By DOTTY NIST
A proposed ordinance aimed at addressing parking problems associated with businesses and homes in Walton County was discussed at a Sept. 17 planning department workshop. The workshop also included proposed ordinances that would amend land uses in the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) and amend the Walton County Comprehensive Plan’s acreage criteria for mixed uses in some districts.
The workshop filled the South Walton Annex to overflow, with most attendees staying only for the portion of the meeting devoted to the proposed parking ordinance, which was first on the agenda.
Wayne Dyess, county planning and development services director, emphasized that suggestions and input were being sought from the public on the issues to be discussed, with the goal of identifying solutions.
On Aug. 13, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had consented for the review process to begin for the draft parking ordinance, which had been written by the planning department. Strong opposition sprang up on the part of local businesses, resulting in the formation of the Walton County Small Business Association (WCSBA).
The provisions dealing with homes were discussed first. Tim Brown, county planner, explained the issue the proposed changes were to address. Currently the requirement for the number of parking spaces to be provided for new homes is based on number of bedrooms. There has been a problem with non-bedroom space being converted into additional bedrooms, resulting in insufficient parking for homes, Brown commented.
The draft ordinance sets parking requirements based on square footage for homes, ranging from a requirement of two spaces for a home of 1,500 square feet or less to a requirement of eight spaces for 4,500-square-foot homes, plus an additional two spaces for each 500 square feet above 4,500. The new requirements would apply to new homes, not those already in place.
The proposed residential parking regulations are based on those in place for new construction in Grayton Beach and contained in the Point Washington Neighborhood. Plan.
Gary Shipman, a Grayton Beach attorney, spoke on behalf of the WCSBA. Shipman stated that over the past 10 days well over 100 small businesses had joined the organization in opposition to the proposed parking requirement changes. More than 1,110 registered voters, Shipman continued, had signed a petition “in opposition to all these changes.”
In response to a question from Shipman, Dyess confirmed that the parking issue with homes that the ordinance is aimed at addressing exists primarily in the south end of the county. Why, Shipman followed up, would the county propose changing parking requirements for the whole county?
He charged that the ordinance would have “significant impact” on lots already subdivided and that the proposed parking requirements would discourage the building of a house over 2,000 square feet. “It will stifle building in this county,” Shipman asserted.
Shipman called developments of regional impact (DRIs) such as Sandestin and WaterColor “the biggest part of the problem” for parking. He noted that the ordinance would not apply to these developments.
“This isn’t the solution,” Shipman said of the ordinance. Instead, he suggested an overall traffic and parking plan separate from the land development code, along with more “feeder roads” from U.S. 98 to CR-30A. Shipman also called for more public transportation, particularly during the tourist season.
“We would like to work for a solution,” he told the planning staff members. He reserved his comments on part of the ordinance dealing with business parking for later.
Shipman asked about the parking needs assessment for which the BCC had recently enlisted a consulting firm. Dyess responded that the study would focus primarily on “public parking issues” and not on parking located on private property.
Shipman introduced Mark Schnell, a planner consulting with the WCSBA. Schnell described himself as an urban designer and planner and also a small business owner. He commented that the parking issue in south Walton County is a seasonal one and charged that the use of a “one-size-fits-all approach” to the issue has been problematic.
Schnell commented that a high amount of parking was being proposed, while other areas are lowering parking requirements. He urged for a look at parking opportunities without the use of large parking lots, one of those being providing parking on the right-of-way.
With large parking lots, Schnell complained, “you spread everything out,” negating walkability. He warned that, with the proposed parking requirements, the community would lose “the intimate scale that we all love.” The parking problem exists, Schnell concluded, because “we are a place that people love.”
Deborah Stone was one of a number of homeowners who complained about parking problems in their neighborhoods. She identified herself as president of the Frangista Beach Homeowners’ Association. Stone said parking problems are year around in her neighborhood due to large homes in an adjacent development that take up the whole lot. As a result, cars must park in the road, she said. “It’s become a tremendous problem,” she said. Stone added that there have been concerns in connection with emergency vehicle access. She suggested a parking ordinance for tourist areas if not countywide.
David Kramer suggested exemption for square footage devoted to heated/cooled garages when square footage is calculated to determine parking requirements. An exemption had already been proposed for heated and cooled porches, decks and patios. Another of Kramer’s suggestions was making parking requirements land-use-area specific, based on problem areas, or applying the requirements to the area south of the bay.
“Thank you for taking on this very difficult issue of talking about parking,” said Miramar Beach homeowner Sandy Luchtefeld. She spoke in support of the requirements proposed for homes but not the other portion of the ordinance. Luchtefeld also thanked everyone who had attended the meeting to offer solutions.
Inlet Beach homeowner Betty Letcher expressed appreciation to the planners for looking at the residential parking issue. Letcher said parking in the portion of Inlet Beach south of U.S. 98 is becoming a problem because tourists are present year around and the streets are small. With the parking taking place on the right-of-way, it is difficult for vehicles to get through at times, she commented.
Hanie Nasri, a builder and owner of Marie’s Bistro in Blue Mountain Beach, was concerned that someone adding a room onto their home would be required to expand their parking and that homes destroyed by a storm would be required to rebuild with large parking lots. There was no confirmation that this would be required by the ordinance.
“I am definitely in total opposition of this,” Nasri said of the parking proposals, calling instead for expansion of street parking and parallel parking.
Mary Nielson called for a separation in the “thought process” between primary homes and homes used as rentals. Nielson identified the “serious issues” for community members as the conversion of primary residences to vacation rentals. Residential areas all over south Walton County are being “severaly impacted” by vacation homes, she noted.
Nielson spoke of vacation homes containing walls of bunk beds and sleeping six people to the bedroom. While a walkable community may be a worthy goal, she said of the tourists staying in these homes, “They are not walking there with their suitcase… there are so many cars piled up.”
Residents’ streets and neighborhood are being “abused” by these vacationers, Nielson commented, who are “getting drunk and knocking down their mailboxes.” She spoke in support of the square footage method of determining parking requirements.
In agreement that it was the vacation rentals that were problematic, Shipman said he could not fathom why the proposed parking requirements would be imposed on non-rental homes. “We’re trying to kill a fly with a sledge hammer…I would hate to see south Walton asphalted over,” he complained.
Dyess responded that the planners had been told that, due to legislation passed about 1½ years ago, rental homes cannot be treated differently from owner-occupied homes.
Approved in 2011 by the Florida Legislature, the measure stated, “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not restrict the use of vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use or occupancy.” (It did not apply to regulations adopted prior to the date the legislation went into effect, June 1, 2011.)….
Read the full story in the September 26, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.