By DOTTY NIST
After almost half a year of work and numerous revisions, Walton County’s Certificate of Land Use Compliance Ordinance has been denied by county commissioners.
The decision took place at the April 26 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
The ordinance had originated as the county’s most recent strategy to provide relief to residential areas where citizens had complained of disturbances from short-term rentals used for weddings, receptions, and other activities. The issue was to be addressed in the ordinance as regulations for short-term rentals in residential areas. The ordinance also had another component, a Certificate of Land Use Compliance program.
The program would require all county businesses, with the exception of home-based operations, to obtain a county-issued certificate establishing that the business was an allowable one in the land use area in which it was located.
The proposed ordinance has been one of the county’s most controversial in recent years, resulting in residents being pitted against business people involved with the local wedding industry, with misinformation in the community adding fuel to the fire of that conflict. There has also been opposition by businesses who have perceived the certificate program as a threat.
The second of two public hearings required for adoption had been scheduled at the April 26 meeting for the most recent draft of the ordinance.
While other hearings on the ordinance have been long and heated, his one proved to be very short.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander was the first to speak, observing that after three, almost four years of reflection on issues involved with the ordinance, she had hoped to be able to “bring the two sides together” on this ordinance. “Judging from the number of threatening e-mails I have received,” she said, she no longer believed this would be possible.
Comander was also concerned that the ordinance contained “too many loopholes.”
She recommended that the BCC not approve the ordinance. Instead, she proposed separating the components of the ordinance and proceeding with them in separate measures, while renewing the effort for a noise ordinance that would give county code enforcement and the sheriff’s office the tools needed to deal with disturbance complaints
Comander also proposed increasing code enforcement penalties, with the result of having repeat offenders liable for up to $5,000-per-day fines.
Comander emphasized that 90 percent of weddings taking place in the county take place without causing any problems for the community.
District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen agreed, advising that Chapter 12 of the Walton County Land Development Code be studied, along with state statute, to see how the county could be more effective with enforcement.
District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones suggested that it might be a good idea to add personnel to county code enforcement and to get some of those personnel on duty on weekends, when many of the disturbance issues take place.
District 1 Commissioner Scott Brannon suggested identifying where code enforcement can be effective in these enforcement matters and where the sheriff’s office can be more effective.
“We’ve been down this path a number of times, and we’re still running,” said District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones. “If we’re going to have something to enforce, we’ve got to get busy on it.”
“I’d like to see this on a fast track,” Comander responded. She recommended setting the goal of having the two separate ordinances, one dealing with the certificate program and the other with the regulations for short-term rentals, in place within 60 days.
A motion by Brannon to proceed as outlined by Comander was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Larry Jones voting no, resulting in denial of the ordinance as proposed.