By DOTTY NIST
Property owners have been directed to remove stories from two western Inlet Beach homes that were built taller than 2003 approval by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had specified.
At the June 10 BCC meeting, vesting was considered to allow three- and four-story homes, substantially complete on Lot 2 and Lot 12 in the Villas at Inlet Beach subdivision, to remain in place. Also considered was vesting to allow four-story homes to be built on lots 1, 3 and 4 of the subdivision according to plans associated with county-approved building permits. The beachfront subdivision is located on Winston Lane just east of Rosemary Beach.
Lois LaSeur, county planning manager, explained that, in exchange for reduced buffers, developer T. Henry & Associates had agreed to limit construction height on homes in the Villas at Inlet Beach to two habitable floors plus parking. These “specific limitations” were included in the development order, she added. Now, she continued, one home had been completed with three floors plus parking and another with four floors plus parking.
Pat Blackshear, county planning and development services director, commented that, although height was “absolutely meant” to be limited to two habitable floors on the project, confusion occurred when oversight progressed from the planning department to the building department. On the one-page form the building department was using at the time, maximum height for the buildings was listed as “four stories,” she noted.
Four habitable stories or 50 feet is the current maximum height for new construction countywide.
Blackshear added that there had been no review by a county planner of final plans for the homes. She said procedures have since been corrected and that planners and building department staff review final plans together. She explained that the specific limitations on the Villas at Inlet Beach may not have been conveyed down the line to contractors and others working on the project. The county had not issued certificates of occupancy for either of the homes.
Inlet Beach residents and property owners had been shocked to see buildings in the subdivision rise substantially above the rest of the community as construction progressed.
A number of years ago, residents of the community had created and obtained approval of a neighborhood plan that set the maximum height for non-apartment homes at three stories, a story less than what was allowable in the rest of south Walton County. That plan is still part of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan.
Inlet Beach residents attending the June 10 commission meeting spoke against allowing heights in the Villas at Inlet Beach to exceed what had been approved in 2003.
“I don’t want to see this happen any more,” said Inlet Beach resident Darrell Russell, adding that development like this “pollutes the visual character of Inlet Beach.”
Speaking for himself, immediate neighbors of the subdivision, and the Historic Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association, next-door property owner Dr. John Naftel also spoke against allowing the two homes that exceed the previously- approved limit to stand at their current level.
Inlet Beach resident Betty Letcher also questioned whether the parking provided would be adequate for the homes, which are being advertised as four-bedroom.
Permits on two of the three unbuilt lots being considered for vesting were over 180 days old, according to Gary Demers of the Walton County Building Department. Demers said those two permits could therefore be voided.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander motioned to revoke the building permits on all three unbuilt lots and require new applications for those lots. The motion was approved unanimously.
With the question remaining how to deal with the two substantially-complete homes, Blackshear asked Demers whether it would be viable for a story or stories to be removed from the top of the homes. Demers said it would not, since the homes are concrete. While it could possibly be done, he said, the cost would likely equal what it would take to demolish and rebuild the homes.
LaSeur said she understood that the property is currently under foreclosure. The Herald/Breeze was able to verify with the Walton County Clerk of Court’s office that the three unbuilt lots, 1, 3 and 4, along with Lots 5 through 11 of the Villas at Inlet Beach, are scheduled for foreclosure later this month.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows said she was having a hard time believing that the developers “just accidentally messed up and built a five-story house.
“They have actually lowered property values in the community,” she said.
Meadows said she could not support letting the matter go. To do so would send the community the message that “Walton County is not going to protect you,” she concluded. She motioned to have the homes brought into compliance with the heights specified in the development order. The motion was approved unanimously.