By DOTTY NIST
Following five hours of testimony and discussion ranging from the meaning of “adjacent” to the elements of New Urbanism, the Seaside Community Development Corporation was found in violation over the lack of two parking spaces.
The decision took place at the April 13 Walton County Code Enforcement Board meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
The case had originated in fall 2010 when Dreamland Heights condominium owners had complained to Walton County that their parking had been taken away. Composed of two stories of commercial on the bottom and the condo units on the top two stories, the Dreamland Heights building is on Seaside’s Central Square next to Modica Market.
County staff reviewed parking requirements for the building according to the parking analysis submitted in conjunction with Seaside’s Notice of Proposed Change (NOPC) and the build-out agreement approved for the walkable community by the county in 2001. Following review, the determination was made that a total 14 parking spaces was required adjacent to the Dreamland Heights building. Walton County Code Enforcement Officer J.C. Alford testified that, after a Dec. 15, 2010, site visit, he had concluded that only 12 parking spaces existed adjacent to the building.
In response to a question, Alford described adjacent as meaning “directly in front and directly behind.”
Gerry Demers, acting county administrator, noted that the addition of two parking spaces adjacent to the building would remedy the violation.
Walton County Attorney Lynn Hoshihara drew the conclusion from photographic records of the area that parking spaces adjacent and at the rear of the building had been replaced with tree plantings between 2005 and 2007.
Representing Seaside Community Development Corporation (SCDC) attorney Bruce Anderson disputed the requirement for parking adjacent to the building. He argued that Seaside had fulfilled parking requirements by providing on-street parking, more than 150 spaces, “for facilities of this type.” He contended that nowhere in the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) could any adjacency requirement for parking be found.
Anderson added that the previous week SCDC had removed trees to produce two additional parking spaces “across the driveway” from the back of the building with the understanding that this would resolve the issue.
“What we have is sufficent,” Anderson said of the parking.
Demers, who had served as Walton County planning and development director at the time of the complaint and up until April 11, said it had been his interpretation and intent for the parking to be provided adjacent to the building. He said the two spaces that SCDC had added had been across the street.
Board member Robert Nelson observed that Walton County’s complaint about the parking remained and that the county would have to say whether SCDC was in compliance. He also asked whether LDC parking requirements applied for Seaside—or if those requirements were derived from development of regional impact (DRI), build-out documents and those associated with the NOPC. Renee Bradley, county planner, replied that the latter sources were applicable to parking requirements for the development.
Anderson complained that, because of the way the trees behind the building were situated, they would all have to come out, 15 of them, in order for the two parking spaces adjacent to the building in that area to be cleared. He said trees next to the transformer unit would have to be removed, lowering property values.
What Dreamland Heights condominium owners present at the hearing were seeking was slightly different from what Walton County was seeking to resolve the parking issue. Jill Crew, an attorney representing the owners, said their request was for nine parking spaces located adjacent to the building, either in front or in back, but spaces for the exclusive use of the owners and not shared with other uses. Crew’s request was based on the formula of 1.11 parking spaces per residential unit derived from the county’s 2001-23 Ordinance, which implemented Seaside’s 2001 NOPC.
Crew commented that for 15 to 16 years, 16 or more parking spaces had been maintained and reserved for the owners, historically with eight spaces to the back of the building and at least eight in the front.
Tom Brantley, a Dreamland Heights condo owner for the past decade, told the board members that before buying he had been shown eight parking spaces at the back of the building and told that they were reserved for Dreamland Heights condo owners and their guests.
Helen Gordon, also an owner, commented that when she bought her property she was also shown the parking spaces set aside for the owners. “I never thought it would go away,” she said of the dedicated parking.
“It’s a part of Seaside to park at home,” she noted, adding, “Seaside’s the most fabulous place in the world.”
Gordon noted that the streets of Seaside are private and that other homeowners do not want condo owners parking on their streets. “Every (other) single residential unit in Seaside, they all have residential parking that is adjacent to their home,” she said.
James Meads, a professional engineer representing the homeowners, testified that, based on an examination of Seaside’s documents, including the 2001-23 Ordinance implementing the NOPC and the county’s parking studies that supported it, the intent had been that parking spaces would be reserved for the condo owners so that they could park adjacent to their building and walk within the community. Meads added that apparently all the other condominiums at Seaside have parking with signs designating spaces for residents. He also referenced requirements in the documents stating that the parking for residents should be “0 percent shared.”
Meads observed that “two-hour parking” signs currently were in place on every space in Central Square, including those in adjacent to the Dreamland Heights building that had previously been reserved for the condo owners. “That is not acceptable for residential parking,” he told the board members.
Hoshihara commented that there is no mechanism for the county to regulate signs of this type in a development. Demers said the county does not enforce two-hour parking signs, “no parking” or similar signs put up by other parties.
Speaking in support of the homeowners, Pat Blackshear, Walton County planning director from 2005-2009, echoed Meads’ testimony, commenting that Seaside’s entire DRI document reflects the “park at home and walk” concept, and that there is a requirement for parking to be “dedicated” for residents.
Blackshear added that when one of the condo residents comes home late at night, they should be able to safely park adjacent to their building. She was not happy that trees would have to be removed to add the spaces behind the building—but saw the lack of adjacent parking as a safety issue. It was her opinion that the county must also address the two-hour parking signs on spaces previously designated for the condo owners.
Anderson called as a witness Richard Hall, a professional transportation engineer and New Urbanism proponent who was responsible for the 1984 Seaside traffic study previously referenced, helped develop the Walton County LDC and had worked on approximately 100 DRIs….
Read the full story in the April 28, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.