By DOTTY NIST
More than five years of effort by residents in a historic south Walton County community have culminated in the approval of a neighborhood plan aimed at preserving the character of Old Point Washington.
A neighborhood plan for the old settlement area of Point Washington, 112 acres in size, was approved by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on June 14.
The small Point Washington community dates back to the late 1800s, when it was known as a lumber mill town. Point Washington is still home to a number of buildings dating back to that era.
In 2008, Point Washington residents obtained county approval of an ordinance limiting the height of new construction in the old settlement area to 32 feet, the height of the circa-1895 Wesley Mansion in Eden Gardens State Park, which lies immediately west of the historic section.
Marge Crawford, Point Washington resident and property owners, represented the Historic Point Washington Association at the June 14 BCC meeting. “Our goal is to preserve our quiet and beautiful area,” Crawford told the commissioners.
As originally proposed, the plan set standards for setbacks, build-to lines, tree protection, lot coverage, accessory structures, signage, parking, density, and accessory structures, aimed at ensuring compatibility of future construction and development within the 112 acres with the existing community.
Per staff recommendations, the plan as presented on June 14 had been modified to exclude several previous provisions. One of those was a limit on density of new construction to four units per acre. County Attorney Lynn Hoshihara had expressed concern that the density limitation would leave the county vulnerable to Bert Harris Act claims alleging “taking” of development density.
County staff had also recommended the removal of a provision restricting new home construction to single-family unattached.
Crawford argued that by removing the density limitation from the plan, the county had “taken our the heart of our plan.” She explained that all homes within the 112-acre, 62-parcel plan area are on lots of at least a quarter acre, and that they are all unattached homes. She said she would not anticipate any lawsuits resulting from the density restriction.
Crawford requested that if the density restriction were removed, that the restriction regarding unattached home construction at least be allowed to remain. “We can work very well with that,” she said.
Hoshihara was concerned that the latter restriction would interfere with the right to construct a live-work unit as provided for in Infill land use classifications within the plan area. She added that planning staff had previously stated that it would be difficult if not impossible to develop a parcel within the plan area at the maximum allowable density of eight units per acre, due to tree protection provisions, height limitations, and required buffers and setbacks, among other factors.
Crawford responded that the neighborhood plan as proposed allows live-work units and carriage house units as well. The plan, she noted, merely says that if it is a home that is being constructed, it must be unattached. Crawford urged the commissioners to “stick your neck out a little bit” and approve the plan without the recent modifications.
Point Washington resident James Foley agreed. “Walton County has a sense of place,” he observed. Foley said he did not want “some joker” coming in and saying “I can build anything I want.” “Stick your neck out, it’s about time,” Foley told the commissioners in reference to the density limitiation.
Wayne Dyess, county planning and development director, noted that all development proposals for the plan area will come before the planning commission and county commission for approval. Hoshihara also stated that areas where maximum density would be applicable would be classified as Infill and that a compability study would be required for development proposals within this land use classification.
Point Washington resident Hugh Marse pointed out that the plan the plan had been overwhelmingly supported by the community and that “only one vocal person” had objected to the proposed density limitation.
Point Washington resident Ty Nunn asked if the BCC would look at the density of development proposals if the plan were to pass without the density limitation.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones responded yes, that examination of the density would “come in” with the compatibility analysis.
“We’ve got a pretty good level of protection against anything being constructed that’s out of character,” said District 1 Commissioner Scott Brannon.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander suggested that the plan be approved “as is,” minus the items of concern for staff, with commissioners remaining open to amending the document later. In this way, she suggested, the community could benefit without delay from the protection that the plan would provide. She motioned for approval, and the motion carried.