with an ordinance being passed.  In support, she referred to the 2002 West End Pilot Turtle Protection Ordinance which she claimed continues to be supported by the community at large.  Brown also stated that it was her belief that the costs of compliance being quoted by some property owners were exaggerated.  She also suggested that if the Board decides to allow compliance through May 2013 that they require property owners to submit a plan of compliance no later than May 2009.  She also suggested that any discussion about the option of nest relocation be discontinued.

Lighting contractor Terry Selders explained that many older buildings on the beach could not possibly be retrofitted to comply with the proposed ordinances.

Robert Winston suggested that the Board not recommend a new lighting ordinance.  He expressed concerns about public safety, especially involving our spring break visitors.

After the public comments, Gayle Oberst expressed her support of draft 12.20-1.  Oberst made a motion providing that the board agrees to recommend that the Bay County Commission and the  Panama City Beach City Council enact ordinances based on draft 12.20-1.  The motion was seconded by Mike Nelson and passed by a vote of 5-2.  Chairman Phillips departed prior to the vote
and the Patronis and Rick Russell cast the dissenting votes.  Neither Patronis, nor Russell, made any comments concerning the motion.

Audience member Diana Brown then asked what the effect would be on the 2002 Pilot Ordinance.  Attorney Sale directed the question to Bay County Attorney Terrell Arline who advised that that decision would be up to the County Commission.

Editorial by Bryan J. Durta:

It is my opinion that the Bay County Commission and the Panama City Beach City Council should reject the TDC’s recommendation and instead enact Turtle Protection Lighting Ordinances based on draft 12.20-2.  This draft was prepared by TDC’s own attorney after considering both the needs of the community and the desires of the federal government.

Are the Hiltons, Julian Bennett, and their experts correct that the lighting ordinance desired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would result in few additional turtles reaching maturity and that better alternatives exist?  Probably, but is it really wise for Bay County to take on the state and federal government which fund the majority of our beach renourishment costs?  And what will be the costs of this legal battle?  Are the property owners who oppose a complying ordinance going to form a co-op to pay the county’s legal expenses?  Will the national press brand us as a environmentally unfriendly community?  If so, how will this effect tourism?

Does this community really want to put our beach renourishment project at risk based on financial concerns expressed by just a few property owners? More property owners expressed concern when cutting Spring Break funding was on that table than expressed concern over the lighting ordinance.  And are these financial concerns being exaggerated?  Phillip Griffits, Jr. of the Sugar Sands Beach Resort explained to the Board that his property spent $30,000 bringing his 70 beachfront rooms and public facilities in complying with the West End Pilot Ordinance.  While he acknowledges that he is probably not in 100% compliance due to conflicting public safety laws, he believes that the Service considers him to be a model property that has sufficiently complied.

While every property is unique, I believe that further investigation is needed before accepting the assertion of Paradise Found Resorts that they would need to spend over 14 times more per room to comply than the Sugar Sands did.  And what will be the financial loss to the community if the Service does succeed in preventing any future beach renourishment on Panama City Beach?  We need to remember that the Service potentially has the ability to prevent any renourishment even if we have the financial means to pay for it ourselves.  And are the concerns about public safety valid?  Are turtle-friendly communities such as Rosemary Beach and Watercolor having crime and safety issues that are just not being reported in the media?  And what about all of the new accommodations on Panama City Beach that have been built over the last 10 years in compliance with the turtle-friendly lighting requirements?  Are they having more public safety problems than the older properties?

While I agree that government regulation is getting out of hand, it is just not wise for Bay County to take on the responsibility for fighting the federal government on this issue.  It is in our best economic interest to follow the lead of vast majority of Florida’s beachfront counties and enact a turtle lighting ordinance that has the support of the federal government.

Airport Relocation Non-Binding Referendum Vote Stats

I was looking for some specifics on the non-binding referendum vote on the airport relocation, and I found it.  The vote was placed on the ballot for the Democratic Presidential Primary on March 9th, 2004.

Randy Curtis, the Executive Director of the Panama City – Bay County Airport and Industrial District was gracious enough to provide the details:

The question on the ballot was as follows:

TITLE: Non-binding referendum question on the Bay County citizenry’s desire to relocate the existing Airport. Do you favor future relocation of the Panama City Bay   County International Airport at no cost to the Bay County taxpayer?

The statement that I hear quoted most often regarding this vote is that “an overwhelming majority of Bay County voters voted against airport relocation”. The results of the vote taking into consideration the total number of registered voters in Bay County was as follows:

Yes                                       9,500                    10.556%
No                                        11,051                   12.280%
Over Vote                                   2                      0.002 %
Under Vote                              79                       0.088%
Did not vote                       69,360                   77.074%
Total registered voters    89,992                100.000%

It is obvious that the majority of registered voters decided for whatever reason not to vote. I have  several concerns regarding this vote. First, the FAA had not completed nor released the results of  the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS was an in-depth analysis of the airport  relocation project that was conducted independently by the FAA. In the EIS, numerous alternatives including expansion of the existing airport site, joint use with Tyndall AFB, relocation to various sites in and around Bay County, and a “do nothing” alternative, were evaluated in great detail. One could question whether or not the voters had adequate information to make an informed decision since the EIS and other critical studies had not been completed when the election was held.

Another comment regarding the vote is that it was not fully representative of those that use and pay for the Airport. Two-thirds of the passengers that use the current Airport are not Bay County citizens. They are either visitors that are traveling to this area or citizens of counties outside of Bay County. This fact is also the basis for my comment that the majority of those that pay for the airport were not represented. The Airport District does not receive any monies directly or indirectly from local taxes to pay for the operation and development of the airport. The funds that do pay for the airport come from aviation user fees collected by the state and federal governments and revenues generated directly by the Airport Authority. The federal and state governments collect various user fees from passenger ticket sales, aviation fuel taxes, car rental surcharges, and other aviation services. These monies are placed in trust funds and are distributed to airports in the form of grants to be used primarily for aviation infrastructure development. The Airport Authority receives revenue from airport tenants such as airlines, fixed base operators, rental car agencies, parking, concessions (gift shop, restaurant, lounge, advertising, etc.),and other businesses that operate at the airport. The basic premises is that these companies pay for the right to conduct business at the airport and we in turn provide the aviation facilities that allow them to operate.

One might argue that the airport is indirectly subsidized by local tax payers that provide municipal services. However, in this regard the airport authority has its own police and fire departments funded directly by the authority. We pay for utilities (water, sewer, trash, natural gas, electricity) the same as any other business. The bottom line is that the airport is funded by the users of the airport who pay the user fees to the state and federal government and use the services of the businesses that operate at the airport. The majority of those that use and pay for the airport did not have an opportunity to vote since they are not Bay County citizens.

In regard to public input as to whether or not the airport should be relocated, the Airport Board took into consideration many factors. Certainly the non-binding referendum was taken into consideration; however it must be placed in proper context as noted above. The Board also took into consideration public input that was provided at more than 125 public hearings, workshops, and other public meeting that were held over the past 10 years. The Board took into consideration dozens of resolutions and letters of support for the project received from area municipalities, elected officials, chambers, tourist development councils, economic development organizations and other groups. Numerous permitting and regulatory agencies (FAA, US Army Corps of Engineers, FDOT, FDEP, Florida Department of Community Affairs, Bay County and many others) conducted in-depth analysis of the project. Likewise, their input was an important consideration as the  Board decided whether or not to move forward with this project.

Thank you Randy, I know this answered some questions that I had.  I hope that it will help educate the public as well.

The Fed Lowers Rates another Quarter Point – and my opinion on the current market condition

I guess this is old news now, but I thought I’d post it anyway to document history.  This is the second cut in a row in an attempt by the Fed to get the current housing slump and oil price spike under control and prevent our economy from going into recession.  I would be lying if I was to say that I have a full understanding of how this works and how the Fed’s adjustments effect all of us economically.

Click here for an article that spells it out the effects on the economy of lowering the interest rate.

I understand the basics.  You lower the interest rate, the cost of borrowing money goes down, so people, businesses, etc. borrow more money/buy more product, real estate, etc. and the economy is given an injection of growth through financial movement.  Unfortunately I think the present state of the real estate market as a whole (nationally) is a little more complicated.

What happened during that period of time many have come to call a “boom” is that the cost to borrow was little and people bought in the beginning because the lifestyle they desired was less expensive than it had ever been before.  They wanted that second home, interest rates were so low it cost almost nothing to borrow for it, so they made the stretch to make the purchase.  Tons of people did this, so many that there wasn’t the supply to meet the demand.  The buyer noticed this and decided to become a seller to capitalize on this.  He had something that he didn’t really need that someone else wanted and was willing to pay for it.  The property sold for a profit.  The buyer realized his quick profit and decided to do it again when he had the chance.  Multiply this scenario by hundreds of thousands across the country and you have a “boom”.

I remember at one point a guy was telling me that he missed his opportunity on several preconstruction development deals because he never got a call back.  At one point if you were not proactive in making sure you found out about and purchased the preconstruction, you missed out.  I had a friend that worked on a big project in Vegas in the middle of the “boom”.  He told me they were literally taking orders.  When someone called, their story was basically “if you are interested, send me a $5k reservation check overnight with the signed reservation agreement and we’ll try our best to get you a condo, but I don’t have time to talk because I’ve got 30 more phone calls to return in the next two hours.” If my memory serves me correctly, this was a 900 plus unit resort that was sold out as soon as they brought the product to market.

ok, back on point.  So, tons of buyers bought, and so many realized that they could “flip” out for a quick profit that buyers were no longer buying to use, but to resell.  Buyers were buying to sell and developers were scurrying to keep up with the demand.

The good and the bad of all this is that nothing happens overnight.  It took years for the market to heat up and it took years for the market to cool off.  As prices started rising pretty sharply, and interest rates started to rise, the buying began to slow.  In this particular case, the buying began to slow quicker than the developments could slow until it slowly flipped with there being slightly more supply than demand.  As buyers began to realize this they started trying to sell so as to recover their costs, sharply increasing the inventory on the market and further increasing the gap between supply and demand.  In addition all the buyers that bought – not because they could afford to buy and use, but to flip for a profit – are stuck with adjusting mortgages that they couldn’t afford in the first place.

So we’ve got a couple of pretty big problems that actually boil down to one huge problem:  we have a great deal more supply than we have demand and there are tons of people that bought that could not afford to buy that are getting foreclosed upon, which will further increase the market inventory – creating even more supply than demand.  The unfortunate thing about this is that we are just going to have to wait this out.  Unless the Fed lowers the rates an astronomical amount (which he won’t do and shouldn’t because a total swing in the opposite direction would actually be worse for our economy in the long run) or, Heaven forbid, something tragic happens on US soil again, we won’t see any huge change in the market for a while with regards to shrinking the gap between the supply and the demand.

I know this may seem glum, but there is a positive side to all this.  Those that can afford to hold will be fine.  Real estate, as with most investments, is statistically strong over the long term.  It is an exponential relationship: the longer the term, the lesser the risk, the lesser the term, the greater the risk.  The buyers that bought to flip and couldn’t afford to hold took the risk that they would not be able to sell and get foreclosed upon.

Had I the knowledge in 2003 to be buying and flipping, I would have totally done so.  I have friends that did very well during that period.  I also have friends that are holding several houses right now not knowing how they are going to make their bills next month, hoping (and praying) for a sale.

Another upside?  If you can buy and you like longer term investments, now is the time to buy.  Existing homes are selling for pennies on the dollar if you look hard enough and in many cases these properties can cashflow for the buyer with great credit.  In addition, developers are practically giving away new homes just to not carry the inventory.  I hear stories of developers taking offers at cost just to get out.  I wish we had that problem here (I’d love a new house), but this is mostly in larger metropolitan areas.  Our development boom happened on the beach.   Right now you can buy a condo on the beach for around $260 sqft.  I could be wrong about this number, but I think right now it is costing somewhere between $250 and $300 a square foot to build.  If you can buy right now, you should definately buy.

Ok, I’m done with my rant.  I hope this all makes sense, it’s 1am and I’m going to bed.  No more work today.