Dewey Destin to drop easement feud from lawsuit

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TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

DESTIN — Local businessman Dewey Destin recently confirmed a sea change in his dispute with the city over an easement/public access road at the planned Capt. Royal Melvin Heritage Park and Plaza.

The 0.77-acre park site is at 206 Harbor Blvd. with Dewey Destin’s Harborside Restaurant to the west, Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer and the Destin Fishing Fleet Marina to the east, Destin Harbor to the south and U.S. Highway 98 and the Marler Street public parking lot to the north.

Destin and his company, B.I. Inc., sued Destin in October 2016 after the city fenced off the easement that his employees and other workers had been using to get to the harborfront. The city placed the fence to move forward with building the park.

“We’ve made a motion to modify our lawsuit versus the city,” Destin said Jan. 12. “We will not try to force the city to reopen the easement. We will remove that from the lawsuit, but we are still arguing for damages we believe they caused us.”

Destin previously has said his father had paid members of the Melvin family for access to the road and that the easement was entered into public record in 1990. But the city has claimed that Destin has no stake to the easement because the arrangement was terminated before the city’s acquisition of the property in 2006.

Destin’s son, City Councilman Parker Destin, said Jan. 12 that his father and other investors purchased property on the west side of his father’s restaurant four or five months ago.

“He now has access to the harborfront,” Parker Destin said. “The easement is no longer an issue.”

Mayor Scott Fischer said he could not comment on the matter because of the ongoing litigation.

While the easement apparently is no longer an issue, various features of the park are far from being finalized.

Destin officials are waiting to receive $1.2 million worth of BP RESTORE Act money that will be used to develop the park. That funding could be in place this summer, according to a city capital projects report.

The city’s plans for the park are about 90 percent complete. The property could include a terraced walkway, docks for transient boats, a kayak launch, historical/environmental displays, a wildlife observation area, restrooms, picnic facilities and a resource center offering educational classes organized by the Destin History & Fishing Museum.

The City Council discussed those and other park features at length Jan. 2. Among other issues, council members discussed tree removal/protection issues, the reduction of the site’s bluff for ADA-compliance purposes and the location of the restrooms and possible parking spots.

A majority of the council ended up voting to have the Harbor Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Committee review and give its input on the park features.

Councilman Jim Foreman, who cast the lone no vote, expressed frustration about the park’s slow progress. He said he has heard the same questions and concerns year after year from different council members. 

Councilman Tuffy Dixon abstained from voting after saying his wife works for a company and his daughter works for a law firm that are involved in the lawsuit with Dewey Destin.

Parker Destin was one of the five council members to vote in favor of having the Harbor CRA Advisory Committee review the park’s features. He recently told the Daily News that he saw no conflict of interest in voting on the matter despite the lawsuit between his father and the city.

“My personal feeling is we were talking about the park design,” he said Jan. 12. “The only parameters we were discussing were things like the park’s elevation and the location of restrooms. It was nothing pertinent to the lawsuit. I didn’t believe I had a legal conflict to send it back to our advisory board to review the specifications of the park and get this park developed.”

In answer to another question, Parker Destin said, “I kind of see the argument that people might use the park and then come to Dewey’s, but they are just as likely to go next door to Brotula’s or the fishing fleet.”

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