By DOTTY NIST
Plans for a Dollar General store in Inlet Beach have been blocked as the result of a split county commission decision in the wake of a multi-hour public hearing.
The decision took place at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting on Oct. 8 at the South Walton Annex.
There had been a number of changes to the plans for the store since it had first been proposed six months earlier, but Inlet Beach residents continued to oppose the proposal.
The 9,280-square-foot store was proposed for a 1.04-acre site on the northwest corner of U.S. 98 and North Walton Lakeshore Drive. According to testimony, the proposed square footage is standard for Dollar General stores. The property is in an area with a land use classification of Neighborhood Infill and with a Neighborhood Commercial classification according to the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan.
Steve Hufstetler, owner of Teramore Development, was one of the people speaking for the project. He explained that his company analyzes potential properties for Dollar General stores, purchases properties, builds the stores, and then leases them to the Dollar General company on a 15-year lease. Dollar General operates approximately 11,000 of these “neighborhood shopping venues,” Hufstetler told the gathering.
Hufstetler commented that the plans for the store had been modified as the result of input from several community meetings at which attendees had come up with some “great ideas.”
“We believe it is compatible with the existing community, which we want to be a part of,” Hufstetler stated.
Josh Hufstetler, also of Teramore, went into detail on the aesthetics-related changes that had been made to plans for the store as the result of the proposal being considered at three successive Walton County Scenic Corridor Design Review Board (DRB) meetings and other meetings with citizens. He noted that changes had included a reduction of lighting to .4-foot candle at the property line, in contrast with the 10-foot candles that are allowed by code.
Other changes, he explained, included making the building awnings more prominent, changing the outdoor pole lights to a more antique style and reducing their height, an update of the landscape plan to add more trees in front of the building, a change in building siding from split face block to Hardie Plank, the addition of a tower to the building, and the addition of stacked stone on the south and west sides of the building to create columns.
Hufstetler said Teramor had closed on the store property and had approximately a $1/2 million investment in the project.
Engineer Jennifer Bell, testifying as an expert witness for the applicants, stated that the plans fully complied with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, with no requirements for exemptions or variances. She explained that the access permit from the state Department of Transportation required a “right in only” access from U.S. 98 and the utilization of North Walton Lakeshore Drive as an exit.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows asked what assurance the applicants could give that vehicles, including delivery trucks, exiting the property would not be traveling through adjoining residential areas. Bell responded that nothing would physically prevent vehicles from entering the neighborhood but that people generally take the shortest route, which for most would be toward and onto U.S. 98 when exiting the property.
To satisfy traffic concurrency requirements, the developers were being required to pay $60,000 in proportionate fair share funds.
“Something is going to be built there and is going to have to deal with the same traffic areas,” said project proponent Jesse Rigby in response to traffic concerns raised by Meadows. The Dollar General was projected to generate 46 peak hour trips, as compared with 67 for an Applebee’s, 42 for a Quik Lube, and 75 for a 6,000-square-foot day care center, he commented.
Meadows responded that she thought it was “more the type of trips” that caused concern. Children are not delivered to a day care center in semi trucks, she pointed out.
Steve Hufstetler commented that there would be one Dollar General delivery truck arriving at the store per week on average. However, he said there would be visits from milk trucks and soft drink trucks also.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander asked if there could be signage directing traffic onto U.S. 98 from the store exit. Wayne Dyess, county planning and development services director, responded that this would be possible. Rigby commented that the applicants had agreed to pay for such signage.
In response to a question from Comander, Bell stated that there were no plans for outdoor display of merchandise at the store.
When public comment was opened, Chris Smith came forward, introducing himself as a meteorologist for Channel 7 and a resident of one of the neighborhoods behind the proposed Dollar General site. Smith brought forward concerns related to traffic flow, the size and scale of the store, and the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan’s requirements for compatibility of projects with the surrounding community and for a community need for commercial projects to be demonstrated.
Smith argued that poor planning had already resulted in too many curb cuts along U.S. 98 in Inlet Beach. He maintained that Dollar General should have picked the more suitable site further to the west where a Donut Hole is currently under construction. Smith predicted that the entrance and exit configuration would result in traffic from the store traveling through residential neighborhoods.
Smith said he had seen delivery trucks unloading at night at other Dollar General stores and feared that such activity at the Inlet Beach store would negatively impact neighboring residential areas.
Smith said he had a petition with the signature of 600 people in opposition to the store. “No one at Inlet Beach wants the Dollar General,” he told the commissioners. Instead of the proposed store, Smith said residents would prefer a dentist’s office on the property or something similar with more of a residential “flavor.” [....]
Read the full story in the Oct. 17, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.