By DOTTY NIST
Over six months after being found in violation for operating without a development order, D&H Sand is working toward meeting Walton County requirements in connection with a development order application, although the business’s progress in meeting those requirements was recently described as “a snail’s pace.”
Several people at the Feb. 4 Walton County Technical Review Committee (TRC) expressed concern about that slow progress.
In July, the Walton County Code Enforcement Board found the sand mining operation in violation for operating without a development order. Among other directives, the board ordered D&H Sand to apply for a development order within 30 days. That board decision allowed the company to continue to operate during the development order application process, as long as certain conditions were met. These included providing a survey of the existing operation to ensure that digging would not be expanded beyond already-disturbed areas.
On Nov. 10 Walton County Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Hargett issued a stop-work order to the business, based on several alleged violations, one being that property outside the original pit area had been scraped and cleared without a permit, contrary to the board order. After hearing evidence of alleged violations by the pit operation on Nov. 20, the code enforcement board found D&H Sand in violation of seven provisions of the Walton County Land Development Code. Along with other fines, a $250-a-day fine was imposed, beginning with Nov. 10, the day the stop-work order was issued, and to continue until the business ceased operation or otherwise achieved compliance with that order.
D&H Sand appealed that board decision by filing a lawsuit on Jan. 5 in Walton County’s First Judicial Circuit. The case is pending, with no trial date having been set at this time.
The business has continued to work with the members of the TRC toward obtaining a development order. A preservation plan required by the county has been a large part of that work. The TRC is composed mainly of Walton County Planning and Development Services staff members.
On Feb. 4, Dean Burgis, an engineer representing D&H Sand, reported that the company’s proposed preservation plan had been adjusted after meetings on site with county environmental planners. He added that D&H had recently hired a geotechnical engineer, who would be providing additional data in connection with the company’s application.
TRC members at the Feb. 4 meeting commented that the site plan that had been submitted by D&H is not adequate for them to be able to judge if the county’s preservation requirements are being met. An additional submittal would be required, they noted.
“At what point does something happen?” asked citizen Anita Page.
“They’re doing their development,” she added.
TRC member/county planner Melissa Ward responded that, if development order applicants do not respond to a county comment letter on their application within 45 days, they may be required by the planning director to start the process over. However, she said, D&H Sand has complied with the “45-day rule” by maintaining e-mail and other contact since the comment letter was issued.
Ward added that progress is being made by the applicants, even if it is “at a snail’s pace.”
TRC member/county planning supervisor Renee Bradley noted that, if the applicants do not agree to make the changes the planning department deems necessary, it would be possible to go ahead and send the proposal to the Walton County Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for consideration, with the information that the planning department recommends against approval.
The ZBA will have the final say, since the mining operation will require that board’s approval as a special exception in order to continue in the land use area where it is operating.
“The longer they drag this out, the better it is for them,” citizen Lee Perry said of D&H Sand. He was of the opinion that there was no motivation for the applicants to be in a hurry, since they were not having to wait for a development order to do business.
Burgis responded that it is certainly not the applicants’ intent to drag their feet. He noted that they had been required to adjust the preservation percentage on the property from 25 percent to 50 percent, which he called “a major design aspect of the project.”
TRC member/county planner George Newman made a motion to require D&H Sand to respond in writing to county staff comments on their application by two weeks prior to the March 18 TRC meeting, and for the matter to be considered at that time, with Pat Blackshear, county planning and development services director, to provide information on what options are available to the TRC regarding the application. Newman also called for the presentation of information at that time on the code enforcement board’s final order to the business. Newman’s motion was approved with all yes votes.