By DOTTY NIST
Driftwood Restaurant got the green light from county commissioners at the sixth public hearing on the controversial proposal planned for Scenic Gulf Drive. The 3-2 approval came with conditions at a June 5 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
Dana Matthews, a local attorney representing residents in opposition to the proposal, emphasized the residential nature of the property surrounding the site of the proposed 6,792-square-foot beachfront restaurant. The restaurant is planned for a 2.09-acre site, property that formerly housed the Murmuring Surf tourist cottages.
Of 699 parcels, 1,820 feet in each direction, more than 600 of those are either condominiums, town houses, or single-family residences, Matthews stated, with approximately 45 parcels undeveloped. “It’s a walkable community,” he said.
This is a compatible neighorhood, Matthews told the commissioners, where the existing land uses do not negatively impact one another.
He described the proposed restaurant as contrasting with that situation. Balconies and bedrooms on the west side of Avalon Dunes, a condomium complex adjoining the project site, would be just 32.5 feet of the proposed restaurant building, Matthews emphasized. The building would also extend 42 feet closer to the gulf than Avalon Dunes, blocking the condominium residents’ view of the gulf, he charged.
Matthews also complained that the applicants had made no attempt to do more than the minimum to accommodate neighboring residents with regard to buffers, landscape, or hours of operation. He warned that the development would negatively impact San Antonio Street, an adjoining right-of-way to the east of the project site that is used extensively by neighborhood residents, including pedestrians, as a route to the beach and for parking. The development would limit that parking and present a safety issue, Matthews told the commissioners.
He also warned of negative impacts to Scenic Gulf Drive due to an additional 864 traffic trips on the road as a result of the restaurant, particulary with no left-turn lane having been included in the plans for vehicle access to the restaurant.
While noting that restaurants are among the allowable uses in Coastal Center, the land use category of the project site, Matthews continued to maintain that this particular restaurant would not be compatible because of undue negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. “It is not neighborhood-supporting commercial,” he said, reminding the commissioners that this had been the testimony of planning expert witness Pat Blackshear. “It is an attractor destination the way it is designed,” Matthews argued.
That this proposal has drawn the opposition it has from neighboring residents is a good indication that it is not neighborhood supporting, Matthews maintained. While the idea of a beachfront restaurant is not a bad one, he explained, “It’s a bad idea to put it where they’re trying to put it.”
“Don’t build this intense a project right in the middle of these condominiums,” Matthews urged.
Representing project applicant Bob Bonezzi, Tallahassee attorney David Theriaque made the case that the proposal did not represent an intense use at all. The maximum allowable height would be 50 feet, while the restaurant was only proposed to be 28.5 feet in height, he explained, and the applicant was only proposing to build to 7.5 percent of the maximum of 136,560 square feet that would be allowable on the project site. The applicant was not requesting a land use change or any variances from county code, Theriaque reminded the commissioners.
He maintained that no provision in the code would prohibit customers of a business from using San Antonio Street, a public road, to access that business. People currently using San Antonio Street to go to the beach are using it to access a private beach access, Theriaque commented.
No compatibility analysis was required in connection with the application, he continued, adding, “Coastal Center allows for a mixture of uses.”
Theriaque told the commissioners that there had not been any testimony that the proposed restaurant would “preclude the ability of Avalon Dunes to continue functioning as a residential condominium.” Neither would San Antonio Street be negatively impacted so that it would not continue to function as a road, he added.
Theriaque asserted that witnesses testifying for the applicant had “relied on the plain language” of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. He said he would think that, if the project were denied, that would “send a rough message” to property owners who rely on that language….
Read the full story in the June 14, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.