By DOTTY NIST
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted on Sept. 9 to have their legal counsel review a pending lawsuit in which Olson & Associates, Intrawest Sandestin, and Campbell Engineering are named as defendants.
Alan Osborne, Steve Abbott and Alex Kish filed the suit in 2007. At issue is alleged failure of the developers of interior phases of Driftwood Estates to provide stormwater infrastructure in compliance with development of regional impact (DRI) requirements for the property. County legal counsel Mike Burke is to provide input to the commissioners on Sept. 23 on the possibility of the county joining the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows spoke in favor of the county participating in the suit, commenting that commissioners have tried every other avenue to solve stormwater drainage problems in the Mack Bayou-area subdivision.
“We simply come to the county for relief today,” Greater Driftwood Estates spokesman Alan Osborne told the commissioners at the Sept. 9 meeting, and added, “I hope we won’t be doing this for another four years.” He encouraged the commissioners to join in the lawsuit and pledged to indemnify the county if the defendants prevailed.
On July 8, the BCC voted to give the developer 45 days to achieve substantial completion of corrective measures included in an agreement reached with the county. Failing that, according to the approved motion, the county would “entertain to sue the developer.”
Some of the corrective measures agreed to were to be undertaken by the county. Pat Blackshear, county planning and development services director, commented that some items have been “difficult to get done in a short time,” because they involve acquiring historic drainage outfalls.
Attempts by the county to purchase one such outfall, considered very important, from private owners have continued to be unsuccessful, attorney Burke reported. “It’s just frustrating,” he said.
Developer’s representative and engineer Dave Lovell noted that the drainage easements under the developer’s control have already been turned over to the county.
Meadows said it was her understanding that two additional privately-owned outfall easements were needed for stormwater drainage.
“County money and county engineers should not be used to fix this problem,” Osborne argued. He spoke for instead holding the developer responsible for a remedy.
Lovell said the developer is still “working on funding” to complete agreed-on items. Once that is in place, he said, “We’ll be able to turn the contractor loose to complete the extra items.”
Currently the county is not issuing building permits for Phase II, a new interior phase of the subdivision. It was Meadows’ opinion that that suspension of building permits was not enough motivation for the developer to complete corrective measures, since “there’s no market.” It was her opinion that a lawsuit would serve as a better motivation.
In addition to drainage, another complaint of Driftwood homeowners has been the lack of an alternate access for their subdivision, as currently there is only one road in and out. In 1988, at the request of adjacent Sandestin Bay Estates, Walton County commissioners voted to allow a second access into the Driftwood subdivision property to be abandoned and closed off. This action and the resulting situation are the subject of recent legal action filed by Driftwood homeowners against the county.
Part of the 1988 agreement was a statement that developer Sandestin Bay Estates and its successors would “indemnify and defend County against any claims whatsoever arising from County’s approval of this Roadway abandonment.”
Meadows therefore moved to send the county’s legal bill in connection with that roadway issue to the Sandestin homeowner association, successor to that developer.
That motion was approved 4-0, as was Meadows’ motion for county legal counsel review of the lawsuit, with commissioners Brannon, Comander, and Pridgen also present for those votes.