By DOTTY NIST
Planners heard concerns about stormwater design, protection of dune lakes, neighborhood commercial land use, and use of the public right-of-way on April 29.
This was the first south-of-the-bay community meeting devoted to gathering citizen input on amendments to implement the county’s new evaluation and appraisal report (EAR).
The EAR is a detailed review of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan that is required by state law every seven years. Amendments are being proposed to implement priorities identified through the EAR, and input is being sought in conjunction with that effort.
Planners displayed future land use maps for the area that was the topic of this first workshop, the northeasternmost area south of the Choctawhatchee Bay, including Point Washington.
Pat Blackshear, county planning and development services director, emphasized the importance of owners knowing their property’s designated land use and that of adjoining properties. She said planners are often told by neighbors when developments are approved, “I had no idea that this could go in next to us.”
PAT BLACKSHEAR, Walton County planning and development services director, addresses citizens at the April 29 workshop. (Photo by Dotty Nist)
Workshop attendees received handouts showing the various future land use districts, corresponding allowable densities and a list of uses allowed.
“The emphasis is not a wholesale change to the (future land use) map,” Blackshear told the gathering.
She noted that, while there have been some requests for increased building density by some property owners, this is for the most part not possible.
“We don’t have the infrastructure for much higher densities,” she said.
The only strategy she envisioned for increasing density in selected areas where appropriate was to transfer unused density from developments of regional impact (DRIs), with the permission of those entities.
Alan Ficarra was concerned about the amount of native vegetation that was being removed because of requirements for retention ponds in conjunction with development projects.
Blackshear agreed that existing county requirements often encourage “non-green” designs. She strongly favored rectifying that situation.
There was general agreement that the stormwater design portion of the comprehensive plan was in need of revision and strengthening for greater environmental protection.
Grace Marse said she was dismayed to see the increase in private docks on the county’s dune lakes.
Blackshear agreed, commenting that it was her feeling that there should be a limit on the size of docks in the interest of protecting the dune lakes.
She added that new people coming into the area often do not realize the delicate nature of the environment in Walton County.
Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was present and addressed problems with adjoining property owners’ usurping the right-of-way and other public areas.
“There is a sense going around that this is mine, stay off of it…I can build on the right-of-way, on the lake, I can build anywhere I want,” Meadows commented.
It was her opinion that if these people were told to remove what they had built or placed on public property without any agreement with the county, “it would send a message.”
Peter Horn also expressed disapproval of landowners “turning the right-of-way into part of their property.”
Meadows encouraged residents who are being blocked from use of accesses or other public areas in this way by adjacent landowners to contact the county.
Other citizens expressed concern about what type of uses would be allowed in neighborhood commercial areas in their community. Blackshear responded that this was another areas where revisions were needed to better define neighborhood commercial uses.
“Now is the time for us to look at the weaknesses in this plan,” she concluded, requesting additional citizen comments to the planning department by email, regular mail or telephone.
The April 29 meeting was part of a series of citizen input meetings, to be held at the South Walton Courthouse Annex, each devoted to one of the 11 south Walton County communities or group of adjacent communities.
The next meeting of the series will be devoted to the Miramar Beach area. It is scheduled for 5-6:30 p.m. on May 14 in the South Walton Courthouse Annex.