By DOTTY NIST
More beach parking and beach accesses, more bike/pedestrian bridges on the multi-use path, alternative means of transportation, a sports complex, a performing arts center, and better communications with officials, were among the priorities identified by attendees at a visioning session recently conducted in south Walton County.
The Aug. 15 public meeting was hosted by Walton County District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander at the Northwest Florida State College South Walton Center. Comander was assisted by Walton County Public Information Manager Louis Svehla. Approximately two dozen citizens attended.
The visioning session was one of a series of meetings scheduled for several locations in the county. Comander explained that the meetings were a follow-up to others held two years ago in which she had asked citizens about their vision for Walton County in the future. As a result of that effort, she said, in October 2010 the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had approved a document developed through those meetings entitled “Walton County Down the Road.”
Among the objectives identified in the document were: incorporation of environmental resouces with development; pursuit of economic development; use of best development practices on travel routes; aligning the Walton County Comprehensive Plan with the vision plan priorities; exploration of transportation alternatives, promotion/increasing awareness of Walton County’s natural beauty and interrelationship between economic development and environmental assets; putting additional recreation and open space areas and multi-use paths in place; improving service to the military and military service industries; developing/strengthening public-private partnerships for delivery of community services; preservation and identification of historic sites; fostering/promoting the county’s unique character; and supporting local agriculture, from both an economic and a community heritage standpoint.
Comander said it was her hope that everyone could work together with one vision and make Walton County “what we want to see.” She observed that people come to Walton County because of its quality of life.
Comander asked attendees for their ideas with regard to capital projects that would be needed in Walton County within the next 10 to 15 years. Among her own suggestions were additional beach parking, possibly buses to transport people to the beach, improvements to the bicycle/pedestrian path network, expansion of the recycling program, and a Walton County Fire Rescue facility in the Rock Hill area to be used for training. She also told attendees that she is committed to trying to turn DeFuniak Springs into a senior-friendly community.
There was some enthusiasm among attendees for the development of a sports complex. Comander discussed the possibility of combining such a complex with a convention center, with the facility to be funded through bed taxes.
Others called for a look ahead at what type of development such a facility would encourage, including the motels that could spring up around it, and urged that planning for transportation to and from the facility should precede consideration of such plans.
Susan Lucas called for a performing arts center to nurture cultural life and improve quality of life in Walton County.
Others called for more promotion to visitors of areas of the county other than the beaches, among those the rivers, the Choctawhatchee Bay and Morrison Springs.
A trolley or other mass transit system to get cars off the roads in south Walton was discussed, along with the need to plan for areas in which the trolley could pull over for loading and unloading.
Mike Flynt urged a look at the South Walton Conservation and Development Trust Plan, which was developed in public meetings during the mid-1990s per the request of the state. He was of the opinion that the trust plan had created a good model for future development and preservation, but that the county had not adequately followed through with its recommendations.
Meg Nelson lamented the fact that the community has come up with “incredible” visions in the past, but that those have not been implemented.
Glenda Wood identified communication as the biggest problem for the county.
In agreement, Jacquee Markel suggested a citizens’ advisory committee to aid community voices in reaching the ears of county commissioners. The commissioners have the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC), an advisory board representing the tourism community, Markel reasoned, so there should be such a panel representing the rest of the community.
Comander pledged to bring that idea, along with the others put forth by attendees, before the county commission. She said she thought it would be best to wait until November, when three new commissioners are scheduled to take office, to look at setting up the citizens’ advisory committee.
The visioning meeting was videotaped by Ray Zukowski to be posted on the web site www.neighborvision.com for viewing in its entirety.