Alaqua relocation and Stonegate proposals move forward, Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan amendments are continued

A proposal for the relocation of Alaqua Animal Refuge and also the Stonegate Subdivision development proposal have received nods from the Walton County Planning Commission to move forward; proposed amendments to the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan were continued to allow the applicants to meet with community members.
These decisions and others took place at the county board’s April 13 regular meeting at the South Walton Annex.

Stonegate Subdivision

Stonegate Subdivision consists of 69 single-family lots on 19.63 acres on the west side of West Hewitt Road, north of Sierra Court and south of Foxmeyer Drive, north of U.S. 98 in Santa Rosa Beach, near Walmart.
A motion for approval of the subdivision carried with all aye votes.

Alaqua Animal Refuge Relocation

Also receiving a favorable vote was the proposed relocation of Alaqua Animal Refuge to property east of Freeport along the north side of SR-20 and on the east side of Joe Dugger Road. Currently the facility is located on 10 acres on Whitfield Road in Freeport.
Laurie Hood, president and founder of the no-kill animal refuge that she started on her home property in 2007, was present, along with engineering representative Cliff Knauer.
Knauer called the relocation project “the most awesome project that you’ve ever approved.”
He explained that Hood had started the refuge “out of her house” (the current location), that the late M.C. Davis had donated the property to expand the facility, and that additional (adjacent) property had been acquired for the expansion as well.
The proposed project is to be 106,211 square feet on approximately 95 acres, according to the staff report. The site is designated Rural Village and Estate Residential.
Knauer outlined the features of the new facility, among those a welcome center, restrooms, an adoption center with home-like atmosphere and yard, a medical clinic with recovery rooms, refreshment trailer, covered horse arena, office space for animal investigators, cabins for interns, and a chapel for animal memorial services. Plans are for 160 parking spaces, 144 paved and 16 grassed, with seven handicapped parking spaces.
Hood told the board members that she is “extremely excited,” as the expansion has been her dream and that of so many people. She said she believes this will be the first facility of its kind in the U.S. and hopes that it will be a model for other areas. Hood said the expanded facility would house 100 dogs, 100 cats and approximately 25 horses.
The primary access is to be from SR-20.
The motion to approve carried with all aye votes.

The Crossings Phase 3 Large Scale Amendment

The Crossings Phase 3 Large Scale Amendment, a proposed text amendment to the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan, drew attendance from concerned Inlet Beach residents.
The proposed amendment would add an additional parcel (parcel .0621) to the neighborhood plan’s list of commercial properties and, accordingly, would amend the land use map for that property from Residential to Neighborhood Commercial.
According to the staff report for the proposal: “The property is currently vacant and wooded. The proposal is to construct The Crossings at Inlet Beach Phase 3 onto this site upon the approval of this proposed text amendment. The area is predominately (sic.) commercial with 30 Avenue, Donut Hole, Inlet Beach Water System and South Walton Fire to the west of the site and The Crossings at Inlet Beach to the south and southeast of the site.”
Mac Carpenter, county planning manager, explained that the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan is part of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP), in contrast with all of the county’s other neighborhood plans, which are found in the Land Development Code, which is the reason that a large-scale amendment would be required for the change. The process would be the same as for any large-scale amendment, he said.
Also presented was a similar large-scale amendment request on the agenda (the Chandler Large Scale Amendment) which would provide for another parcel (parcel .0620), located across North Wall Street from the Donut Hole, to be listed as commercial and changed from Residential to Neighborhood Commercial. Plans are for the property to be used for parking for the restaurant. The subject site currently contains apartments which would be torn down.
Robert Carroll, an engineer representing the applicants, explained that the change was being sought in order to provide for additional parking for “overflow for the Donut Hole.” There is already commercial traffic in the area of the proposal, and overflow vehicles from the restaurant are parking along the road, he said. He pledged that the proposed parking areas would be buffered from adjacent residential areas.
Valerie Simmons, a 32-year Inlet Beach resident and realtor with residential clients in the area, told the board members, “this is totally devaluing my clients’ property by putting in parking lots.”
While supportive of commercial along U.S. 98, she warned against “throwing out” the neighborhood plan and allowing commercial to encroach into residential areas.
Rich Jaffe, president of the Historic Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association, also went on record in opposition, pointing out that the neighborhood plan, dating back to 1999 as part of the CP, sets out the Neighborhood Commercial zone, which does not include the parcels in question. “We’re against the concept of the project,” he stated.
Jaffe added that the community had heard “not a word” from the applicants.
After discussion, there was a motion by Planning Commissioner Danny Glidewell to continue the request to the board’s May 11 meeting in order to allow time for the applicants to meet with community members in an effort to “work things out.” The motion was approved with all aye votes, as was a subsequent one for the second request, resulting in it also being continued to the May 11 planning commission meeting.

Plant list ordinance

An ordinance providing for additional native plants to be added as allowable for landscaping use within the U.S. 98/U.S. 331 South Scenic Corridor was approved with all aye votes. The list had previously been approved by the planning commission but had not been included in the applicable final ordinance approved by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).

Cassine Station PUD Amendment

Engineer Ed Stanford, a representative of the applicant for the Cassine Station Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment, asked for a continuance based on the applicant’s law firm no longer being to represent the applicant and new legal representation having just been obtained.
Local attorney Gary Shipman of Dunlap & Shipman provided some explanation, telling the board members that his firm had formerly represented the homeowners’ association in opposition to the project, with the Sachs law firm (formerly Sach & La Seur) representing the applicants.
“The Sachs law firm merged into my law firm,” Shipman said, “so obviously at this point my law firm can represent neither, so we had to withdraw from representing everyone.”
The request was continued to the May 11 meeting.

Other continued and tabled items

Continued was the Ocean Estates Small Scale Amendment, to the July 13 meeting in order to allow time for legal representatives of proponents and opponents to work together. Continued, as well, was the Miramar Inn & Suites request, as Technical Review Committee review on that project had not been completed in preparation for its presentation to the planning commission.
Requests by applicants to table the Alley Abandonment Block 85 and the Pando Small Scale Amendment were also approved.
Planning commission decisions are provided as recommendations to the BCC, which has responsibility for final determinations on these proposals in public session.