By DOTTY NIST
The Walton County Planning Commission will be required to “go it alone” in its hearing of the proposed U.S. 331 Corridor Design Standards, in spite of previous discussion of a joint county commission/ planning commission meeting on these development standards proposed for U.S. 331 corridor in the unincorporated area north of the bay bridge.
Half a dozen public workshops and meetings had previously been held on the U.S. 331 Corridor Design Standards, but it had been at the April 29 planning commission special meeting on the proposed standards that significant opposition had surfaced.
Heated criticism of the corridor standards, and claims from attendees that they had previously had no idea that this was under consideration, had prompted the planning commission to close and postpone the rest of the meeting without voting—in order to provide for more owners of property along the U.S. 331 corridor to be made aware that a hearing on the standards would be taking place. The special meeting was closed and rescheduled for May 29.
However, when the planning commission convened briefly for its May 8 regular meeting, Wayne Dyess, county planning and development services director, came forward with a request for the planning commissioners to cancel the May 29 meeting. Dyess explained that the county commission wanted to hold a joint meeting with the planning commission on the corridor standards, with that meeting to be scheduled at a later date. Following up on Dyess’ request, the planning commission voted to cancel the May 29 special meeting.
At the May 13 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Annex, Walton County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman made a request for a joint BCC/planning commission workshop on the corridor standards to be scheduled.
Chapman added that he had asked staff to identify property owners in the unincorporated area along the corridor so that personal invitations could be extended to them to attend the workshop.
“That’s my request,” Chapman said.
He explained some of his constituents had told him that they had not been aware of the previous planning commission special meeting and that he had thought this would be the best way to notify them.
In response, the BCC discussed whether proceeding in this manner would set a precedent. Walton County Attorney Mark Davis told the commissioners that the corridor standards were considered a legislative item—and that if the BCC took a position that contacting all affected parties individually would be a requirement for legislative items coming before the county, this would have to be done for “hundreds of items.”
The commissioners discussed that information that the corridor standards were under consideration had been in the news, on the radio, and on the county web site. Everyone should have been aware of this, District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander commented.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows suggested having the planning commission advertise another public hearing on the proposal per the regular notification procedure and hold the hearing.
Notifications of county public hearings are published in the Legals section of the Herald/Breeze and are placed on the Walton County web site, www.co.walton.fl.us.
“The planning commission needs to handle this,” agreed Suzanne Harris, a member of the planning commission who was in attendance at the BCC meeting.
In response to the discussion, Chapman withdrew his request for a joint meeting. He also said he would get in contact on his own with people who had asked for updates on the standards and information on meetings regarding them.
The planning commission is tasked with formulating recommendations to the county commission on proposals coming before them. Those recommendations are provided to the BCC, which takes final action on the proposals.
Copies of the proposed U.S. 331 Corridor Design Standards are available from Walton County Planning and Development Services, and a draft of the standards may be viewed on the county web site by selecting “Departments,” “Planning and Development Services,” and then “Proposed U.S. 331 Corridor Design Standards.”
Information on the scheduling of the planning commission and county commission meetings at which the corridor standards will be considered will be forthcoming.
By DOTTY NIST