Officials in Walton County, Fla. Review residential proposals


FREEPORT – The Walton County Technical Review Committee (TRC) sent out two proposals on Wednesday that would turn over a significant number of residential structures on small plots to their respective developers for further work.

The TRC also gave the green light to a third project that would do the same thing, but the developer of which has carried out extensive outreach to the community which has cracked down on the opposition.

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The green light project is a plan to develop 13 multi-family condominiums and 10,000 square feet of commercial space on 2 acres at the intersection of Walton County Road 30A East and Elegance Lane between Seagrove Beach and Alys Beach. The Grace Point project is expected to be located among similar adjacent developments.

Designated by the county as a minor development, the JS Partners Grace LLC project, which has an address in Santa Rosa Beach and a mailing address in Leesburg, GA, can proceed when the developer obtains the building permits and related permits. required.

No objections

The development company was represented on Wednesday by David Smith of Innerlight Engineering. No public comment was made on the proposal at the meeting.

“I take this as a sign of support, that no one is standing here with torches and pitchforks objecting to what is being proposed,” said Mac Carpenter, Walton County Planning Director, who noted the work Smith’s company and the developer had done in the community regarding the proposal.

“You’ve done a lot of hard work with the community,” Carpenter added as he and the rest of the TRC voted unanimously to allow the project to continue once certain concerns are unresolved, including clarification that the commercial space will be retail space, and not office space, are discussed.

On Wednesday, the Dolphin Drive subdivision project was sent back to the drawing board, where 14 lots on which houses would be built by contractors selected by lot buyers are proposed for 2.52 acres of land at Dolphin Drive and Charming Way, between US 98 and Blue Mountain Beach just north of 30A.

Carpenter particularly challenged the environmental preservation plan for the plot, which would place areas designated for such preservation a few feet from the rear of houses built on the 14 lots. Carpenter suggested to a representative of Emerald Coast Associates, the project’s engineering firm, that over time, homeowners and builders could be susceptible to encroaching on areas that had been designated for the protection of the project. environment.

“Pretty soon,” Carpenter suggested, an owner might say, ““ I need a barbecue and I need pavers, ”compromising protected areas.

“If you don’t build all these houses, whoever comes to build them will maximize the buildable area …”, pushing the exterior walls further than what the developer had envisioned.

The RV fleet in the background could become short-term vacation rental accommodation, like the unit pictured in the foreground, under a proposal submitted to Walton County planners.

The Dolphin Drive proposal was also rejected by a resident of the neighboring Hidden Highlands subdivision. Gary Fleming told members of the TRC that he was concerned about the potential for flooding in his neighborhood, which is lower than the surrounding areas.

Fleming also suggested that the required environmental conservation area be moved, to provide a larger buffer zone between the proposed Dolphin Drive subdivision – which he expects to become short-term vacation rental accommodation. – and the surrounding neighborhood.

“Our grounds are bigger. We have a different feel to the neighborhood (Hidden Highlands vs. Dolphin Drive),” Fleming added, referring to “all the things that come with short term rentals”.

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The county, with considerable public support, has been working to address issues with short-term vacation rentals, which are permitted in all areas zoned for single-family dwellings. Among the issues addressed were high occupancy rates in large individual structures and problems with parking in nearby streets.

The developer and engineer of the Dolphin Drive project will have another chance before the TRC at the committee meeting on November 17, by virtue of a unanimous decision that the issues raised on Wednesday be dealt with in the next session.

Like the Grace Point project, Dolphin Drive is a minor development and can proceed once it has received CRT approval, provided the developer ensures that the proper construction and related permits are in place.

“Lots of bad design”

Also on the verge of returning to the TRC, but at its December 1 meeting, a proposal from local development corporation Destin Land Connection to establish a nine-lot, 1.25-acre residential development at the corner of Payne Street and South Payne Street in Miramar Beach in southern US 98.

Plans are to build short-term vacation rental homes on the land, which currently houses an RV fleet. There are a number of short term vacation rental properties in the immediate vicinity, including a development directly across from Payne Street.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Carpenter raised questions about whether there was adequate access to any of the planned nine bundles, and then embarked on a larger discussion.

“I’m not talking about code compliance,” Carpenter told the engineer working with Destin Land Connection. “I’m talking about bad design. We have a lot of bad designs all over our county that may have happened at some point in the past 40 years.”

But today, Carpenter continued, what the county planners “are trying to do is make sure that we don’t perpetuate patterns that may have existed in the past. … We are trying to do it a little bit. smarter today than we maybe have done in the past. “

Hold meetings via Zoom teleconference

Carpenter continued on this theme as the TRC began reviewing a plan to revert to offering two-way Zoom teleconferencing capabilities to gather feedback from the public at its meetings.

The TRC, as well as other county government agencies, including the Walton County Council of Commissioners, had offered Zoom access to and attendance at meetings for months as part of the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as a way to keep people away from public gatherings to help slow the spread of the disease.

In April, however, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order suspending all actions by local governments in response to the pandemic, which locally ended Zoom access to meetings.

The counties, however, have retained the option of deciding for themselves whether to continue to allow Zoom access to public meetings. This access has since been made available to county commission meetings, and commissioners have empowered other county government bodies to develop their own Zoom policies, in accordance with their advice.

A sign posted at the corner of Payne Street and South Payne Street in Miramar Beach announces Wednesday's meeting of the Walton County Technical Review Committee, in which a proposal to turn the lane behind the sign into a residential development was been considered.

County planners are developing a policy, and it will be before the TRC at its Nov. 15 meeting to give all committee members a chance to review it, Carpenter said Wednesday.

Barbara morano, representing the association South Walton Community Council, urged the TRC to implement a zoom policy. She noted, among other things, that when it comes to minor development orders like those discussed on Wednesday, TRC meetings offer the only opportunity for public comment.

In response, Carpenter said, “I think participating in Zoom provides an important part of the work of this committee, so when that happens I expect to support it, and I hope the rest of our committee members will also know. “

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Carpenter also noted that “there are public comments every now and then that highlight things that may not be evident in the review process (from county planning staff), and I still consider that. .. “.

In further remarks related to the impact of the digital arena on the local planning process, Carpenter took issue with a recent comment on social media from someone who noted that the TRC regularly approves submitted development projects and questioned the need for the committee.

“I would like to invite this commentator to come sit with us for a whole day and see exactly how it works,” Carpenter said.

He added that the CVR’s job is not to turn down projects because the landowners ahead of them have the right to develop their property.

Carpenter said the panel’s job is to ensure that when a project is approved by the committee or sent to the planning commission and county commission for final action, it complies with the overall plan and the code of practice. county planning.

“A project can stay at the TRC essentially until it’s ready for approval,” Carpenter said. “It can be frustrating for some of our audience, that we (vote to) pursue a project (for further consideration at a later meeting) that some… would just like to see turned down when it first appeared before this committee, and I understand that. “

But Carpenter added: “I have no doubts that we have systems in place such that anything proposed will be properly considered….”

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