Abandonment gets favorable planning commission recommendation, other agenda items continued

A VIEW of Gillis Chapel Road from CR-280A.

By DOTTY NIST

The Walton County Planning Commission has voted to recommend approval of a road easement abandonment, while taking no immediate action on other agenda items at its March 14 regular meeting.

The meeting was held at Freeport Commons. 

Walton County Planning and Services Director Mac Carpenter introduced the abandonment, known as the Gillis Chapel Road Abandonment. He explained that this is a small public easement behind what used to be the Gills Chapel Church when that church was in operation. “It is just up the hill from the intersection of County Road 280 and 280 East, a major…rural intersection that’s on the other side of the property,” Carpenter said.

Sandra Carter with Construction Services of Walton County spoke as an agent for several applicants for the abandonment. She explained and provided aerial maps from 2007 showing the CR-280 and CR-280A intersection as it had existed prior to redesign, along with an aerial of the redesigned intersection from 2022. Carter said the redesign had made it easier for left turns and had increased safety.

Carter added that a survey provided by the applicants appears to show that the existing right-of-way is not on the dedicated easement.

Planning Commissioner Robert Nelson was familiar with the abandonment area and said he had passed by it several times a day for the past 40 years on the way to his house. He noted that the easement had been just a pig trail that had later been paved and that does not meet the qualifications to be a county road by ordinance, although the county had started using the road at one point.

LOCATION MAP for the proposed Gillis Chapel Road Abandonment (PA23-000002).

Nelson said in his opinion the road did not serve a public purpose other than apparently for teenagers to gather there on weekends to drink, “based on the number of beer bottles we see, usually on Monday.”

Asked for this input, Carpenter said he was also familiar with the road and did not think it provided much in the way of benefit to the public. He pointed out that at just 30 feet in width the road does not meet the 50-foot width standards for a county right-of-way, adding that there is a better intersection for the public to use just 200 feet from the location.

Carpenter said that usually he was the first one to object when a roadway easement abandonment was proposed and that in the past important easements had been abandoned. “But this is not that circumstance,” he said.

Carpenter explained that the road had essentially been a driveway for members of the old church to access the parking lot at the rear of the church and that most likely someone driving on the road would not feel like they were on a public roadway.

Planning Commission Forrest Buzan asked what would happen to the milled asphalt road if the abandonment were approved.

Carpenter said the property owner, not the county, is owner of the “dirt” upon which the road easement is located and that it would be the decision of the property owner how the abandonment property would be used in the future. He did not foresee any environmental problem with the road being left in its existing condition.

Responding to a question about plans for the property was property owner Kyle McDonald, one of the applicants.

McDonald said he planned to preserve the old church for use as a wedding venue or as a home for family members.

McDonald said the applicants want to close the road because people have been coming there to dump things such as deer carcasses and fish heads and that people park there and throw out their beer bottles. He explained that about once a week the owners are faced with having to clean up these items that have been left at the location.

Buzan asked if the abandonment request was in any way related to an upcoming one for Jim Lindsey Road. McDonald said he did not have any connection with Jim Lindsey Road.

McDonald also said that letters had been sent out to neighboring property owners informing them about the abandonment request and that there had been no comments in response.

A recommendation for approval to the BCC was passed with all aye votes.

Two agenda items, the North Gulf Small Scale Amendment (SSA) with Rezoning and the Barrett SSA with Rezoning, were continued by advance request to the April 11 planning commission meeting.

Two other agenda items were continued after planning commissioner and staff discussion and public comment. The Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element Amendments was continued for 30 days, and the Chat Holley Text Amendments was continued to the May planning commission meeting.

Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are presented as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), which has responsibility for final determinations on these items in public session.