By DOTTY NIST
The D&H Sand company was found to have violated seven provisions of the Walton County Land Development Code at a Nov. 20 hearing of the Walton County Code Enforcement Board. The findings of violation included alleged failure of the Rock Hill Road-area business to comply with a Nov. 10 county stop-work order.
The code enforcement board imposed $5,000 in fines in connection with seven of the alleged violations. The business was also directed to immediately comply with the stop-work order or face $250-a-day fines.
In July, the board members had found the sand pit business in violation for operating without a development order and for storing concrete on the business property, considered an industrial use, in an agricultural land use area. All concrete has reportedly been removed, but commercial sand mines are also not considered a primary allowable use in agricultural land use areas, requiring approval by the county as a special exception.
Djuna Cheatham had acquired the business in 2004, according to her testimony. At the July 2008 hearing the board members had voted to allow operation of the sand pit to continue while Cheatham went through the county’s process to obtain a development order and sought approval for the pit as a special exception. The only caveat of the board members’ decision was that digging not take place outside of the current pit area as defined by a survey, in other words that areas undisturbed by excavation at the time remain so.
On Oct. 16, Cheatham again appeared before the code enforcement board stating that water was being hit during excavation in the existing pit area and asking for clarification of the board’s decision regarding the area allowed for digging. The board members responded that it was not within their purview to say how deep excavation could go. They repeated that they had simply directed that there be no digging outside the existing pit area prior to development order and special exception approval by the county.
At the Nov. 20 hearing, Kevin Hargett, county code enforcement coordinator, reported that an Oct. 27 site inspection revealed some surface scraping and land clearing on the property outside the pit area. Hargett said that after a meeting on site which included code enforcement officers, county engineers and environmental planners, Pat Blackshear, county planning and development services director, made the determination that the work represented a violation of the orders of the board and also a new violation in her judgment. Her rationale was that the work was conducted in the absence of a development order and without a permit.
Hargett said a stop-work order was posted at that time for the sand pit operation, which was not heeded by the business owner. Among violations alleged by Hargett along with failure to stop work was one in connection with native vegetation preservation requirements.
Nokuse Plantation, a private conservation area owned by M.C. Davis, borders the D&H Sand property. Dr. Matthew Aresco, a biologist and director for the plantation, was called by Hargett as a witness to the work outside the pit area. Aresco testified that personnel noticed on Oct. 31 that native vegetation had recently been removed from a portion of the D&H sand property bordering Nokuse. Aresco said he observed from the Nokuse property that turkey oaks and native ground cover had been removed and saw piles of the vegetation in the vicinity.
According to testimony at the hearing, a court case has also been filed by Davis as neighboring property owner, alleging trespass on his property.
Walton County Environmental Planner Scott Caraway, another witness for the county, testified that a 50-foot vegetative buffer was required on the D&H Sand property in the area next to Nokuse Plantation where the vegetation was removed.
Hargett recommended not only an order for cessation of the pit operation and any other clearing or excavation but a restoration and mitigation plan for the recently cleared area, including stabilization and replanting of destroyed vegetation.
Cheatham testified that the cleared property was a portion that had been previously cleared but had some new growth of vegetation.
She said she had understood that there was to be no excavation outside the existing pit but added that she did not consider the clearing to be excavation.
“Excavation to me is digging dirt,” she said.
She revealed that the clearing had been done by her son, who had the idea to just get on a bulldozer and do it. However, she later said she would not deny that the work was done at her direction.
Dana Matthews, Cheatham’s attorney, explained that she quickly complied with the board’s direction to apply for a development order and that she anticipates having completed that process in February or March. He added that it had not been her understanding that she was not to move anything outside the perimeter of the existing pit.
Board member Tom Stein countered that the board had made it clear that there must be no digging outside those limits.
Board member Victor Bowman stated that he still had concerns about the impact of the business being required to shut down. Board member Richard Fowlkes observed that the board had tried its best to be lenient with its previous decision, and that Hargett had been “ignored” when he imposed the Nov. 10 stop- work order.
“We bit bullets last time,” recalled board member Charlotte Flynt.
The board members voted unanimously to find the sand pit in violation of all charges brought by Walton County Code Enforcement.
In other board action on Nov. 20, Thomas Hicks was found in violation for storage of landscaping materials, sand, brick pavers, and heavy equipment on a North Eden Park Drive parcel contrary to allowable uses in the Small Neighborhood land use area. Hicks admitted that the parcel was used as a “staging area” for his commercial landscaping business on Chat Holley Road. He was directed to bring the parcel in to compliance within 60 days or face $25-a-day fines.
The board members also found Arcadia Enterprises, LLC, in violation in connection with an expired bank letter of credit for the Arboleda subdivision, where lots have been sold without infrastructure approved as part of subdivision plans being completed. A motion was approved 6-1 to fine the LLC $250 a day until either a new letter of credit or the required infrastructure is in place.