By DOTTY NIST
Walton County has been challenged to demonstrate its authority to issue building permits for construction within the Sandestin Development of Regional Impact (DRI), which includes Driftwood Estates.
This was through a legal challenge, filed on Feb. 22 in Walton County Circuit Court, on behalf of the the Greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners Association and five individual homeowners.
Most of the Driftwood property, an arrowhead-shaped bayfront peninsula located adjacent to Sandestin Resort, was part of the Sandestin DRI master plan, which the county approved in 1976. While under separate ownership and with its roadway connection to Sandestin walled off, Driftwood remains officially a part of the Sandestin DRI.
In the lawsuit, the homeowners claim the existence of noncompliance with the DRI, the associated development order and ordinances in a number of ways. The lawsuit cites Florida Statutes 380.06(17), which states, “Local governments shall not issue any permits or approvals or provide any extensions of services if the developer fails to act in substantial compliance with the development order.”
Among other alleged noncompliance issues, the homeowners maintain that an area in the interior of the Driftwood peninsula, approved by the county for development of 463 home sites, remains designated as open space in the DRI.
From the mid-2000s, residents have often complained to county commissioners of severe flooding issues since the beginning of development in the interior.
The lawsuit alleges that more than 700 lots in Driftwood I and II “do not meet the stormwater retention requirement of 6.7 inches” in violaton of the DRI.
Two months ago, in January, at the request of Driftwood homeowners and based on potential noncompliance issues associated with the DRI, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had suspended the issuance of building permits for Block G in the interior of Driftwood. The BCC had voted on Jan. 24 to continue that suspension while staff evaluated potential noncompliance in connection with open space and stormwater drainage standards. However, on Feb. 14, at the recommendation of staff and over the objections of homeowners, commissioners voted to reinstate building permit issuance for Driftwood.
The decision came after testimony by special legal counsel and that noncompliance issues did not meet the threshhold of being substantial enough to warrant continuation of the building permit ban.
In their lawsuit, the homeowners request that, unless the county is able to demonstrate that the DRI “is in substantial compliance,” that the court provide relief, including prohibiting the county from issuing development or construction permits or “providing development services” anywhere within the Sandestin DRI, until such compliance is demonstrated.
There has been no filing by the county in response to the homeowners’ litigation at this time.