Okee-Tantie proposal changes

OKEECHOBEE — A new vision for Okee-Tantie was presented at the Thursday, May 26, meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners.

The project budget has grown to more than $40 million, with $22.7 million for the first phase.

The project, to be called the “Lake Okeechobee Club on Florida’s Wild Coast,” has changes to the originally-proposed plans. The new plans now include an airboat park.

A big change in the concept is that instead of leasing the whole property, Elite Resorts and Guy Harvey Outpost now propose to lease part and buy part of the property.

The leased portion of the property, which would include the Riverside Park area containing the boat ramps and marina, would still be owned by the county.

The county would also own the airboat park area, which would be at the north end of the recreation area.

The developers propose to pay the county $1.2 million for the campground area and to sell 450 lots in that area.

“This is proving to be a challenging project,” said Mark Ellert, Guy Harvey Outpost president.

Following the July 2015 county commission meeting in which the takeover of Okee-Tantie was first proposed, Elite Resorts and Guy Harvey Outpost began their due diligence with respect to the redevelopment of Okee-Tantie. That research indicated the project will be more costly than first envisioned. Mr. Ellert said they need to change the concept in order to obtain financing.COUNTY Okee-tantie art Guy Harvey Map Lake Okeechobee Club

“Under this proposal, we are essentially taking Okee-Tantie and separating it into three parcels,” he explained. “The airboat park would be owned by the county; we would manage it. Riverside park would be owned by the county; we would pay for the improvements and we would operate it under a long term (99 year) lease.

“The balance of the property (450 lots) would be purchased by third parties; they would pay taxes,” he said.

He said the lot owners would be required to follow architectural covenants.

“I will be the director of the architectural review board,” he said. “Our intention is this will become a community that thrives.

“We’ve changed the plan up to accommodate the airboat ramp back into the project,” he added, explaining that attempts to find an alternate launch location for airboats were not successful.

Mr. Ellert said the Lake Okeechobee Club will be a project for camping, RVers, anglers, boaters, airboaters, hunters, bass anglers “and especially for families.”

“We embrace the airboat constituents and stakeholders of this community. Airboating is part of our fishing DNA and clearly it is a part of the lifestyle in Okeechobee,” he said.

“Our intention is to create within our plan for a proper launch area,” he explained. “The challenge that we have is clearly that airboat operation creates a tremendous amount of noise.”

The new plans put the airboat park on the north end of the property. That area, and an access road to reach it, would belong to the county. A water retention area would be between the airboat park and the residential area of the campground.

Airboaters in the audience at the meeting objected to a proposal that airboat use be restricted from dusk to dawn. Mr. Ellert was quick to offer to amend that restriction.

Phil Baughman said the airboat community supports the Guy Harvey project, but was shocked at the proposal to stop airboat use in that area from dusk until dawn.

He said other camping areas don’t have restrictions on airboat use at night.
“Why are you being asked to limit our existence for their success?” he asked.

He also expressed concern about the restriction on airboat size. He said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) only allows the larger airboats at certain ramps. Currently, Okee-Tantie is one of the areas where the larger boats can be launched.

“You need to think about the effects on the community,” he said. “It’s all about the heritage of the community. Every time we take one little piece of our heritage, we lose our identity.”

“We do not want to lose the community’s heritage. We will do everything we can to protect that heritage, including accommodating airboating,” said Mr. Ellert.

“The difference is we are talking about having an airboat ramp on the property.

“It’s a noise problem during the launching,” he continued.

He said since they proposed the dusk to dawn restriction, he has heard complaints from alligator hunters because alligator hunting is done at night.

“We’re going to work to solve this problem,” he said. “We will figure out how to accommodate that. It’s a work in progress.

“I am sure that area is going to continue to undergo further evolution,” he continued.

Commissioner Terry Burroughs pointed out that the airboat park will be owned by the county.

“I would embrace the fact that the airboat community will be working with the county to understand how this park will be managed and how it will look,” he said.

He went on to say he has met with Noel Chandler and others in the airboat community.

“I asked how many airboats go out at night, and I think we agreed that it’s maybe 10 per week. I think we’re making a mountain out of molehill,” he noted.

Mr. Chandler, who was present at the meeting, also expressed concerns about time restrictions for airboats. He pointed out that airboats are also used for duck hunting, and “ducks fly about an hour before dawn.”

The developers also propose adding the Scott Driver Boat Ramp area to the project.

Mr. Ellert said they would like to incorporate the Scott Driver Boat Ramp area into the Lake Okeechobee Club, adding a new ceremonial entry way. He said they would also like to add a golf cart and pedestrian passage under the bridge to provide safe access from the Lake Okeechobee Club to the Scott Driver Boat Ramp area.

He proposed Guy Harvey Outpost would manage this area in exchange for 5 percent of revenue collections.

He proposed the county allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in that area.

“I was unaware that management of Scott Driver was under discussion. Does that mean we will be charged to launch boats there?” asked Mark Brandel.

“That would be up to the county to determine that,” replied chairman Frank Irby. “In the past, I have had people who own boats say we ought to have boat stickers to help pay for the upkeep.”

He said the county does not currently charge boaters for using the ramps.

County attorney John Cassels said if commissioners agree to the concept of selling part of the park, they would have to go through the process to allow all interested parties to bid.

The first step requested by the developers is for the county to lease the old Lightsey’s building to Guy Harvey Outpost for up to three years. They would then gut and renovate this building to use as offices and a sales center.

After the lots sell, this building would be incorporated into the larger lease on the Riverside Park area. Should the lots not sell within three years, the building would revert to the county and could be used as a community meeting area.

The commissioners took no action on the proposal at the meeting.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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