Carisse LeJeune discusses Destin’s future

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TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

DESTIN — The Destin City Council hired Carisse LeJeune as interim city manager in May 2016 and dropped the “interim” from her title less than two months later.

Here, she provides input on a range of issues pertaining to “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

Q: What would be the main benefits of the city, or another company, possibly taking over the Gulf Power utility system in Destin?

A: The city had a 30-year franchise with Gulf Power to provide electric service to the city. This franchise has come to an end and the City Council is exploring options that could reduce electricity costs for residents and businesses while continuing to provide excellent service.

Q: What is the city doing to boost its code enforcement efforts when it comes to issues such as regulating noise generated by businesses along the Boardwalk, as well as various problems caused by some of the renters of short-term rental properties in Destin?

A: The city’s code enforcement division is working closely, as always, with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office to enforce its noise ordinance citywide. The city’s partnership with the OCSO is vital to code enforcement. This partnership, along with a fully-staffed code division, allows for a more proactive approach to regulating noise and other city ordinances.

As for short-term rental properties, the City Council has formed a short-term rental task force made up of residents, business owners and short-term rental representatives with a goal to find solutions for various short-term rental issues like noise, overcrowding and parking. This task force is meeting regularly and will bring a plan back to the City Council to review in February 2018.

Q: Does the city have a long-term plan/vision to manage residential and commercial growth? If so, what are the keys to managing such growth?

A: Balancing the city’s need to grow with residential quality of life is something every community in the country faces, and it is not always easy to find this balance. At the council’s visioning session in May 2017, it was clear that quality of life in Destin is one of the most important items the council should focus on. Destin’s growth is “managed” by a Comprehensive Plan and a Land Development Code that provide regulations for what can be built in the city and what it can look like (building heights, parking requirements, aesthetics, etc.).

A great deal of stakeholder input has been gathered and, currently, the Comprehensive Plan is being revised to lessen the allowable density and building heights citywide. One of the city’s strategic goals is “quality development and revitalization.” By focusing on “quality,” the City Council will be able to find a balance that works for the development community as well as the full-time residents of Destin.

Q: Does the city plan to provide more public parking in the city’s main business district and, if so, will it be paid parking?

A: Earlier this year, the City Council moved forward with a pay-to-park program at the Marler Street parking lot in the Harbor District. The program has generated approximately $8,000 of revenue to date. Recently, the council asked staff to use some of the pay-to-park revenue to improve the city’s parking lot at Zerbe Street and implement the pay-to-park program there. This parking lot should be ready by spring 2018. Other rights of way parking is also being explored in the Harbor District as well as in the Crystal Beach area.

Q: What advice do you have for residents and other drivers who face several more years’ worth of U.S. Highway 98 expansion work in and near Destin?

A: The Highway 98 expansion project is an FDOT project and will last until sometime in 2020. It is important that anyone traveling Hwy. 98 use caution at all times, reduce speed, be mindful of changing traffic patterns and lane shifting, pay attention to roadway signs and marquees, and watch for workers and pedestrians. The city shares updates from FDOT on the project on Facebook (City of Destin Government) and the city’s website,  

Q: Is Crab Island a benefit or drawback to the city, and does Crab Island need to be regulated more?

A: Crab Island, though not in the city limits of Destin and therefore outside the city’s regulatory jurisdiction, has been one of the area’s top destinations for many years. Crab Island is often the backdrop for advertisements for our tourism industry, which is the backbone of our economy. The City Council, working with Okaloosa County officials, is planning to host a workshop on Jan. 8, 2018, to discuss Crab Island and explore what can be done to enhance safety and provide an enjoyable atmosphere for the public.

Q: Destin officials have been accused of over-regulating businesses, especially those along U.S. 98 and the Boardwalk, without first getting input from the owners/operators of such businesses. What is your response to such concerns?

A: In the past few years, the city has worked hard to include business owners in the decision-making process that ultimately regulates how they do business. Some examples are the Business Tax Receipt (BTR) Equity Study Commission, Short-Term Rental Task Force and the Beach (vendor) Workshop. The City Council and staff have also worked closely with citizens and stakeholders on several other items such as the tree ordinance, noise ordinance, mobile vending regulations and livery vessel regulations, each taking into consideration public input. Additionally, the city has nine citizen committees that provide citizen insight and recommendations to the City Council.

Q: What are the main things that make Destin a unique place in which to live, work and play?

A: I could list all the things that are right in front of us like the beautiful beaches, excellent restaurants, the renowned charter fishing fleet or countless family-friendly attractions, all of which make Destin wonderful. But, there is more to Destin. Our community is filled with kind people who make visiting, living or doing business here a pleasure. I am fortunate to be able to see this every day in my interaction with the public. This is truly what makes Destin the best place in the world to live, work and play.

Q: Earlier this year, you received the council’s permission to live outside of the city because you were unable to find a house within Destin that you could afford. Is your experience with Destin’s housing market an issue shared by many others who work in the city, and is there anything the city can do to encourage more housing options?

A: Destin has been fortunate to enjoy a strong housing market in the past few years, something much needed since the downturn in 2005. Many people who work in Destin live in surrounding communities. I believe this is a testament to the job viability of the city and its positive impact on the county and beyond. Currently, housing is not part of the city’s strategic goals. If the council decides to explore “housing options,” city staff will begin taking a look at any options available.

Q: What are your top current goals as city manager?

A: To successfully facilitate the will of the City Council and implement strategies for staff outlined in the council’s FY 2018 Strategic Goals:

Create and maintain strategies for revenue growth, expenditure monitoring and long term financing options.

Develop initiatives to enhance organizational development and service excellence.

Implement strategies and programs that encourage recycling, water conservation and reduced energy consumption.

Implement a stormwater management plan that maintains water quality in support of our fishing and tourism industries.

Implement strategies and policies that encourage xeriscape, open space and a robust tree canopy throughout the city.

Implement multiple innovative methods of transportation throughout the city.

Construct roadways as alternatives to Highway 98.

Enhance the city’s recreational and educational opportunities.

Improve public use and safety of city parks, waterways and harbor.

Implement the Harbor and Town Center CRA Master Plans. 

Enhance opportunities for economic growth and diversity within the city.

Beautify the city’s streets through landscaping, streetscaping, street lighting and attractive signage.

Underground utilities along Highway 98.

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