By DOTTY NIST
All public comments addressed to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on Dec. 13 were unhappy ones.
This was at the BCC’s regular meeting on that date at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
First to speak during the public comment period was Mike Judkins. Mike and Shari Judkins had bought property in Chapparral Estates on Holiday Road 25 years ago. Mike Judkins complained that, soon after that, the county had begun allowing “big buildings and businesses” in their residential neighborhood.
“This county has allowed an industrial park to be built around us,” Judkns charged. He also alleged that spot zoning had taken place in the neighborhood. Judkins complained of noise from large trucks loading an unloading from about 12:30 at night to 3:30 in the morning.
He alleged, as well, that Shari’s lots on Holiday Road were being flooded by the county as a result of a repaving/drainage project on the roadway. The commissioners were advised not to speak about this issue due to a lawsuit filed against the county by Shari Judkins over the matter.
Shari Judkins spoke later in the meeting, expressing extreme concern about a business that had recently located in her neighorhood. With the business came more semi trucks, she commented, putting “lives at risk.” She is taking the matter before the Walton County Zoning Board of Adjustments, but Judkins said the business has not filed the Certificate of Land Use Compliance that the county requires of all businesses. She questioned whether, therefore, it will be possible to ascertain whether the business is allowable within the land use category or not.
Local attorney/former county attorney George Ralph Miller was next to speak. Miller maintained that he had “not been done correctly” when his work agreement with the county was terminated without any input being sought from him about the problem.
This occurred in September 2011 amid concerns by Walton County that a portion of some land purchased by the county about a year earlier had already been under the ownership of the county, as a 1917 deed seemed to indicate. The portion of the property in question was 33 by 1.320 feet within the half-acre parcel. The purchase transaction for the parcel, located at the southwest intersection of Chat Holley Road, had been overseen by Miller as special legal counsel.
The county had directed an independent investigation of the transaction, a report from which was reviewed by the BCC on Nov. 22, 2011. The commissioners agreed at that time to put in place recommendations provided by William Graham and George Gwynn, the attorneys enlisted to prepare the report. Interviews for the report had been conducted with all five commissioners, Miller, former County Administrator Lyle Seigler, and others involved with the purchase.
Miller said he had hoped that commissioners who knew the true story of the Chat Holley purchase would have by now come forward with those facts. He noted that, since that had not happened, he had reluctantly decided to address the BCC on the matter.
Miller commented that, after being shown the 1917 deed, he had later asked for the opportunity to review his file on the real estate transaction. When he did, he explained, “I discovered the title binder which included Note 8 and another Note 9, both of them right-of-way deeds, and I pulled the survey that was part of the title binder, and was used at the closing and subsequently insured by the title policy….”
“That survey,” Miller continued, “showed a gray area of 33 feet. It was obvious that was the 1917 deed—that the property had not been purchased twice by the county.”
Miller said that he then sought an opinion from an engineer on the survey and was told that, if the survey was correct, it would have been impossible for the seller “to have any property on or described in the 1917 deed,”
Miller then referenced a report provided to the BCC soon after the surfacing of the 1917 deed. The report was provided by Tallahassee real estate/land use attorney Charles R. Gardner at the request of Lloyd Blue of 331 Bayside Properties, seller of the Chat Holley parcel.
While noting that the 33-foot-wide strip had at one time been transferred to the county and later conveyed to another party, Gardner concluded that the deed associated with the county’s 2010 purchase “did not include any property previously owned by the County and, specifically, did not include the 33-foot-wide strip….” Gardner also opined that, while the 1917 deed had been listed as an exception to the title in the 2010 purchase transaction, he would surmise that this had been done “out of an abundance of caution….”
Read the full story in the Dec. 22, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.