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Belmont-DeVilliers Decides Its Future
Pensacola News Journal
November 16, 2015

Belmont-DeVilliers Neighborhood in Pensacola, FloridaA mismatch between current zoning and future land use in the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood is causing a headache for developers as well as concern for long-time property owners.

The revitalizing area, located in the western portion of downtown Pensacola, is coming up against problems caused by discrepancies between the current zoning, adopted in 2004, and future land use, adopted in a 2010 comprehensive plan.

Developers like A Door Properties, for example, recently went under contract to purchase 220 N DeVilliers Street and 415 W Wright Street, two adjoining parcels sold as one.

Both are currently zoned as residential neighborhood commercial, or RNC. This type of zoning allows for residential and retail, including banks, bakeries, restaurants and the like. It also allows for more dense development.

During the 60-day due diligence process, however, A Door Properties discovered that 415 W Wright Street has future land use designation of R1AA, or medium density residential. In other words, the number of townhomes they had hoped to build on the vacant land was capped at four, instead of the 17 they had planned.

By law, future land use trumps current zoning.

“You always expect something to come up. It was a bigger bump than I expected because I didn’t know where to go,” said Kacee Bidnick, a real estate agent and development coordinator with A Door. “It wasn’t a punch in the gut but you’re like, ‘Oh, now what do I do?’”

Last week, A Door went before the planning and zoning board and received approval to take their re-zoning request to the City Council. The public hearings will begin in January and if all goes well, the re-zoning will be approved in February.

They hope to build units that are about 1,200 square feet in size at a price of approximately $175,000 to $200,000, although plans have not been finalized. They have received interest from potential buyers in their 20s up to empty nesters who want a place near downtown.

The city’s planning services division has begun to meet with neighborhood residents to get the overall issue resolved. Last Thursday, a workshop was held with property owners and neighborhood association members.

“This neighborhood is very interesting in the fact that there is a good mix of new property owners, interested folks who have contracts on property and you have folks that have been there a long time,” said Brandi Deese, senior planner. “We want to fix these problems but we want to fix it in a way that the neighborhood wants.”

Property owners aren’t against development. The neighborhood association sent a letter in support of A Door Properties and their bid for re-zoning and several spoke in support of the project during last week’s planning and zoning.

Beverly Perry, however, just wants to make sure the neighborhood retains the character she has grown to love.

“There is a lot of vacant land and we do want development,” she said. “But we don’t want the neighborhood to disappear with that development.”

Other property owners are discovering that the future land use designations are preventing them from the option of opening a business in the empty lot they own next to their home or from other projects they have envisioned.

One property owner who spoke at Thursday’s workshop said she thought her property was RNC but found out it was, in fact, residential. The future land use would prevent her from creating a small trade school to teach young women sewing, arts and crafts.

Andy Thomas is an investor who is under contract for 11 parcels that front Wright, DeVilliers and Gregory streets. During his due diligence period, he found out five were zoned R1AA, which would prevent him from completing the condominium and retail project he had in mind.

He said he sees similarities with the Old Town area of Fort Collins, Colo., where he lives.

“Over a 20-year period I watched this area become revitalized,” he said. “That is what I see in Pensacola.”

The planning services department is encouraging homeowners to contact them and to participate in the meetings and hearings that will take place over the coming weeks and months, Deese said.