Navarre is growing, and growing fast. Is that a good thing?

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JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

NAVARRE — Drive on U.S Highway 98 in rush hour traffic and you’ll learn the hard way that the area is growing.

But take a look around. Navarre doesn’t just have more people. There are more businesses, too.

In the past year the unincorporated community has gained a Neighborhood Walmart, a new fitness center, two new beachside restaurants and a Family Dollar, to name a few. And there’s even more coming.

“We stay very busy in terms of pre-application meetings and site plan submittals for developments in the Navarre area,” said Jason McLarty, planner for Santa Rosa County development services. “The number of requests and submittals has steadily been on the rise over the last couple of years.  For a time the majority of those submittals were on the south end.”

Earlier this year, the Daily News reported that a group of investors purchased 33 acres of commercial property sitting east of the Publix shopping center. The development, which is still in the early stages, will include a retail and restaurant area with one of the key elements being a movie theater.

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Rob Williamson, whose District 4 includes Navarre,  said he recently spoke with one of the principal developers who said they are working on lease agreements. Williamson could not say which businesses were considering coming to Navarre, but added that he was “very encouraged.”

“There’s more people interested than they have space,” he said. “They’re working to create the right mix that will be aligned with what the community wants.”

The property at the corner of State Road 87 and U.S. Highway 98 once was going to be the site of the Navarre Commons, which never came to be. Now it seems there’s a second chance. Atlanta developer Merg Hoffman, alongside Craig Kruse and brothers Chandler and Brandon Huff, are working to create a “high-end, aesthetically pleasing” project, Williamson said.

Seafood and a wildlife refuge

Another anticipated attraction coming to Navarre is Dewey Destin’s Seafood Restaurant, which began construction in March in the empty lot on 8673 Navarre Parkway just east of the Navarre Beach Causeway.

Destin said the anticipated opening date is around July 4. The restaurant will be patterned after the original bayside location on Calhoun Avenue in Destin.

“We’re making progress and we’re looking forward to being a part of the community,” Destin said. “We actually have family history here. Some family settled in Holley and according to historical records, some of the family is buried there. It’s a great connection.”

Navarre also will soon be the home of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge. Last year, refuge President Bill Andersen and his wife, Carol, donated a 2.24-acre parcel off SR 87 for refuge’s new home. The Andersens signed the deed in April to transfer the land, which is appraised at $210,000.

The refuge has raised almost 50 percent of the $605,000 needed to build the facility, which will include a rehabilitation and educational centers. Anderson said they’ve already started to receive monetary and in-kind donations from local organizations.

“We’re planning on a groundbreaking for June 16 and hoping to be open to the public later in the year,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”

Williamson said the refuge is one example of “smart growth” in the area.

“This is the kind of growth we want,” he said.

The heart of Navarre

Residents have not welcomed all new planned development.

Last month there was some opposition to the proposed storage units on SR 87 north of James M. Harvell Road in the “Heart of Navarre” overlay district. As part of the overlay district, the construction of businesses such as storage units, pawn shops and auto services would only be permissible with conditional use permits.

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Lane Lynchard and his business partner Nadja Robles requested a variance from zoning laws to begin construction on the 5.2-acre property, which was approved by the zoning board and the county commissioners. The county received at least two letters from residents with concerns about the project.

“It doesn’t make much sense to me to spend millions of dollars for improvements on Highway 87 and then allow metal storage buildings to be built,” Edward Carpenter wrote in an email to the county.

Lynchard countered that the project is a support facility for the growing population. The facility is expected to be about 50,000 square feet with some 450 storage units. The business will provide at least two jobs.

“I plan to build something that is first class with a lot of curb appeal,” he said.

Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Tamara Fountain said Navarre is “on the precipice” of something great, but that there needs to be a plan so Navarre “gets the growth we deserve.”

“We have to stop giving our place away and think about quality,” she said. “No more boatyards and chain link fences.”

As the District 4 commissioner, Williamson said he supports planning and wants residents to have a say in the process. At the beginning of the year he held an open house for people to provide input on the future of the district.

“Anybody that’s lived in Navarre knows the growing pains in this area,” he said. “That’s why we want a plan in place created by the community for the ongoing District 4 master plan to give us a road map for success. We want to put together the right mix for the community. There’s a lot of good things happening here.”

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