Planning Commission takes up rezonings, commercial center, subdivision, and large mixed-use development – The Defuniak Herald & Beach Breeze
By DOTTY NIST
The Walton County Planning Commission started the New Year off with a bang on Jan. 11, reviewing four rezoning requests and proposals for a subdivision and a commercial center, along with conceptual plans for a large mixed-use development, during the course of a meeting over four hours in length. This was at the county board’s regular meeting on that date at Freeport Commons.
Arnett-McCall Swap SSA with Rezoning
The Arnett-McCall Swap Small-Scale Amendment with Rezoning was the first of the rezoning requests.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners had voted in May 2023 to surplus the parcel currently in use as a Walton County recycling center, located at the northeast corner of U.S. 98 and Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach. This was in line with plans to exchange the property with an adjacent property owner for a parcel that could be used for additional parking for Helen McCall Park to the south
The BCC had also voted to declare the county parcel surplus, advertise for bids or proposals in connection with the parcel as legally required, and allow the county to determine the highest and best use of the property, which per staff recommendation would be as a parcel exchange to provide for the parking.
After bids were advertised, in August 2023 the BCC had accepted an offer from Toy Arnett, sole bidder, to exchange the 1.66-acre county-owned parcel for Arnett’s 1.656-acre parcel to be used for parking for the county park.
The offer had been conditioned upon a successful land use/zoning change of the county-owned parcel to match that of Arnett’s parcel proposed for exchange.
The Arnett-McCall Swap SSA with Rezoning was a follow-up on that condition. It would provide for a change from a Public Facilities and Institutional to an Industrial and Extractive Uses future land use category and a zoning district change from Institutional to Light Industrial on the 1.66-acre former county parcel.
South Walton County resident Barbara Morano asked what would be going in on the property proposed for rezoning. Walton County Deputy Planning Director Kristen Shell replied that the new owner would bring forward a development order for what the use would be.
In response to another question, Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter said the use of the property would have to be light industrial, not heavy industrial.
The planning commission voted to recommend approval of the rezoning following some additional discussion and public comment.
Miller LSA with Rezoning
The Miller Large Scale Amendment (LSA) with Rezoning, is a request on behalf of Leslie Herbert Miller to change the current future land use from General Agriculture to Industrial and Extractive Uses, or a lesser category, and change the current Zoning from General Agriculture to Heavy Industrial, or a lesser district, on approximately 97.4 acres at 94 Herbert Miller Road, approximately 2.3 miles east of U.S. 331 on the south side of SR-20, east of Black Creek Boulevard and Freeport.
Speaking on behalf of the applicant, engineer Cliff Knauer told the planning commissioners that the applicant has owned the property since 1961 and that he and his wife Becky had also used the property for farming and livestock.
Adjacent land uses, according to the project staff report, include the SR-20 right-of-way to the north, Rural Residential (the recently-approved Black Creek Estates Planned Unit Development) to the south, Rural Residential to the east (the recently-approved Harvest Creek Planned Unit Development), and to the west, a mix of single-family residential and non-residential uses, including warehouses and light manufacturing.
Knauer said that water that runs from the west side of the property across the property would continue to be received on the property. He commented on an industrial park layout for the property that had been provided to the board members in their packets, pointing out that it included 60-foot-wide right-of-ways with buffers around the perimeter of the property. Knauer said wetlands on the east side and at the back of the property would be preserved with no impacts and would be buffered.
Lots for the park were envisioned as between three and seven acres in size. Knauer said the idea for the property would be for a contractor, electrician, plumber, or similar tradesman to be able to set up a warehouse to be primarily used for storage or materials. He said there would be plenty of room for parking.
Knauer explained that the property owners would like to build the project in phases and would apply for a development order for each phase.
He said there would be a westbound left turn lane and an eastbound right turn lane, also stating that the intent would be for the project to be on currently-available city water and also on city sewer since there is currently a city of Freeport sewer project under design to bring sewer close to the subject parcel.
Knauer emphasized the scarcity of heavy industrial in Walton County and the need for property where it can be located. He said the applicants felt that, with this property being as far away from town as it is, it would be a suitable location for heavy industrial.
The planning commissioners voted to recommend approval of the amendment and rezoning.
The 3 Sons BBQ SSA with Rezoning
The 3 Sons BBQ SSA with Rezoning is a request on behalf of No Reservations Land Holdings, L.L.C., for a change from a Residential to a Commercial or lesser category land use and from a Residential Preservation to a Neighborhood Commercial or lesser zoning district on 0.44 acre at 6931 CR-30A West in District 4.
This is the former Elmo’s Grill property.
Mac Carpenter explained that the request was to provide for the property, which is now an existing nonconforming use, to become conforming. He noted that the restaurant use predates the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC).
Speaking for the applicants was Tina Ekblad, certified planner. She explained that the use of the property is a legally non-conforming use. Ekblad said that significant renovations had been undertaken recently but said that there are no plans to make any changes such as expansion of the business.
Ekblad said that 3 Sons BBQ had relocated to the subject location from Freeport and that they were happy in the new location. The idea, she commented, is to have the restaurant continue in the subject location and have a land use category and zoning district consistent with the historic use of the property.
Planning Commissioner Fred Tricker asked about the public benefit of the rezoning. Ekblad responded that continued operation of the restaurant would support the local economy. She said the owners had determined that the rezoning would be necessary for the business to continue operation.
Carpenter also responded to the question, saying that the rezoning amounted to a correction of a future land use map misapplication in 1996 when the map was adopted, when the restaurant was already operating. “I think it’s in the county’s interest to correct these non-conforming uses,” he said.
He added that correcting the zoning would allow for the restaurant to be rebuilt in the event of it being destroyed, for example by a storm. He noted that the public is happy with this restaurant being in place as evidenced by public support of it “for quite a number of years.”
Tricker brought up the possibility of some other business allowed by the rezoning being put in in the future that the public would not favor. He did not see a downside with holding off on rezoning until a point in time “when there’s a need to rezone it.”
Kristen Shell commented that it might be worth considering that a non-conforming business may need such a change in order to obtain insurance or financing or for another reason. Carpenter agreed that obtaining financing on a non-conforming business could be extremely difficult.
Barbara Morano was in support of the rezoning but brought up parking concerns and parking that is taking place on the right-of-way around the restaurant. She suggested that the planning commission make recommendations and that the property owners work with the community to correct that issue.
Dan Tinghitella, one of the owners of the business, stated that planning for the business had been approved through the county and that the owners had added six parking spaces within the confines of what they were allowed to do, including putting in pavers for handicapped spaces that previously had not been present. While not blaming an adjacent business, a nursery, Tinghitella said that that business has only limited parking and uses delivery trucks. He said it was possible that some of the parking concerns might be related to traffic associated with the adjacent business. He noted that parking complaints directed at the restaurant were sometimes for hours that the restaurant is not open.
Tinghitella said the restaurant has an agreement for employees to park at a location down the street and that they usually walk back and forth from there. “We definitely take it seriously,” he said of the parking issue, explaining that the restaurant keeps a sign in place just past their parking lot saying that no parking for the restaurant is allowed in the private neighborhood. “I would say that we are making a huge effort to be good stewards,” Tinghitella told the planning commissioners.
A motion to recommend approval of the amendment and rezoning request was passed.
Cypress Lakes SSA with Rezoning
The Cypress Lake SSA would provide for a change from a Residential to a Mixed Use or lesser future land use category and a zoning district change from Residential Preservation to Coastal Center Mixed Use or a lesser zoning district on 12.11 acres located 0.1 mile north of the North Holiday Road/U.S. 98 intersection in Miramar Beach. The request is on behalf of property owner John King.
The applicant’s intent, as stated in the project staff report, is “to modify the [future land use] and Zoning to allow for commercial development. Current zoning of Residential Preservation, per LDC, is not intended for large undeveloped tracts such as this. Planned commercial roadway access along the west, and existing commercial uses of adjacent properties to the south make this property more appropriate for commercial development. Site will be accessible by the proposed “Botanic Way” public roadway approved with Walton County Project MAJ21-000013. Multiple options for future plans are being considered, including owned storage condos for boats and RVs, hotel, retail space, office space, or combination thereof.”
Planning staff found the proposed amendment to be generally consistent with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP).
On behalf of Eglin Air Force Base, Community Planner Karen Taporco provided comments recommending that a land use restriction agreement be considered to mitigate development in the subject location, which falls within a Military Training Route Subzone, in order to avoid conflict with mission sustainment and public safety protocols.
A motion to recommend approval of the amendment and rezoning was approved in a split vote after over 30 minutes of presentations, commission and staff discussion, and public comment.
Walton County DSAP 2
The St. Joe Company’s Walton County Detailed Sector Area Plan (DSAP) 2, was the first of the quasi-judicial agenda items at the meeting. This would consist of conceptual approval of 1,400 residential units and 126,000 square feet of commercial and retail uses on 1,965 acres located northeast of U.S. 98, south/southwest of the Intracoastal Waterway, in between two portions of St. Joe’s previously-approved DSAP 1.
The property has a future land use and zoning category of Bay Walton Sector Plan Village Center, Long-Term Conservation, and Recreation/Open Space.
Introducing the request, Rosanna Edwards of Walton County Planning and Development Services noted that the long-term master plan for the Bay-Walton Sector Plan had been adopted into the CP in 2015. She said the DSAPs implement the master plan and that the first DSAP had been approved in 2019, consisting of over 2,000 acres. DSAP2, Edwards explained, would essentially mirror the existing sector plan development pattern and DSAP1.
Edwards outlined requirements associated with Walton County’s newly-adopted mobility plan, which are to include a transportation analysis to be submitted as a minor development, with traffic mitigation to be undertaken per project as individual projects come forward within the DSAP.
A motion to recommend approval of DSAP2 was passed after presentations and board and staff discussion.
Drevinskas Commercial Center
The Drevinskas Commercial Center is a request to develop 34,406 square feet of commercial space and infrastructure on 2.27 acres east of Don Bishop Road and west of Mussett Bayou Road on the south side of U.S. 98 in Santa Rosa Beach.
South Walton BC, L.L.C., are the applicants, and the property is in a Mixed Use future land use area and a Coastal Center Mixed Use zoning district.
Speaking on behalf of the applicants, engineer David Smith said the square footage would consist specifically of 9,626 square feet of general business, 4,380 square feet of office, and 20,399 square feet of warehouse.
He displayed an aerial map showing the property location between an existing veterinary clinic and a storage facility.
In response to questions, Kristen Shell said that the property’s zoning district, Coastal Center Mixed Use, does not have a requirement for a mixture of uses per lot, just within the zoning district.
The board members passed a motion to recommend approval of the project after additional board and staff discussion and public comment.
Magnolia Lane is a request on behalf of Spears Development Group, L.L.C., for approval of 32 single-family lots and infrastructure on 5.34 acres on the east side of Mack Bayou Road, south of Sally Lane and north of North Blue Heron Drive in Miramar Beach.
The property is in a Residential future land use area and a Neighborhood Infill zoning district.
Speaking for the applicants, engineer Curtis Smith told the planning commissioners that the property had previously been called Turquoise Bay. He said there are many magnolia trees on the property and that the intent is to save as many of those as possible plus oak trees, although he indicated that some pine trees would be eliminated.
“It is the epitome of a Neighborhood Infill project;” Smith said of the request, “it’s one of the last ones that’s going to be built in this area.”
Smith said the proposed number of units had at first been 40 and that the number had been reduced after community meetings with neighboring residents.
He said there are no wetlands on the property.
The board members passed a motion to recommend approval of the project after additional presentation comments, board and staff discussion and public comment;
Continued agenda items, county approval process
Continued by advance request to the Feb. 8 planning commission meeting were the following agenda items: The Voelker SSA with Rezoning, the Flynn Developer’s Agreement, and the Flynn SSA with Rezoning.
Another agenda item, Thompson Woods – Phase 2, was continued, as well, after some discussion, to the Feb. 8 meeting in order to allow time for planning staff to examine what had been approved as part of the first phase for the development.
Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendations to the BCC, which has responsibility for final determinations on these items in public session.