By DOTTY NIST
A proposal to relax the prohibition on outdoor display of merchandise on the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor has made its first step toward adoption with a favorable vote from the Walton County Scenic Corridor Design Review Board (DRB).
The decision took place at the DRB’s Nov. 6 regular meeting.
Three months earlier, the DRB had unanimously voted down an earlier form of the proposed amendment.
Currently the only outdoor display of merchandise allowed along the Scenic Corridor under county code is potted plants. However, the prohibition on outdoor display is not currently being enforced as the county evaluates possible changes to the Scenic Corridor Standards.
As a result of a group of business owners approaching county commissioners earlier in the year, the county’s original idea had been to allow for display of merchandise under either a porch or other permanent canopy. The proposal was later modified to provide for outdoor display in a limited 100-square-foot area with no requirement for covering the display.
At the Nov. 6 DRB meeting, Mac Carpenter, county planning manager, told the board members that the proposal had “come full circle” and now would allow only for covered display of merchandise outside businesses.
The amendment under consideration was based on compromise language worked up by Merlin Allan of the Scenic Corridor Association and south Walton County businessman Tom Waldrop of the Electric Cart Company.
The proposed amendment stated that a county permit would be required for outdoor display of merchandise on the Scenic Corridor. It required a permanent arcade, porch or canopy structure attached to the front façade of a building under which the merchandise would be displayed, with the structures to be limited to a depth of 12 feet. It was stated that DRB approval would be required prior to construction of new structures to be used for outdoor display.
Among other requirements were that allowable outdoor display area would not exceed 40 percent of the total square footage of the arcade, porch or canopy structure and would not exceed a total of 100 square feet. Any one display area could not exceed 75 feet of contiguous space, and displays would be limited to 15 feet in length, five feet in width, and seven feet in height, with no more than two display areas per store. The display areas would also have to be situated on a hard durable surface such as concrete.
The amendment proposed that vending machines, ice machines and similar dispensing machines, along with propane for sale, firewood, and similar items would be required to be placed within the permitted display area.
The proposed amendment provided an exception for seasonal agricultural products such as Christmas trees and pumpkins during the period between Oct. 1 and Jan. 5. Other items exempted in the proposal were fuel pumps and newspaper racks.
Requirements stated in connection with applications for a county outdoor display permit included a site plan showing the display area, the public entrance and pedestrian pathways for the business, proof of ownership or lease interest in the property, and consent of the landlord for the display with leased property.
DRB member David Bailey recalled that Inlet Beach residents attending the recent hearings on the proposed Dollar General store had expressed strong sentiment against outdoor display in front of the business. He asked whether the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan would prevent such a display if the amendment relaxing the standards for outdoor display were successful.
Carpenter responded that the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan does not prohibit currently prohibit outdoor display but could conceivably be modified to do so. He noted that the BCC had denied the Inlet Beach Dollar General but that it was possible that the project could return as the result of a court appeal.
Carpenter told the board members that it would be possible for them to recommend that outdoor display permits would expire annually and be subject to renewal if that would satisfy the concern that they had discussed in connection with Inlet Beach. Mark Davis, county attorney, also told the board members that they could recommend that the amendment not apply to a specific neighborhood with a neighborhood plan if they so chose.
To business owners, Debbie Thibodeau of Retail Therapy and Casey Crisp of Etc., Etc., Etc., spoke in favor of the amendment. “It’s what the public notices,” Crisp said of outdoor merchandise displays.
Waldrop suggested allowing more total square footage for displays than the maximum suggestion in the language. His preference was for 150 square feet. Allan suggested a compromise at 120 square feet.
Board member Colleen Sachs was concerned that displays contained in a very shallow canopy would not be attractive. Davis commented that it would be possible to set a minimum depth for structures, three feet for example.
Sachs moved for approval of the proposal with changes that had been discussed, including the 120-square-foot maximum for total display, the minimum three-foot depth for canopy structures, and the one-year term for permits. The motion was approved with all aye votes from the four board members present.
The amendment will next undergo review by the Walton County Planning Commission and subsequently final consideration by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.
In other action, the board members granted conditional approval of aesthetics-related aspects of the O’Donnell Medical Facility, which is planned directly west of the Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach. Deviations from the corridor standards were granted to allow for a natural aluminum-color door and window frames and for the color of the building and its painted aluminum siding. However, the board members called for a change in color from the International Blue that was proposed to a less-intense Berkshire Blue.
Four building signs were approved for Tusker’s Home Store at 12244 U.S. 98 West, and conditional approval was granted for a monument sign for Yolo Board & Beach at 11610 U.S. 98 West.
By DOTTY NIST