By DOTTY NIST
A proposal for a mixed-use development in Inlet Beach has been approved, but with one fewer residential lots than proposed and without the use of “double-dipping” in calculating density.
The decision took place at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) Nov. 13 regular meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
Park Avenue West Planned Unit Development (PUD) was proposed for an 0.82-acre site on the south side of U.S. 98, abutting West Park Place slightly less than half a mile south of Orange Street. The site is immediately north of the Walton County beach access park in Inlet Beach.
In a multi-hour hearing on the proposal, developer David Pearson and his team made the case for approval of the project with 4,800 square feet of commercial use and three residential lots. The proposed density relied on what had been allowable in an earlier version of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan, which had provided for both commercial intensity and residential density to be calculated based on the total acreage of a development. Calculation of density and intensity in this manner has sometimes been called “double-dipping.” The applicant also maintained that the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan, incorporated into the comprehensive plan, would also allow the proposed commercial plus three residential units—and that that overlay plan should override the overall county comprehensive plan for the Inlet Beach area.
In May 2011, an amendment to the comprehensive plan went into effect providing for density and intensity to be calculated differently for mixed-use projects, with residential density to be calculated based on the portion of a site to be used for residential and commercial intensity to be calculated on the commercial portion. As county planner Mac Carpenter explained, with density/intensity based on the comprehensive plan as amended, 4,800 square feet of commercial for the project would be allowable but just two rather than three residential lots.
In November 2011, the Walton County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the Park Avenue West PUD with two conditions. One was that development on the residential lots be limited to 5,837 square feet per lot and the other was that staff be directed to resolve the double-dipping issue with regard to the proposal.
Developer’s representative Dean Burgis of Emerald Coast Associates explained that the commercial portion would be located on U.S. 98 and would contain a small office for Pearson. The residential lots, he said, would be located on West Park Place, a primarily residential road.
Burgis testified that in a phone conversation with a county staff member and later in a pre-application meeting with county staff, proponents of the project were told that the current-at-that-time version of the comprehensive plan, the one allowing “double-dipping”, would apply. He also argued that the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan did not update when the amendment to the comprehensive plan took effect.
Burgis said the project was submitted to the county on April 4, 2011, the month before the amendment to the comprehensive plan took effect.
Pearson told the commissioners that he had owned property in Walton County since 1999 and was attempting to move his business from Atlanta to Walton County. He said his intention was to make the commercial portion of Park Avenue West PUD the base for his offices. “I have spent two years and a little bit of money getting here,” Pearson told the commissioners.
Pearson said his position was that the project should qualify for approval as proposed, based on county staff telling him to “submit under the old plan.” While the county could have instituted a moratorium on development pending the new comprehensive plan becoming effective, this was not done, he testified.
Pearson also argued that, during conversations in subsequent meetings with county staff, staff had “extended the effectiveness” of the old plan for his proposal.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones stopped Pearson at that point in his presentation and asked him if the planning department had the authority to extend the effectiveness of any plan.
Dana Matthews, an attorney representing Pearson, responded that an estoppel issue was involved. “It’s up to you to decide,” he told Jones. “They are not a legislative body,” he said of the planning department.
“Hell, no!” Gary Vorbeck, an attorney representing the Historic Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association, retorted in response to Jones’ question….
Read the full story in the Nov. 22, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.