By DOTTY NIST
Plans for the Inlet Beach Dollar General and another project also proposed for that community have received favorable decisions from the Walton County Scenic Corridor Design Review Board (DRB).
The decisions took place at the DRB’s Sept. 5 regular meeting at the South Walton Annex.
The DRB reviews aesthetics-related aspects of projects proposed for the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor, including architecture, color, landscaping, lighting, site planning, and signage.
The Sept. 5 DRB meeting was the third at which the Dollar General had been considered. The proposal has attracted considerable attention from concerned residents over the past few months as it has undergone DRB review.
Dollar General plans presented at the Sept. 5 meeting displayed modifications to address DRB directives with regard to lighting, windows and awnings. Windows and awnings had been moved higher, and applicants provided board members with two options for aesthetically-pleasing lighting fixtures. The size of pole lighting had been reduced in size and replaced with lighting with an antique appearance.
For the building, options were also provided for either masonry or Hardiplank siding exterior.
Representing the applicant, Will Dunaway told the board members that project proponents believed that they had met all requirements of the Walton County Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan. Dunaway said project representatives had also met with citizens to address their concerns.
Josh Hufstetler, also representing the applicant, said that the tower shown on the current plans was the result of citizen input. He clarified that the tower was non-functioning but had been added in the interest of making the design more aesthetically pleasing and more in line with the appearance of buildings in the Inlet Beach and CR-30A area.
“It’s impossible to make every single person happy,” Hufstetler observed.
He noted that other changes had included the addition of trees in the buffer area in front of the store and the tinting of the building windows.
On behalf of the 10-property Pompano Place Owners’ Association, Robert Murfin raised objections of a general nature, some of which were related to the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan’s requirement for new development to be consistent with already-existing buildings in scale and character. Murfin maintained that, at 9,200 square feet, the Dollar General would “dwarf” surrounding homes and the Spicy Noodle restaurant immediately to the east which, he noted, is only 3,500 square feet with its porch included.
Inlet Beach resident Betty Letcher commented that it seemed to her that another item on the agenda, a proposal for changes to the Scenic Corridor Standards’ requirements for outdoor display or merchandise, should have been heard before the Dollar General proposal, since residents would be concerned with outdoor display of items at the Dollar General.
Mary Nielson followed up with a related request that, if the DRB approved the Dollar General plans, there should be an attached condition that the existing outdoor display requirements would continue to apply. She also questioned whether there would be outdoor display of merchandise on two sides of the building if the prohibition on outdoor display were relaxed.
Larry Brocato, president of the Historic South Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association, stated that the developers had met with community members and had been very cooperative. He said the association’s preference was for the plans with the tower and Hardiplank siding.
North Walton Lakeshore Drive resident Rod Wilson agreed. He commented that the community’s preference would be for a smaller store but that the developers had the requirement for store size imposed on them due to this being a Dollar General. “We’d all like it to be a smaller building,” he said. Wilson pledged to discuss the size of the store when the proposal went to the Walton County Planning Commission if this was not something that could be addressed by the DRB.
Wilson brought up traffic impacts of the proposal as others had done. These were not under the purview of the DRB to address.
DRB attorney/Walton County Attorney Mark Davis also commented that review for compliance with the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan would be the responsibility of the planning commission.
DRB member David Bailey, who chaired the meeting, noted that architecture for the building had “significantly improved” since the last meeting. He was appreciative of the community’s input on the project.
Bailey said he would support the Sternberg lighting, one of the options proposed, and the use of the Hardiplank on the store exterior. He said he could understand the concern with the building size but observed that several large buildings were under development and planned for the vicinity of the proposal. “I am very much struggling with the subjective portion of our job,” Bailey commented.
Board member Gerald Burwell observed that homes could possibly be built with similar square footage in the area. He was of the opinion that the applicants had done a “fair job” with the plans. “We’d be lucky to have such cooperation in the future,” Burwell said. He noted that unfortunately the issue raised regarding impact on the neighborhood would be the responsibility of the planning commission rather than that of the DRB to address.
Board member Colleen Sachs expressed appreciation for the changes that the applicants had made. She was complimentary about the lighting option, which, she observed, combined an antique appearance with the full cut-off required by code. Sachs said she wished the DRB could address traffic issues that had been raised by citizens.
The Dollar General plans, conditioned with the Sternberg lighting and Hardiplank options, were approved with all aye votes of the board members present.
Bailey thanked the citizens who had been in attendance as the board considered the Dollar General plans. He encouraged them to continue to be involved as consideration of the proposal continued at the planning commission and Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) level. The proposal is scheduled to be heard by the planning commission on Sept. 12 at the South Walton Annex, with that meeting to begin at 5 p.m.
Plans for Crossings at Inlet Beach (formerly Inlet Beach Commons) were approved at the Sept. 5 DRB meeting, as well. This is to be a 17,335-square-foot commercial retail center located on a 2.68-acre site on the north side of U.S. 98 between Wall Street and Orange Street in Inlet Beach. The plans received praise and no opposition from community members present.
Tim Brown, county planner, explained that the project would go near the corner of North Wall Street and U.S. 98 and that there would be entrances from both roads.
The only deviations from the Scenic Corridor Standards proposed by project applicants were the use of two nonconforming colors, a cypress wood color for trim and black for awnings. The DRB approval granted the applicants the ability to use the wood color—and specified that either a color matching the wood or another color allowed by the standards be used for the awnings rather than the black that had been proposed.
Merlin Allan of the Scenic Corridor Association and local businessman Tom Waldrop had been placed on the agenda to present a proposed amendment to the Scenic Corridor Standards that the two had worked out and that, if adopted, would relax the standards in order to provide for limited outdoor display of merchandise.
However, the two men reported that they still needed to come to an agreement on one portion of the proposed amendment. They requested that their presentation be continued to the next DRB meeting. This was agreed to by the board members.
The next DRB meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the South Walton Annex.