Work on Navarre Town Center scheduled to begin this year

Pensacola News Journal - Published - February, 12, 2006
By Amy Sowder

It will not be long before some Navarre residents can hum Petula Clark's 1964 song "Downtown" with personal satisfaction. Construction on the long-talked about Navarre Town Center is expected to start in six to eight months. The center is to be built east of State Road 87 and north of U.S. 98, where mobile homes on clay roads now mix with brick homes on paved streets.

Engineering firms are expected to bid Monday to work on the multimillion-dollar streetscape, which will include sidewalks, plant-filled medians, curbs, stormwater retention ponds that double as decorative fountains, parallel street parking and three downtown parking lots.

The Santa Rosa County Commission adopted the plan in October 2004 after dozens of community meetings.
"We have had more public input on this project than on any other," said Beckie Faulkenberry, director of county planning and zoning. "They did not want it to turn into a resort or retirement community." The Town Center, rezoned from commercial to a new classification and will be under new development rules. Existing homes and businesses will not have to change.

Businesses such as drive-through restaurants, pawn shops and auto dealerships will be prohibited unless already in the district. The Navarre Area Architectural Advisory Board must approve any new construction. Only property owners in the Navarre Town Center district will be taxed for improvements, said County Commissioner Gordon Goodin, whose district includes Navarre.

Builders will be allowed higher, narrow structures to preserve the view of the Santa Rosa Sound. "The way it is today blocks the ocean view," Goodin said of previous zoning. "It is not going to be another Destin."

The requirements for new buildings: They must have major elements of one of eight selected styles, including Caribbean Vernacular, Cracker or French Colonial. They must not be painted with bright or intense colors. They must be close to the road to create a walkable community.

Previous plans to set buildings far from streets favored automobiles, not pedestrians. But that is a trend planners want to reverse, Goodin said. Navarre resident Julie Seanor, who lives a couple of streets north of the planned downtown district, said the plan will give Navarre its own character.

"I know when I travel, I love to find one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants that have ambience and character," she said. "The Town Center will also give Navarre that identity."

Not all area residents favor the development. Clarke and Betty Wesson have not responded to a $275,000 offer for their two adjacent lots on Laredo Street, which borders the downtown district on the north side. They paid $7,000 for the land in 1973. "I would rather see the trees in front of us," said Betty Wesson, 74.