After the political firing of the firm that was brought in to help develop the way forward for the small beach community of Perdido Key, the very same team of designers and consultants is returning after two years, hoping to renew a vision of the future for the Lost Key.

“Growth on Perdido Key has never really had a plan in the past,” says Andrew Holmer, manager of Escambia County’s planning & zoning division. “For years, land has been developed without regulation and that’s caused scattered development. That’s how we got into the position we are in today.”

Without a master plan, development on Perdido Key has been left to individual developers and landowners. The result has been sporadic residential development, towering isolated condos and the creation of a community that, according to urban planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), is encouraging unsustainable development.

DPZ is the firm that’s being welcomed back by Escambia County after having been abruptly terminated in 2013. The company is known for developing master plans for sustainable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities. Their past work has included the developments of Seaside, Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach, Fla. and hundreds of others around the world. They hope to help develop Perdido Key into another one of their success stories. The firm was first brought to the community by the Perdido Key Association, a group of Perdido Key area residents who lobbied the county to begin development of the master plan.

Marina Khoury

Marina Khoury, Director of Town Planning for DPZ says she’s excited to return to rekindle a relationship with residents of Perdido Key and county officials. “I’m very happy and grateful for our return. We were never quite done with the process and it’s exciting to be welcomed back,” says Khoury. 

Khoury and DPZ were shocked to see their contract terminated in 2013, referencing the hostile political climate in Escambia County at the time. “As a firm, this was the first time we had been removed from a project in 35 years. We knew the termination of our contract was political but we didn’t want to get involved. We had to move on.”

Khoury says the decision to fire the firm was related to the widening of the state road that runs through Perdido Key, spanning more than five miles across the barrier island. “The proposed four-laning of Perdido Key Drive was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about,” Khoury says. In the past, some county leaders, including former Commissioner Gene Valentino, were adamant on the four-laning of the roadway and were dissatisfied with the options presented by DPZ surrounding the roadway in the proposed master plan in 2012. With new leadership in place at the county, Khoury says her firm is being welcomed with open arms.

In 2014, a new commissioner was elected and sworn into office, bringing with him a vastly different ideology on the way forward for the key. As a Perdido Key resident, Doug Underhill was spurred to run for county commissioner in part because of the irresponsible decisions being made in regards to the development of the island. “This was one of the things that caused me to run for office,” Commissioner Underhill says. “There’s been a long-standing competition of minds betweens citizens and some developers. I realized you can get a lot more done with cooperation at all levels.”

Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill

Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill

Commissioner Underhill says it’s been one of his initiatives to bring back DPZ to the table. “It was a team effort to bring them back,” Underhill says. “We need the best quality of development on the key. To me, the island is the beach playground for the westside and we want to  create accessibility for everyone.”

With the announcement of resuming development of the master plan,  Escambia County has scheduled a charrette, where the public, designers, consultants and local officials will work together on a vision for the development of Perdido Key. Several meetings will be held in early October for residents to provide input and participate in the design process.

“What we’ll be doing with DPZ is catching up where we left off,” Holmer says regarding the previous progress the county made with the master plan. “We never got to finish the master plan and now we’ll get to continue that.”

As part of the charette, DPZ will set up a “design studio” in the Perdido Key Community Center. From here, they’ll hold seminars and meetings to update the public on the emerging master plan, which will be presented to the public at the Perdido Bay Community Center.

Perdido1“Perdido Key is a very unique place. It’s very different from Seaside or Rosemary Beach in that those were brand new communities we were starting,” Koury notes. “Perdido Key is an existing town, an existing community. We’ll be looking at infill and how to build a sustainable, urban community around existing development. It presents challenges, but that’s what we’re here to solve.”

The firm has stated there’s lots of constraints to the future development of the barrier island. “Perdido Key has a development cap limiting the number of residential units and commercial properties, along with extensive environmental regulations, such as protection of the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse,” Koury says. “We won’t be starting from scratch, but we will be taking new ideas and adapting them to what the community wants. Members of the community have told us they want walkability, they want vibrancy and they want security for their neighborhoods.”

“Lots of time and energy went into the process back in 2012,” Koury says. “This opportunity is very important to us to get it right.”11865041_1145423288807635_8412111812758767596_o

A press release from Escambia County detailed how the charrette process will work:

Through the brainstorming and design process, many goals are accomplished. First, everyone who has a stake in the project develops an understanding of the challenges to deal with and the ultimate vision. Second, the design team works together to produce a set of finished documents that address all aspects of design. Third, since the input of all parties is gathered at the event, it is possible to avoid the prolonged discussions that typically delay conventional planning projects. Finally, the finished result is produced more efficiently and cost effectively because the process is collaborative. Charrette events are organized to encourage the participation of all; that includes everyone who is interested in the making of a development; the developers, business parties, local authorities, residents and members of associations and forums who may have an interest.

Specifically, the Charrette includes an opening lecture on the second night of the event. This lecture will provide details of the charrette, how it will work, the program and introduce the basic principles of good neighborhood design. This will present the principles of New Urbanism, and help focus on the options for growth in the area.

Charrette meetings and presentations:

  • The design team starts work right away, producing Master Plan options and designs. The options will be informed by formal and informal meetings with local authorities, community groups, government agencies and businesses, among others. The design team’s proposals and strategies are “reality tested” on a daily basis, so it is impossible to take an unacceptable scheme too far.
  • Pin-Up in the middle of the event: This is a crucial part of the Charrette, where the designers are given the opportunity to display to a wider audience their approach to development so far. This provides the public and related parties and participants of the Charrette the possibility to respond immediately to the designs and gain feedback on their response.
  • A final presentation on the last evening of the Charrette: A presentation of the plans, where all of the work produced during the charrette is presented and explained. Completion and refinement of the drawings subsequent to the Charrette. After the Charrette, there are always minor refinements that need to be made to the documents. Often, new information becomes available that affects the work. A Final Report is produced and sent to the Client team, which in this case is Escambia County.

Want to attend?

WHAT:Public Input, Comment, Design & Discussion
WHEN:Monday, October 5: 6 to 8 p.m.
Tuesday, October 6: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday, October 7: 10 a.m. to noon; 1 to 6 p.m.
Thursday, October 8: 10 a.m. to noon; 1 to 4 p.m.
WHERE:Perdido Key Community Center/Fire Station (conference room)
15500 Perdido Key Drive


WHAT:Consultant Presentation Times
WHEN:Tuesday, October 6: Opening Presentation, 5 to 7 p.m.
Thursday, October 8: Final Presentation, 5 to 7 p.m.
WHERE:Perdido Bay Community Center
13660 Innerarity Point Road

Send this to a friend