By DOTTY NIST
The approval process for a Dollar General store proposed for Inlet Beach will be delayed by at least 30 days due to a decision of the Scenic Corridor Design Review Board (DRB). Also, in other action, the DRB weighed in on a relaxation under consideration to the prohibition on outdoor display of merchandise on the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor.
The decisions took place at the DRB’s Aug. 1 regular meeting at the South Walton Annex.
The Dollar General is proposed to be 9,280 square feet in size and be located on a 1.04-acre site at the northeast corner of the U.S. 98/North Walton Lakeshore Drive intersection in Inlet Beach. The property is in an area with a land use classification of Neighborhood Infill and with a Neighborhood Commercial classification according to the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan.
Responsible for aesthetics-related review of projects proposed for the Scenic Corridor, the Design Review Board is the first step in the approval process for development proposals on the corridor.
Dollar General had previously been presented at the DRB’s July 10 meeting. At that time, board members expressed concern about the lighting plan and possible glare from the store site. The DRB approved a motion to continue the project to allow time for redesign of the lighting plan. The approved motion also directed staff to review the proposal to the highest possible standards.
Both at the DRB’s July 10 meeting and on Aug. 1, the proposal encountered opposition from community members for various reasons. However, letters of support for the Dollar General had also been submitted to the county.
At the outset of the Aug. 1 meeting, Tim Brown, Walton County senior planner, told the board members that the proposal was in compliance with all standards of the Scenic Corridor, the Walton County Land Development Code, and the Walton County Comprehensive Plan. He explained that the new lighting plan submitted by Dollar General increased lighting at the property line but diffused the lighting over the remainder of the site in order to meet the minimum requirement for Dollar General stores. Four lights had been added in the parking lot, Brown said, that would direct light downward, which should result in no problem with glare.
Brown also stated that three stormwater retention ponds are in the plans and that it has been demonstrated that it would be possible to handle all stormwater with just one of the ponds.
Lakeshore Drive resident Rod Wilson said he understood that there was a petition in opposition to the project containing between 200 and 300 signatures. Issues raised by the community, he told the board members, include compatibility. Wilson suggested that Dollar General hold a community meeting to work with neighbors to ensure compatibility.
Brown noted that Dollar General had held a publicly-noticed community meeting that had been attended by only one person.
“We’ve got a lot of concerns,” said Larry Brocato, president of the Historic Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association. Brocato commented that for the standard of Neighorhood Commercial to be met, it must be demonstrated that there is a need for the project in the community. He was of the opinion that anything available at the store would be available at other businesses approximately one mile away. Brocato was concerned that the lighting plan would just replace glare “with another kind of glare.” He complained that the maintenance of landscaping at other Dollar General stores in the county had been “abysmal.” Brocato added that safety was another big concern for residents, since the store would occupy a blind curve on U.S. 98.
Representing Teramore, the development company for the Inlet Beach Dollar General, Josh Hufstetler said that the company had demonstrated the need for the store and that Dollar General spends millions to create its sales projections. Hufstetler said the store property had been held through a 15-year lease for this purpose and that approximately half a million had then been spent to acquire it at closing. “We feel it suits our needs,” he said. “We feel this would be a great asset to you guys,” Hufstetler added.
Hufstetler said the design for the Inlet Beach store had been modified from Dollar General’s prototype as appropriate for the Scenic Corridor. While the protype building is metal on three sides, this Dollar General will be full masonry on all sides, he noted. Hufstetler said there would be no parking in front of the store and that there would be awnings on all windows. Colors for the store, he explained, had been selected from the Munsell book of colors as required for the Scenic Corridor. Lights would be gooseneck to give “more of a beach look,” Hustetler said.
DRB member David Bailey noted that the board was requesting that staff make sure that landscaping for the store meets specifications. Wayne Dyess, county planning and development services director, responded that staff would work closely with inspection on the project to make sure that landscaping was in compliance.
Bailey said he appreciated Dollar General’s attempt to improve the lighting plan from what was presented at the previous DRB meeting—but that he did not consider the pole lighting now being presented as “residential in nature” as required by the Scenic Corridor Standards.
Speaking to community members in attendance, Bailey explained that DRB review of proposals is limited in scope and does not include aspects such as traffic or whether a particular type of store such as a chain store is allowed.
Board member Gerald Burwell critiqued the store plan at length, suggesting more landscaping in place of some of the stormwater pond area and an increase in the size of the window awnings in order to create a more residential appearance.
Hufstetler responded that the applicants would be happy to work with the board to create a design that would appeal to the community.
“You have worked with us very well,” said Tim Norris, board vice chair.
It was pointed out that the stormwater ponds had been designed to meet state standards.
There was discussion on whether the board should approve the plans conditioned on redesign of the lighting and the awnings, with staff approving the revisions. However, with regard to the lighting, this was complicated by the fact that the Scenic Corridor Standards require full or semi-cut-off lighting. Brown also noted that the DRB members are “the experts” on aesthetics and that staff might not be able to resolve the lighting issue in order to provide what the board members had in mind.
Hufstetler pledged that Dollar General would put in whatever lighting was desired by the community. He added that after learning that there were problems with landscaping at the other Dollar Generals in Walton County, “we let corporate know.” The landscaping at those stores has now been corrected, Hufstetler revealed.
Burwell suggested that the applicants look at the cut-off lighting used at Grand Boulevard and WaterColor Crossing and revise their lighting to something similar.
While it was not possible to eliminate any of the stormwater pond area, the engineer of record for the project offered to look at incorporating one or two trees with the ponds.
While some board members were reluctant to delay the Dollar General so that they could look at the revisions, community members in attendance urged that the project be brought back at the next meeting. “Let’s take the time and do it right,” Brocato urged….
Read the full story in the August 8, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.