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Development commission talks future land use, industry showing interest in Holmes

What might happen to Holmes County’s future landscape was a topic in the Holmes County Development Commission’s regular session Feb. 21.

Holmes County’s comprehensive plan was last updated in 2000. Allara Mills Gutcher, the principal planner with The Planning Collaborative firm in Bay County, presented the commission with an overview of what the county’s stakeholders should consider when it comes to future development of the county such as economic development, housing, traffic, roads, public facilities and conservation. 

“The most challenging element with the comprehensive plan to update is the future land use element,” Gutcher said. “That’s supposed to look down the road 10 or maybe even 20 years on where we want to see development occur. This comprehensive plan will guide what the land development regulations will eventually say.”

The comprehensive plan encapsulates how the county wants to proceed when it comes to developing aspects of how the community wants to live, work and play in their daily life.

“In the big picture, we’re looking for the overall thoughts on why you like to live here, why you think people might want to come here, why they might want to stay here and what’s happening to the kids when they graduate from high school,” Gutcher said. “Are they able to work here? Are they leaving? If they are leaving, are they coming back?”

The board pointed out natural beauty and waterways that need to be preserved for locals and ecotourism. The waterways could use more public access points and camping sites. 

The board also wants to see the county’s farming heritage and industry preserved. The challenge Gutcher pointed out is that a lot of farmers are aging out, and the newer generation is not as interested in continuing to farm and that some agricultural land in the panhandle is being converted to solar energy farming. 

Most of Holmes County’s land is currently zoned for agriculture/silviculture, according to the current Future Land Use Map, with other designated areas for rural residential land, industrial use, mixed use and conservation. 

The commission plans to meet with Gutcher’s firm after they have had time to think about the future plan and hold public workshops.

In the finance committee report, Executive Director Joe Rone said that Midtown Plaza, as the development commission recently named the business complex, has had a steady stream of rental revenue from tenants and is adding more. 

The commission’s bank deposits reflect an installment payment of $154,000 from selling 14.45 acres of property to board member Lance Medley under the business name Shayes LLC. The board approved the sale back in May last year and took the final vote at the Dec. 19 meeting with Medley recused from the discussion and the vote. The total sale price was $231,000 for the portion of the Raper Dairy property near U.S. 79 and Interstate 10 for $16,000 per acre. 

In that same meeting, the board’s attorney Ben Armstrong advised that the full board be made aware that the sale involved a fellow board member and that the discussion should occur outside Medley’s presence. Board member Rickey Callahan made the motion, seconded by Doyle Majors, to approve the final sale. The motion passed unanimously. 

The commission used a small part of a $297,000 rural infrastructure grant to cover land surveying of the property and set conditions that the property would be paid off in specific installments including a fair market interest rate. Rone said HCDC is selling the property for twice what the county paid for it. 

In other news, Holmes County is in the top three for a spirulina nutritional supplement manufacturer from China looking for a property in Northwest Florida to set up a stateside operation. The company is looking for 10 acres close to Interstate 10 for production and would provide jobs for 20 to 30 people with salaries ranging from $45,000 to $50,000 per year. The company is also considering Washington and Jackson Counties.

Another lead to circle back around to Holmes County is a manufacturer and distributor of marine products seeking property to place a facility that would provide 40 jobs at first with 25 more with “really nice salary range and full benefits.” HCDC is submitting another bid to include properties in Ponce de Leon as possibilities for the company.

Finally, the board learned that the State of Florida is contesting a lawsuit the commission filed to repossess the Holmes Work Camp property since the corrections facility closed. 

The commission’s next regular meeting is Thursday, March 9 at 6 p.m. in the conference room at the HCDC complex/Midtown Plaza.


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