By DOTTY NIST
Several hours of testimony by two planners as expert witnesses consumed most of an April 30 public hearing on the proposed Driftwood restaurant. Much of the discussion was on the topic of compatibility.
The hearing was a special Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. It was the third such session to take place on the restaurant proposal.
The 6,792-square foot restaurant/bar is proposed for a beachfront parcel on Scenic Gulf Drive that formerly contained the Murmuring Surf Cottages. The parcel is located in a Coastal Center land use area and is adjacent to residential condominiums on the west and east.
The Walton County Land Development Code describes this land use as “primarily residential, allowing medium residential densities and supporting uses.” Standard sit-down restaurants without drive-up facilities are listed as an allowable use, along with office and artisanal workplaces and some retail stores, among others uses.
Project applicant Bob Bonezzi was present for the hearing with his attorney David Theriaque. Local attorney Dana Matthews represented opponents of the proposal.
Testifying for the opponents, professional planner Pat Blackshear stated that of the 701 parcels surrounding the project site, more than 600, or 85 percent, are residential. She added that San Antonio Street, which borders the project site, is “used heavily” by pedestrians in accessing the beach.
Blackshear said it became clear to her in observing pedestrian movement in the area that San Antonio Street is a valuable resource used by the public. She said she observed parking in “high volumes” on San Antonio for people using the nearby beach access.
She noted that the eastern wall of the Avalon Dunes condominium is facing what will be the restaurant’s bar. Blackshear said she had concerns that the condominium would be very much impacted by the restaurant and bar’s visual and noise aspects.
She commented that the Crescent at Miramar, located on the east side of the project site, separated by San Antonio Street, would not be as severely impacted, depending on hours of operation for the restaurant. This is a very family-oriented condominium, Blackshear noted.
Blackshear observed that the Coastal Center land use allows “supporting commercial.” As existing examples of this she listed a winery and a coffee shop in the vicinity. This is supporting commercial that opens and closes at appropriate times to avoid negative impact on residences, she remarked. There is also no negative impact from the Grimaldi office building, Blackshear commented.
She said she observed within a quarter mile of the project site single family and multifamily residences, an RV park, three large churches, and the post office. With the exception of the Alvin’s Island beach shop, all uses are ones that residents would walk to, not ones that would draw traffic from U.S. 98, Blackshear continued. The Embassy Suites hotel lies to the north of the project site and functions in the same manner as a condominium, she maintained.
Blackshear described the proposed restaurant as not compatible with adjacent uses or surrounding uses within a quarter mile of the project site. She warned that the restaurant would draw patrons from outside the vicinity and “overpower” the neighborhood.
She also made the argument that, while Scenic Gulf Drive is designated as a scenic corridor in the Walton County Land Development Code, Section 13 of the code, the Scenic Corridor provisions, was not applied to the project plans. Among the inconsistencies with these provisions noted by Blackshear were insufficient area for parking and an increase in congestion.
“It’s too much on one site,” she said of the proposal.
Blackshear also charged that buffers for the proposal were inadequate. She maintained that the development would impede pedestrian movement and limit public beach use due to its crowding of San Antonio Street with additional parking of vehicles and delivery traffic to the restaurant….
Read the full story in the May 10, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.