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Escambia Commissioner Looking to Pull Property from Conservation District

by Jeremy Morrison

A while back, Wilson Robertson considered selling a piece of property off Highway 29. It was located in a growing area of Escambia County and Dollar General was showing interest in developing a store on the property.

But that sale never materialized. Dollar General wouldn’t have been able to set up shop.

“Found out we couldn’t, because the sector plan put us in a conservation zone,” explained Robertson.

The sector plan — or the Escambia County Mid-West Sector Plan — was approved by the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners in 2011 and lays out a development vision for a swath of the county. Robertson, who has served on the board for years and currently sits as its vice chairman, did not realize that his property was being designated as a “conservation neighborhood” and this week he’ll look to his fellow commissioners to allow him to opt out of the sector plan.

Wilson said Monday (Oct. 3) that the conservation neighborhood designation limited what could be done with the 8.67-acre property at the corner of Highway 29 and Neal Road. The commissioner is looking to have his property removed from the sector plan, and allowed to maintain its existing zoning of commercial/industrial and future land use designation of multi-use suburban.

“I had planned, and may still be able to build a Sherwin Williams store,” said Robertson, who operates a number of the paint stores in the area.

Commissioners will consider their vice-chairman’s request during their meeting Thursday. Robertson said he would recuse himself from weighing in on the issue.

Robertson, along with his partners in Robertson-Cotton, Inc., purchased the Highway 29 property in June of 2008. He said he did not catch the fact that it was falling under more restrictive zoning during the sector plan process.

“Little did I know that we have been placed in a conservation district, because we were not notified,” Robertson said, contending that property owners were never sent required notification letters giving the opportunity to opt out of the sector plan. “Even being a sitting commissioner, that’s how easy it is to miss something like that.”

Robertson said that he was not alone in his predicament. He predicted other property owners — “there’s a bunch of them out there” — would also be coming forward with the same request and rationale.

“We will hopefully set a precedent for all these owners that are in the same situation that we are in,” Robertson said.

The vice chairman is not alone in his land-use request on this week’s commission agenda. A property owner with 32 acres between East Fence Road and Saufley Field Road is requesting a switch from industrial to mixed-use to allow for the development of a subdivision. And another 60 acres located north of Beck’s Lake Road may be changed from mixed-use to industrial, to accommodate the operation of a borrow pit.

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