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Oct 17th, 2008 | 0

Heights and wildlife protected by planning commission

Everything except two legislative items on the planning commission agenda were postponed, making way for a shortened meeting last week.
The first item was to vote on extending the 50-foot height limitation countywide. The ordinance was amended for a one-year period by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) last November, and members of the planning commission had to decide whether to extend the ordinance for another year.
Planning director Pat Blackshear noted that extending the height limitation for another year did not set it in stone. The planning department is recommending there be varying height limits within the county, but this cannot be addressed until the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) on the Land Development Code (LDC) is complete. There will be an all-day public meeting on Oct. 27 beginning at 9 a.m. to finalize the EAR process.
Citizen Ed Bradley said, “For three years the BCC has been pushing for this 50-foot height restriction. I’m not sure what the danger is of building higher stories. I live in Choctaw Beach and there is between 20 and 40 feet from my house to the water, so there is no way to build something that would block the sun. Future commissioners could change this ordinance. This is America. Our property rights are being taken from us. This isn’t about health or safety, this is about money. Somebody makes a big investment in property and then limitations are placed on it, which might prevent it from being sold. Why we need this ordinance has never been explained. Twice before you have decided to protect property owners’ rights and I ask you to do it again.”
Another citizen, Wayland Davis, has this to say:  “This is the third time I have come before the planning commission. We’ve been here and said our thing, but this ordinance is way beyond good government. I fully believe since nobody has appeared to talk in favor of a 50-foot height, it seems like the people who are pushing this want control over what they don’t own. I’m suspicious of the motives of the county,” he concluded.
“I think it is absolutely irresponsible for county leaders to do something which devalues our property even more in this time of economic trouble. I’m very upset about this and every time it seems like they are going to drop it, then it comes up again,” commented Ben O’Donnell.
Commissioner Randy Gardner asked, “Is it possible to ask that it be extended for another period of time? Nobody has explained to me what the needs or advantage is of adopting this for the north end. Why are we doing it?”
Commissioner Tom Terrell said, “I am in total agreement with the public speakers. I voted against this last year. I do not like to paint the entire county with the same paintbrush. I think it is irresponsible. I don’t see a 10-story building going up in Mossy Head or Argyle. If we pass this tonight and if the BCC signs it, it becomes law. I just don’t think we need to be telling people from now until infinity they cannot build a building more than 50-feet tall. It is hard to change these things once they are in,” he concluded.
County attorney W.C. Henry told the commissioners it was completely within the purview of planning commissioners to suggest the ordinance be changed to allow for varying heights within the county.
Commissioner Hugh Marse noted, “The comprehensive plan was adopted in 1995. During the visioning process the 50-foot height limit was adopted for the south end of the county. I’ve owned a piece of property in Seagrove Beach since 1960 and my taxes have increased 700 percent. The height limitations have worked well in the south end with no decrease in property value.”
Randy Gardner made a motion that the ordinance be approved for an additional 12 months and then be terminated.
“I still have a problem with blanket coverage for the entire county. My fear is the BCC would pass this thing and it would become law,” Terrell said    Gardner said,  “It should be more palatable to the BCC with a one -year life and then die.” The motion was passed by all.
The commissioners were presented with the edited version of the wildlife ordinance and passed the draft subject to insertion of legal language regarding waivers. County attorney Henry said the ordinance should contain language stating that in case a state or federal law is violated by enforcing the ordinance, the county would issue any waivers.
Commissioner Terrell made a motion to approve the draft after the interjection of the legal language needed regarding waivers. The motion was made, seconded, and passed by all.
Before calling for adjournment, Terrell said,  “I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard on this for four years and I think we now have a workable ordinance that is doable. I appreciate each person who has been involved.”

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