By DOTTY NIST
With work completed after several years on the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR)-based amendments to the Walton County Comprehensive Plan, Gerry Demers suggested to county commissioners on Oct. 12 that planning staff begin working on some other projects.
The projects involve the county’s other growth management document, the land development code, which provides details to implement the comprehensive plan’s broader goals. Demers, county director of planning and development services, first suggested that staff work on an ordinance to provide more specific requirements for projects proposed as planned unit developments (PUDs).
The PUD concept provides for certain requirements, setbacks for example, to be reduced or waived when a project incorporates elements of benefit to the public.
Demers noted that the code currently sets no minimum size for a PUD project, and that some have been proposed at a size of one acre or less. He noted that once written, the ordinance would go before the Walton County Planning Commission and then the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC). Demers also suggested work on revising some areas of the land development code to make them consistent with the EAR revisions to the comp plan.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones asked Demers to provide a more definitive outline of the areas of the code for which revisions would be proposed, and Demers agreed to do so at a future BCC meeting.
South Walton County resident Lloyd Blue requested that before starting on new projects that staff wrap up issues already being worked on such as the proposed revisions for the driving on the beach ordinance and also what has been referred to as the “wedding house ordinance.”
Lynn Hoshihara, interim county attorney, said that on Oct. 26 she would be asking the BCC to set public hearings for draft ordinances on both matters.
South Walton County resident Anita Page urged the BCC to have staff proceed with work on the revised requirements for PUDs, calling PUDs “one of the biggest problems we have had.”
Larry Jones then commented that in his opinion neighborhood commercial uses have been problematic over the past several months and perhaps for years.
Jones suggested that, if the other commissioners were in agreement, staff could be asked to look at making neighborhood commercial a conditional land use category. The advantage would be that it would provide the BCC with latitude to set different conditions that would be appropriate for different areas, he noted.
District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones thanked Jones for bringing up this idea and said she thought the idea was a good one. District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander agreed.
Larry Jones then brought up the problem of the county having no way to monitor what kind of business “shows up” at any particular location when one business is replaced by another, and no way of ensuring that the new business is in compliance with the land development code.
Walton County has no business or occupational license requirement. The idea for establishing such a requirement has been kicked around over the years, but Jones was very clear in saying that in no way was he proposing this alternative.
Instead he suggested that the county look at setting up a “certificate of land use compliance” to be issued to businesses. This would serve as a mechanism to ensure that there is a review by the county of each business with regard to the land use category in which it is located, Jones explained.
Comander agreed on the importance of knowing what kind of business is operating at a particular location. She said fire district personnel had brought up the problem of not knowing what type of business is in operation on any given property. Fire response personnel may show up at a location, for example, thinking that a dress shop is there, when the property’s use has changed to a restaurant, she said. From a standpoint of having proper equipment to respond to such an emergency, it is important to know what kind of business is on a property, she explained.
Comander added that, from an economic development perspective, it is also valuable to have this information.
The commissioners directed staff to pursue this concept and bring information on it before them at a future meeting.