Columnist: Protect county park land

Posted on July 4, 2016 by Linda Young

There’s a community debate underway about whether the County should grant a lease amendment to the owners of a Sound-front property on the east end of Navarre Beach.  The change would allow the leaseholder to build seven condos on the property that is currently approved only for a small dry-storage marina.
There are arguments on both sides, but as an environmental advocate it will come as no surprise that I think this requested change would not be a benefit to our community.  Currently the land is serving as part of our County Park.  What a wonderful gift it is that our community has shown the wisdom and foresight to set aside this land for the public’s benefit and for future generations.
Some argue that the condos would bring more tax revenues, etc. to the county.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is generally accepted as fact that growth does not pay for itself, especially when the local government does not require adequate impact fees from new development.  For instance, there is tremendous growth in Northern Santa Rosa County right now and roads such as Chumukla Highway are unable to handle the traffic.  The commissioner from that area wants some of the proposed local option sales tax to help widen the roads.  If Santa Rosa County had adequate impact fees attached to development, then there would be money in the budget to expand our roads.  There is no doubt that six new condos on the island would bring their own burden to our county that would sooner or later require all of us to pony up some more money.
To many, the money is not the important issue and I’m one of those people. More important is the added value to our quality of life that nature provides.  Clean water is becoming more and more rare.  In recent months we have seen no swimming signs at the beach on the north side of the bridge due to polluted stormwater run-off.  When that happens, we can always go over the bridge to the park and find clean, swimmable water. That is because the park is essentially undeveloped.
Yes the National Seashore is down the road and it makes everyone of us a millionaire to have that in our backyard.  But our one-mile of county park is a rare treasure that we should all rally around to protect.  Here are a few more good reasons why:
l Studies show that having a robust park system attracts new businesses to communities.
l Homes near parks are worth more money, thereby improving the local tax-base.
l Natural landscaping (sand dunes in our case) saves money on stormwater treatment and keeps our waters clean and safe.
Parks are where we go to be active, stay fit and be healthy. Navarre is a perfect place for families and a big reason for that is that we have plenty of room for our families to spread out, be active and enjoy our waters.  Let’s all pull together to protect our public park on the island and all of our parks in this county we call home.