The Santa Rosa County Commission agreed to allow the project plans for an RV resort north of Milton to continue, with the expectation they will receive more information in March regarding the project's site plans and an alternative to septic tanks in dealing with the resort's effluent.
About 30 members of the public attended the commission's special rezoning meeting Thursday night to speak out against the project.
The county's zoning board recommended the commissioners deny a conditional use, which would allow for recreational activities.
The project includes about 20 acres off Hutchins Road and lies near both Earnest Mill Creek and Big Coldwater Creek. The property would include room for 56 RV lots, 21 cabins and two community areas that would host picnic seating and non-amplified outdoor music.
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"Homeowners living there enjoying the creek, they own the land. They're going to take care of the land. They're going to respect the land," said Nathan Green, who owns property adjacent to the parcel that would house the RV resort. "People that are transient, I can't say whether they will or won't. So I think it's a whole different ballgame."
Robert Preston, one of the partners involved in the RV project, said as a stakeholder, he wants to ensure the proposal would bring in high-quality clientele and garner a positive reaction from the nearby community.
"I'm still the property owner, and if this property looks like trash, no one's going to come there. I'm not going to make any money," Preston said. "So I'm highly driven to make sure that it stays nice as well, to make sure I get the type of customer and the occupancy that I need to make it worthwhile."
Still, other county residents made their point to the commissioners that the project differs from the space's otherwise quiet atmosphere.
"We're looking at 300-plus people on that property on a given weekend," said Pace resident Kim Cook.
"My thing is, there should be some part of this county that's sacred and if these people are on this amount of land, it's because they want to live in a sacred part of this county and they don't want to be invaded," said Pace resident Sherry Chapman.
District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright emphasized that RV resorts in Santa Rosa County are attracting an unproblematic group of people.
"I don't have a problem with an RV resort, per se. Obviously, I supported one in Navarre that got turned down," Wright said. "I think when you look at what's happening in the RV industry, the people that are buying expensive RVs and showing up and going to places that are pristine places like where we are, they're not causing harm."
He and Commission Chairman Bob Cole expressed a desire to move away from septic tanks though, which are included in the preliminary plans for the resort call. Cole suggested a package plant to deal with the wastewater at the resort, but Preston said he did not have any information on the feasibility of a package plant up to this point.
"But the only way I'd support this, would be if you have consideration for the conditional use with a small packaging plant with a RIB system that disposes of it (effluent) rather than the septic tanks," Cole said.
Preston assured the board he would look into alternatives to the septic tanks and provide the county with a more detailed site plan, all of which will come before the board again in March.
District 3 Commissioner James Calkins said making a decision on this project is difficult given how much the board wants to balance environmental and business advantages.
"We have certain areas in our county that are priceless. I mean, the Navarre Beach is priceless. This river here with these beautiful sandbars is just absolutely stunning. There's nothing like this in the entire country," Calkins said. "And when it comes to our environment, which I know his board cares about the environment, these are tough decisions for us because we've got to look at the economic benefits versus the environmental."
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Milton residents push back against proposed RV resort