Sand Ordinance Puts Brakes on Florida RV Park
Not when you’re building one on Florida’s Pensacola Beach.
Developers of a $2.4 million luxury recreational park on Via de Luna needed almost two years to secure permits from the state, Escambia County and the Santa Rosa Island Authority to allow them to put shovels in the sand last month on the environmentally sensitive barrier island, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
The goal was to open the park by early spring. But the long-awaited construction start was abruptly halted when discolored sand — varying from dusty gray to clay orange — was uncovered during site preparation.
Now, the future of the 70-lot park, with lush landscaping and a swimming pool, is uncertain.
Under a coastal development ordinance aimed at protecting the iconic white sand of the beach, Escambia County has ordered developers with Holiday Holding Trust and Gulfside Resorts to remove the top two feet of the discolored sand and haul it off the island without spilling a grain.
Holiday Holding principal Jim Reeves says that could add another $100,000 to the project that is already costing nearly $1 million more than it would on the mainland because each campsite must come equipped with its own sewer tap to meet environmental regulations.
“The sand belongs to the county,” he said. “The sand was taken out of the road bed when Via de Luna was widened 10 years ago.”
At that time, Reeves said, the county allowed the sand to be placed on the property, which is the former site of the Tiki House motel. Hurricane Dennis in 2005 wiped out the hotel, which Reeves owned.
Paolo Ghio, Island Authority director of development, said it does not matter how the sand got on the property: The owner is responsible once it is there, he said.
Keith Wilkins, the county’s deputy director for community and environment, said uncovering and removing discolored sand from the island is a routine part of beach construction projects.
”It’s very common, particularly in the old developed core,” he said. “It happens when Bell South comes out to lay new lines, with every new hotel development and road development. It happens to us when we do roadwork. And everybody is held to the ordinance.”
Trucking in Alabama red clay and other material to use as foundations was common 60 years ago in the early days of the development of the beach, Ghio said.
“As our environmental consciousness evolved, we realized this red clay is going to contaminate the sand, which we’re known for,” he said.
Reeves plans to meet with his banks and other investors to decide whether to move forward with the project in light of the added expense. He also will seek a variance from the Island Authority and the Escambia County Commission.
“If they’re going to insist on us removing the sand, it will upset the apple cart,” Reeves said. “We loaded tons of white sand on the property, and we’ve agreed to encapsulate it, put netting over it to keep it from migrating to the water or to the other white sand. Right now, we’re at an impasse.”
Wilkins knows of no variance that would allow Holiday Holdings to get around the ordinance, but ultimately that would be a decision of the commissioners.
“I understand it’s a difficult situation, but everyone should be aware of the sand ordinance,” Wilkins said. “That stuff erodes away during hurricanes, and during construction it spreads like a drop of oil in water.”