Beach Condo Fight

By: Amy Morris
By: Amy Morris

A new proposal could let high rise condos stack up in front of each other on area beaches. The idea has many wondering if growth is getting out of control.

These are the plans for the Bella Costa condo project. The name means Pretty Coast, but the property isn't even on the coast and those opposing the project say that makes it illegal.

"It's illegal unless you want to just throw out the law books!" says Bella Costa opponent Charles Hilton.

Bella Costa developers want to build right next door to Hilton's property, the Holiday Inn Sunspree. The condo complex is set to go up where Barnacle Bay Miniature Golf and Burger King sit now.

That puts a 22-story building directly in front of Ocean Towers on Front Beach Road. The fight now is whether or not the area falls into the Coastal Overlay Zone. That’s the zone that determines how large of a development someone can build, based on location.

Part of the Bella Costa land is in the zone, part isn't.

"We've done everything the city has asked and this 11th hour appeal coming from people who were never involved in the project is frankly surprising,” says developer Gary Wakstein.

The Panama City Beach Adjustment Board ruled the Bella Costa site in the Coastal Overlay Zone. That decision is now under appeal.

Panama City Beach council members will make the final call on Dec. 9. Wakstein hopes to sweeten the deal for the beach by offering to build public beach access boardwalks on either side of his condos and a covered public parking garage.

But Hilton says that will just create traffic problems and beach overcrowding in an already busy area.

Both sides will make their cases to beach council members over the next few weeks.

The proposed public beach boardwalks also provide better handicapped access to the beach.


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