By DOTTY NIST
The county cannot rescind the plat for an interior portion of the Driftwood subdivision except by request of the lot owners, according to Mike Burke, Walton County legal counsel.
Acceptance of a subdivison plat is the final step in the approval process for subdivisions. Plat approval is necessary prior to lots being sold in new subdivisions or subdivision phases.
Burke reported to the Walton County Board of County Commissioner (BCC) on April 8 on the plat matter. The commission had previously directed him to investigate whether the plat could be vacated. That request followed a report from Alan Osborne, a spokesman for the Greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners Association, which represents owners of existing homes in the perimeter portion of this arrowhead-shaped Mack Bayou-area subdivision.
In March, Osborne had brought it to the attention of the commission that lots in a new phase of the subdivision were being advertised for sale as having all infrastructure complete. Stormwater infrastructure, or alleged lack thereof, has been a particular complaint of Osborne and other owners of existing homes in Driftwood.
Osborne strongly disagreed with the veracity of the advertising statement. In fact, earlier this year the commission had directed staff to investigate whether infrastructure had been completed prior to home construction beginning in the new phase a number of years ago. That investigation continues.
The issuance of building permits has been suspended by the county in the Driftwood subdivision since December 2007, when county engineer Greg Graham had reported that no final development order inspection by the county had been requested by the developer to verify whether infrastructure had been completed prior to work beginning in the interior phases.
Last month, Osborne called for the commissioners to suspend the final plat on the new phase in question. He argued that the plat being in place leads potential buyers to believe that the lots meet all county requirements.
“That is false,” he stated.
At that time, District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows had requested that Burke look into the matter. “I personally think the plat should be suspended,” she said.
On April 8, Burke provided a partial update on the situation, stating that investigation by county engineering staff continues. In reviewing, as directed, the Driftwood 2C plat, Burke said he found that the final plat was approved by the county in 2006 for property owner Olson & Associates, and that the required letter of credit was “properly released” with all requirements applicable at that time being met. “This has actually been recorded,” Burke said.
All that was lacking was a final engineer’s certification, which was apparently not a requirement at that time, Burke told the commissioners.
There would be no way to rescind or vacate the final plat for the subdivision phase unless owners of the lots in that phase requested it, Burke explained. He added that the lots are no longer owned by the original purchasers but have now been conveyed to new owners, making any attempt to vacate the plat an even bigger “hurdle.”
“This is not the end of it,” Burke stated, adding that the engineering investigations regarding the infrastructure for the phase are continuing.
Osborne raised an objection that 90 days ago the county had promised that the developer would be required to produce as-built drawings within 30 days.
“Has he produced them?” Osborne asked.
County engineer Greg Graham reported that he had in fact received as-builts for a portion of the property, which indicated that the infrastructure had not been built exactly per the design plans.
“The infrastructure is there,” Graham said, adding that it is “not 100 percent.”
Graham said he is gathering information on drainage problems in the subdivision, doing scientific modeling and researching solutions. He said the developer is assisting in the gathering of information and has been “very cooperative.”
Osborne continued to raise objections and complain that his questions had not been answered. He was told by County Commission Chair Larry Jones that he had exceeded his allotted time to speak on the matter.
“You’ll answer in deposition, that’ll be fine,” Osborne angrily responded as he left the speaker’s podium.
The Driftwood homeowners are engaged in ongoing litigation regarding the county’s closing many years ago of an alternate access road for their subdivision. The subdivision currently has one outlet, which is subject to flooding.
Osborne was allowed to again address the matter of the plat later as the meeting progressed. He again urged the BCC to remove the plat “because it hasn’t met your requirements.”
“How easy would it be to do the right thing?” he asked.
Meadows responded that the county still does not know whether the infrastructure that was installed was “what they said they were going to install.”
At the end of the meeting, Burke reported disappointing results on one drainage solution that the county was seeking in the subdivision. The county had offered a $25,000 payment to the owners of a Buck Road property for a drainage easement. This is for an area that the county contends was a historic drainage easement and that the property owners had blocked off, compounding stormwater drainage problems at Driftwood.
Burke said the owners declined the county’s $25,000 offer. It was his expectation that the state would now pursue the matter through the courts.
By DOTTY NIST