My name is Kelly Sowell and I am one of the owners at the Bungalows by the Gulf development that was recently the subject of an article in the Apalachicola Times. You may recognize my name as I was also quoted (actually misquoted) in the article. As much as I appreciate our story being shared, what I do not appreciate was the manner in which it was written. There were numerous erroneous statements made regarding the situation as well as the intent of the owners. It painted the owners as disgruntled and demanding and it painted the relationship we have with Franklin County in a poor light. This could not be more false.
It began with the first sentence of the article. “A group of displeased property owners are insisting Franklin County rezone their waterfront condominiums.” We are not “insisting” anything of Franklin County. The Board of Commissioners has been more than gracious with us. They voted for Franklin County staff to meet with us two months ago to help find a resolution for the situation we have found ourselves in. The county planner, in that meeting with several Bungalows’ owners (me included) and the county attorney, made the recommendation that we request a rezone to R-5 Multi-Family Residential. This was not our idea, our agenda or our demand. It seemed to be a fair recommendation as we as owners were just seeking relief that will allow us to legally stay in the units we purchased. So we moved forward with the request.
We are so grateful to the board of commissioners for their resulting sympathy and time. Since the planning and zoning board voted against the rezone (2 for, 3 against), the board of county commissioners could have easily denied the request without a word from any of us but they did no such thing. They invited us to speak, to hear our stories, to put faces and truths to the issue. I’m not aware of another entity that would have shown such compassion.
Which brings another falsity from your article to light, that our attorney spoke very little because “the property owners were vocal in their protests and demands.” Our attorney spoke very little because the board requested to hear from the owners, to personally hear from us. It was a wonderful moment of compassion that was so misconstrued in your article. We are passionate about this issue as we have come to love the peace and serenity of Franklin County, but that passion should not be mistaken for being demanding.
After the Bungalows’ owners had the opportunity to speak, the county attorney still had reservations regarding the rezone request. At that time Commissioner Sanders moved to table the issue until the Sept. 20 meeting (not Sept. 2 as incorrectly written in your article) allowing the county attorney additional time to find a resolution. We look forward to and are optimistic that a resolution will come to fruition.
That being said, I hope that you would instruct your writers to be unbiased in their reporting in the future. The job of a journalist is to report facts, not construe the personal intent behind those facts. Perhaps the writer should watch the recording of the meeting or take the time to reach out to those being quoted for an actual interview. The writer would have found out that although the nightly rates they quoted from VRBO may be accurate, the fact that an owner could then make $20,000 - $40,000 a year from that is far from the truth. It would take being booked 365 days a year to make the kind of money, which is next to impossible. The economy in the area simply does not support that kind of business. Believe me if it did, we would not be having this discussion. We would be perfectly happy renting out our units and racking in the return. The reality is we just want to enjoy and be active supporters of the area. That is the truth.
I hope you will consider publishing this so that our voices, and the truth, can be heard as well. I thank you for your consideration and time.