By DOTTY NIST
Plans for an RV park and a future 100-plus-foot-tall condominium were derailed on Sept. 22 when the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted unanimously to deny the Jolly Bay PUD, which had been proposed for the Freeport area.
The decision followed three separate public hearing sessions, each lasting several hours. There was testimony by a number of expert witnesses representing project applicants Carl Post and Kimberly Maxwell. Neighbors of the Freeport-area proposal were also well represented.
While a number of issues with the proposal were debated, including traffic and road access, stormwater drainage, fire protection, endangered species, and others, its most controversial feature was the 12-story condominium proposed for a future phase of the PUD (planned unit development).
Also of controversy was whether the proposal was suitable for the land use classification of the property, Rural Village, a predominantly residential land use.
In November 2007, the BCC had voted to impose a one-year height limitation of 50 feet for new construction countywide. Jolly Bay PUD was not considered to be bound by this limitation since the project application had been submitted prior to the commission decision.
According to Maxwell, plans for the 60-acre property were first drawn up in 2006, and meetings with county planners began.
“We wanted something to enhance, Freeport – Walton County,” Maxwell asserted.
“We have spent over $500,00 to this point tonight,” Maxwell said regarding the project.
She noted that an application for the PUD was submitted to the county in June 2007, with plans for the condominium at 207 feet in height. The first neighborhood objection to the project was raised at a Walton County Technical Review Committee meeting in August 2007, she recalled.
Subsequently the applicants reduced the size of the proposed condominium to 147 feet in height, and on Aug. 14, 2007, the Walton County Planning Commission recommended approval by unanimous vote.
Included in Phase I of the proposal were 55 RV units, a 1,500-square-foot camp store, a 1,230-square-foot laundry/shower, and a swimming pool with splash pad. Approval was also requested for a conceptual master plan consisting of the condominium, a restaurant, a bakery/coffee shop, a 20-unit bed and breakfast, office, retail, and a 49-slip boat dock. The only request for a development order was for Phase I, with future phases to come back for consideration by commissioners in public hearing.
“This project is compatible and will be compatible over time,” testified Buddy Page, a planning expert representing the applicants.
“I think in every planner’s mind this is a rural area…I think we’re looking at an urban design in a rural area,” countered District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows.
“This application meets all the requirements of the plan and code,” argued Bob Apgar, and attorney representing Jolly Bay PUD.
“This is a transitional zone…it’s going to change over time,” he said of the property.
Meadows agreed that there would be change but added, “it will look much like south Walton looks now… different from a high-rise village.”
A county staff report by planner Tim Brown stated that the proposal did meet all county code and plan provisions with the exception of the height of the condominium. The planning department recommended a height of 75 to 100 feet as acceptable for the condo, in view of wetlands protection being afforded by the project. However, as stated by Lois La Seur, county planning manager, 100 feet was considered “pushing the envelope.”
La Seur also testified, “It stuns me,” that the applicants had not anticipated “that height was not going to be an issue.” She said she had indicated this to them early on in meetings between them and planners.
“I do not feel the [land use] category supports urban design,” testified Pat Blackshear, county planning and development services director.
However, south Walton County resident and developer Tom Patton spoke in favor of the 12-story building. “I think 147 feet will impact less of the land and give you a better looking building,” he commented.
Charles Murphy, owner of property near the proposed development, also had positive comments. “We should all be looking toward the future,” he said.
“It’s gonna stick out like a sore thumb,” countered Freeport area resident Murray Balkcom.
“I encourage you to go back and think about the reasons you created a 50-foot height limit for all of Walton County and base your decision on that,” he urged the commissioners.
Shady Lane resident Richard Brantley relayed the objection of 38 homeowners in his subdivision.
Meadows motioned for approval with over 20 attached conditions that included concessions by the applicants, among them paving of access roads, providing of turtle-type lighting, and donation of right-of-way. Her motion included a requirement for the applicants to undergo public hearings for all new phases and a limit of 75-100 feet on the height of the condo, subject to it not being relocated on the property.
After a comment from District 1 Commissioner Scott Brannon that in his opinion the applicants had not demonstrated that their plan was appropriate for the Rural Village land use classification, Meadows withdrew her motion.
Brannon then moved for denial, and District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander seconded.
The motion was approved in a 5-0 unanimous vote, resulting in failure of the proposal.