By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council members were split on the matter of approving Ordinance 842 – an amendment to the municipal code laying out the rules for merchandise displays on public sidewalks.
The councilmen cast a 3-1 vote in favor of adopting the ordinance, with Councilman Mac Carpenter returning the nay vote. Councilman Kermit Wright was not in attendance at the July 14 meeting. After getting what seemed to be universal approval from the board at its June 23 meeting, the proposed ordinance divided the Council this time around, largely due to the amendment’s wording and the width of some sidewalks themselves.
Certain sections of sidewalk in the downtown historic district generally vary in width from four feet on side streets and 60 feet along Baldwin Avenue, but other areas, even corners, have different dimensions altogether. Carpenter contended that these differences made it difficult, given the existing language of the proposed amendment, to create a fair system allowing business owners to self-regulate their sidewalk merchandise displays. The ordinance, which was passed after motions from Councilmen Ron Kelley and Mac Work, allows current business owners to display merchandise for sale or to install benches, planters and other “beautification items” on sidewalks so long as these items do not impede the flow of pedestrian traffic.
The other main item of discussion at the meeting was the possibility for restaurant owners to purchase the building located at 660 Baldwin Ave. The property, formerly the home of Murray’s Café, would be used to open a new restaurant at which the owners wish to serve alcohol to customers. However, a newly opened church at 702 Baldwin Ave. is too close to the proposed restaurant site at 211 feet from door-to-door, whereas the minimum requirement according to the city’s Municipal Code is 500 feet.
Work opined that, since the church and the restaurant would not be open at the same time, obtaining a variance allowing the sale of alcohol at the restaurant from the Planning Board is doable. The Council members and city attorney advised the restaurant owners to apply for and secure a variance from the Planning Board before serving alcohol at the establishment in question, though it could technically open and serve food and drink other than alcoholic beverages at any time. To that end, the Planning Board may convene a special meeting in the coming week so as to expedite the process for the restaurant owners.
The Council unanimously approved fee waivers for a city-sponsored land use and zoning change to accommodate the forthcoming construction of a new Walton County Children’s Advocacy Center. Abandonment, special use exception and small-scale amendment application fees totaling $2,100 will be waived. The 15,000 square-foot facility, to be located on College Avenue, will house all the related agencies, including the Department of Children and Families, as well as room for storage and distribution of food and supplies, with the aim to use the facility for all related advocacy services.
Groundbreaking is expected to take place in August, with the total time for construction coming in at the nine-month mark.
By REID TUCKER