Amendment for large SR-20 West project dominates Planning Commission agenda [PREMIUM]

LOCATION MAP for the Patterson Small Scale Amendment (project FLU 22-0000003), which came before the Walton County Planning Commission on April 14. Being proposed for this property at the SR-20 West/CR-83A intersection in the unincorporated area near Freeport are 392 multi-family units plus commercial development.

By DOTTY NIST

With two amendments, an ordinance, two subdivisions, and a car dealership coming before the Walton County Planning Commission at their April 14 regular meeting, the Patterson Small Scale Amendment (SSA), was the request generating the most discussion. This amendment was associated with property on SR-20 West where 392 multi-family units, a retail center and other development is being proposed.

The meeting took place at Freeport Commons. 

Patterson SSA

The property associated with the Patterson SSA consists of 28 acres at the southeast corner of the SR-20 West/CR-83A intersection, about three miles west of U.S. 331 in the unincorporated area near Freeport. The change requested with the amendment was from a Rural Residential to a Commercial future land use and from a Rural Village to a General Commercial zoning district.

The property owner is Linda Sue Patterson and the applicant is Shelton Stone of Stone Architecture, L.L.C., with Tennessee-based Bristol Development proposing to develop the property.

Per the amendment staff report: “The subject property consists of two parcels containing 28+/- acres of vacant timberland. These parcels have been deeded to the current owner since 1991, and there is no evidence that these parcels have ever been developed. The current owner is selling the property to the applicant, who intends to develop it, as described in this report.”

The stated reason for the proposed rezoning, as outlined in the staff report is, “because the applicant intends to develop a 392 unit multifamily community on 28+/- acres with 20% of the units designated as affordable housing (78 units). The applicant proposes to develop a 2,000+/- square foot retail center fronting SR-20, and a 1-acre+/- commercial outparcel with a 3,000+/- square foot building.”

Shelton Stone spoke on behalf of the property owner and also as representing Bristol, which he identified as a multi-family developer based in Nashville, Tenn.

Stone described plans for the property, including townhouses on the west side of the site and apartments on the east side. He also detailed the commercial portion, which would include a convenience store/gas station on the corner, a 18,000-square-foot neighborhood retail center, and a one-acre outparcel.

In a presentation about 20 minutes long, Stone spoke about reasons for the rezoning request, the zoning and uses of property surrounding the site, the affordable housing component in the plans, impacts on school enrollment for the project, traffic considerations, water and sewer service, and wetlands on the property.

He explained that the zoning change would not be required for the commercial uses envisioned for the property, since the current Rural Village zoning, which permits both residential (two units per acre) and commercial uses, would allow for over 600,000 square feet of commercial buildings on the site—the equivalent of four Super Walmarts or 14 small Walmarts the size of the one in Santa Rosa Beach.

“Rural Village also allows for shooting ranges, RV parks and campgrounds—Rural Village, however does not allow apartments,” Stone told the board members, “and that’s why we are requesting the change today.”

He went on to explain that the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) does not have a residential zoning category for apartments and that apartments are only allowed in the General Commercial zoning district with ground floor commercial such as what exists at Gulf Place.

Stone continued that, “traditional apartments without the ground floor commercial are only allowed as a conditional use within General Commercial zoning…” and explained that in order to develop without that ground floor commercial there is a requirement to designate 20 percent of the units “as workforce attainable, affordable housing.”

“That’s exactly what this project is trying to achieve,” he told the board members.

Stone emphasized that there is no density bonus related to the proposal, and that a density of 17 units per acre is allowable for the residential portion.

He brought up properties in the vicinity of the site already zoned General Commercial and Industrial, plus the nearby former landfill and recycling center, which, he commented, have been used in an industrial manner but remain under a Rural Village zoning classification. He also discussed a mobile home park to the west of the site, Stone then turned to a discussion on the attainable workforce affordable housing component for the project.

He explained that this would not be Section 8 housing, that it is not subsidized or voucher housing. Instead, he said, rent rates for units in this portion of the development would be based on 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for Walton County as set annually by the state.

Stone said the AMI for 2021 for Walton County was $89,900 per year, the third highest in Florida.

Based on that, he continued, a single person making less than $58,560 a year would qualify to rent one of the units, with a two-person household making less than $66,840 eligible to qualify and a three-person household making less than $75,240. He calculated affordable rents for apartments in the project at a 16-percent discount from market rate for one bedroom, approximately 13 percent discount for two bedrooms, and 14 percent discount for three bedrooms.

Per a Walton County School Board review, the staff report indicated estimated impact on the Walton County School System of the 392 units to be as adding 56 student stations, including 32 elementary, 12 middle school, and 12 high school students.

Stone reported on 2022 data obtained from the Walton County School District on the number of students enrolled living at existing apartment complexes in Walton County. He noted that this revealed that for the 1,252 apartment units from Infinity at Hammock Bay south, there were only 107 students enrolled in the county’s school system.

Turning to traffic, Stone said the traffic study for the project showed available capacity to support the project, but he indicated concern about the SR-20/CR-83A intersection, an intersection that Walton County has identified as needing improvements.

He said he had made a commitment to begin improvements to the intersection as soon as possible after receiving a development order for the project—and to have them completed before the first building on the site receives a certificate of occupancy.

He detailed the improvements as including lengthening the turn lane to the east and west, adding a new right turn lane from CR-83A onto SR-20, reducing the speed limit from 60 to 45, and possibly adding new street lighting and a traffic signal if warranted.

Stone said Freeport has water capacity for the project and will be expanding the sewage treatment plant at Hammock Bay from 600,000 gallons a day to one million gallons a day, to be completed next summer, before the project would be completed.

There are no wetland impacts for the project, Stone commented, and only one acre of wetlands located on the property.

Also speaking for the applicant, Melissa Ward of Dunlap & Shipman made some clarifications, one being that in the land development code, other than under General Commercial, the only place apartments are mentioned for the affordable housing component is Traditional Neighborhood, which would involve a project with much greater density.

Planning Commissioner Dan Cosson asked if there had ever been consideration of looking for properties already zoned for what was being proposed to be built.

Stone responded that he knew the developers would be glad not to have to ask for the rezoning, but he was of the opinion that the rezoning request was a reasonable one considering the way the area near Freeport has changed and grown over the 31 years the owner has had the property. “And we believe that this is a great location,” he said.

Cosson also brought up existing problems with road rage, shooting and traffic problems at the SR-20/U.S. 331 intersection near the proposed project, saying that public safety is already at risk there without amplification that would take place with the project.

The first of many citizens to speak about the project, Miramar Beach resident Donna Johns was in opposition to the rezoning, agreeing with Cosson’s remarks about traffic safety issues. She called SR-20 a “terrible road” and voiced concern that the road would not be widened for some time.

Johns was among a dozen citizens speaking in opposition or at least in criticism of the amendment and project as proposed. 

Along with bringing up potential traffic issues associated with the request, together with other higher density projects planned in the area, a refrain for speakers was a lack of infrastructure to support the development. Criticism of the proposed density for the project came up often as well.

Speaking as a citizen of Freeport was Elizabeth Haffner, who serves on the Freeport City Council. Agreeing with other speakers that the SR-20/CR-83A intersection is very congested, Haffner also said that she thought the main concern for citizens was the proposed density for the project. She suggested reducing this, saying that Freeport was not prepared for a development of this density.

Speaking in favor of the request was Hammock Bay resident Uriah Matthews. “I would tell you that part of our responsible development would be to amp up supply as much as possible, and part of that is because our rents are crazy,” he said.

“We have a major problem because we don’t have supply,” he continued, “and if you want quality of life, you have to have supply.” Matthews observed that “everybody in the country,” wants to move to this area.

Matthews was of the opinion that the comments about roads were being voiced to the wrong body—and that “all the energy” on that would need to be directed toward the state Department of Transportation (DOT). He also said that no one from Hammock Bay should be going out via CR-83A but instead should exit by the main entrance, where there is longer line of sight and there is less difficulty with making a left turn.

Barbara Morano spoke in opposition on behalf of the South Walton Community Council (SWCC). “This is about rezoning,” she said, explaining that the SWCC is not against affordable housing if the property is in the correct zoning district.

Morano disagreed with statements that Walton County does not have “the supply” of apartments. “In south Walton, we have 1,617 apartments—proposed 2,200,” she said. Morano also questioned how affordable the units purported to be affordable would be. “I think we have a lot of myths about affordable housing,” she said.

Morano charged that Bristol Development, also the developer for the proposed Christian International multi-family and affordable housing project, was using affordable housing as a strategy to get 17 units per acre. She urged the board members to vote against the Patterson SSA request. “That’s what the people are asking you,” she said.

A motion by Cosson to deny the request died for lack of a second.

A motion for approval by Planning Commissioner Tanner Peacock, seconded by Planning Commissioner Michael Harbin, resulted in a 3-3 vote, with Planning Commission Chairman Lee Perry also voting in favor—and Planning Commissioners Barbara Brooke, Fred Tricker, and Cosson voting no.

Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney and attorney for the board, observed that the motion had failed and indicated that the request would therefore be passed forward to the county commission with no recommendation from the planning commission.

Destiny Worship Center SSA

Moving forward with a favorable recommendation to the BCC in the wake of almost an hour’s worth of presentation and discussion was another small scale amendment, the Destiny Worship Center SSA.

The amendment is being proposed due to plans for some church property in Miramar Beach to be sold for use by a beach service company, La Dolce Vita.

The amendment is a request on behalf of Destiny Worship Center, Inc., to change 1.67 acres at 244 and 276 Holiday Road in Miramar Beach from a future land use of Public Facilities and Institutional to Mixed Use and from an Institutional to a Coastal Center zoning district.

Introducing the project, Kelly Schultz of Walton County Planning and Development Services explained that the property had been used and operated by the religious institution in a traditional manner as allowable under the current zoning, with dormitories, storage areas, and some office area in place on the property.

She said that, with the plans for sale of the property to the beach service company, the existing use would automatically become nonconforming without the land use change/rezoning.

Schultz said that a community meeting that the Walton County Technical Review Committee (TRC) had called for on the request had been held by the applicants and was documented. She said the planning department had not received any public comment on the amendment request and that the department had found it to be in substantial compliance with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) and Land Development Code (LDC).

In response to questions from the board as to whether the rezoning would allow for large rental houses to be built on the property, Walton County Planning and Development Services Director Mac Carpenter responded that this could not happen without an application and the development proposal undergoing a development review process. This would be for anything but a church, as churches are allowed in any district, Carpenter said.

Representing the applicants, attorney Stephen Tatum said all public comment on the requested change had been in support and supportive of the work that the applicants had already done to make the site look better.

He said the beach services company had been interested in the property because of the dormitory units in place with beds for 29 people. Those had been used by the church to house interns in training, Tatum indicated, and also for training prior to 2011 when the property was under the ownership of another church.

He explained that La Dolce Vita wanted to use the dorms for temporary seasonal housing for college students who come to work for the beach services company during 3 1/2 months during the summer. Tatum said there are plans to fence the property and continue to use the chapel building on the property that has been used for storage, for that use.

He told the board members that the rezoning to Coastal Center would continue the pattern of Coastal Center zoning in the area of the site, which is adjacent to Coastal Center property.

Donna Johns voiced a concern that the dormitory rooms could be used for short-term rentals during the part of the year the students were not staying there. Tatum stated that the only other use for the property would be for storage.

Barbara Morano questioned whether churches were allowed to have dormitories and whether the dormitory had been grandfathered under the previous ownership of the property.

Carpenter responded that he also had a question as to whether the dormitory had been approved by the county and said that was being reviewed. He explained that the new property rights element of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan ensures the ability for someone to sell their property—and that in order for this property to be sold to someone other than an institution. a land use change is required.

Carpenter clarified that staff were not agreeing to anything the applicants were proposing other than the land use change currently before the planning commission. He said planning believed it was appropriate to make the change, adding that the predominant land use in the vicinity of the property for non-residential is Coastal Center.

Carpenter said there would be a development order process to come later for whatever the applicants propose to do on the property and that the use associated with that would have to be in conformance with the Coastal Center zoning district.

Following up on some remarks by Walton County Land Use Attorney Steve Hall, Planning Commissioner Fred Tricker observed that one of the board’s options in looking at a proposed land use change is what would be the “worst case scenario.” For primary uses on this property, he observed that that would probably be multi-family residential.

Planning Commissioner Dan Cosson called the proposed rezoning a “Pandora’s box” and suggested a developer’s agreement stating that the use of the property would not be changed for 15 years.

However, attorney Hall advised that as a local government Walton County would not be allowed to approve a rezoning in exchange for a promise by an applicant to do a particular use on a property.

Receiving a 4-2 favorable vote after additional discussion and public comment was a motion by Planning Commissioner Barbara Brooke to recommend approval of the land use change/rezoning request.

As of April 25, the request was set to go before the county commission on April 28 for final consideration.

Greg Orr Porsche

        Also receiving a vote of recommendation and advancing to final consideration by the county commission was Greg Orr Porsche of Santa Rosa Beach. This is a proposed 30,241-square-foot automobile dealership with showroom, service, office space and associated infrastructure to be constructed on 3.44 acres on the south side of U.S. 98, east of Don Bishop Road and west of Sugar Drive in Santa Rosa Beach. Greg Orr is the applicant.

Introducing the project, Tim Brown of Walton County Planning and Development Services noted that the request had previously been approved by the Walton County Technical Review Committee (TRC) and the Walton County Design Review Board (DRB). 

He indicated that the DRB had approved requested deviations from the U.S. 98 Scenic Corridor Standards for the project, including additional signage for the site. Brown also explained that the Walton County Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) had approved the applicant’s request to waive the residential component of the project that would normally be required for the zoning district, Village Mixed Use.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, engineer David Smith told the board members that the property is currently vacant and wooded. He emphasized that the applicant was not requesting to change the future land use or zoning of the property (Mixed Use and Village Mixed Use, respectively).

Smith explained that this would be a Porsche dealership and what is called a “Gen 5” facility, only the second one in the U.S.A.

Displaying the project site plan, Smith said there would be one entrance, off U.S. 98. There would be, he continued, an electric vehicle charging station with a nearby gathering area as a recreational component for people waiting for their vehicle to charge or who would like to congregate.

He described screening elements in the plans, including on the western side of the property.

Smith said that 52 parking spaces are required but that 155 spaces would be provided in order to accommodate inventory storage as well as parking. This includes three handicapped spaces.

He noted that the proposed floor area ratio for the project is 20.18 percent, far below the allowable 200 percent, and that the proposed impervious surface ratio, 70.15 percent, is below the 76.18 percent that is allowed.

The project received an all-aye vote for recommendation.

Harstvedt Road Subdivision

After over 30 minutes of presentations, board and staff discussion and public comment, also approved to move forward to final county commission consideration at a future date was the Harstvedt Road Subdivision.

This is a major development consisting of 27 townhomes on 4.78 acres located about 0.13 mile from the Chat Holley Road/Harstvedt Road intersection in Santa Rosa Beach. Roberts Real Estate Invest, L.L.C., is the applicant. The property is in a Residential future land use area and a Neighborhood Infill zoning district.

Representing the applicants, Melissa Ward of Dunlap & Shipman discussed changes made to the project in response to community input, including removing a pool from the plans, reducing the number of townhomes from the 36 originally proposed, and some architectural and site plan changes.

Among other public comments, neighboring resident Margaret Landry was appreciative of the applicants reducing the density from what had originally been proposed—but suggested additional density reduction to make the project more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, the density range for the Neighborhood Infill zoning district being from two to eight units per acre.

A motion by Brooke recommending approval of the subdivision carried 4-2, with Cosson and Tricker voting no.

Villages of Santa Rosa

Also getting the green light to advance to final consideration by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) in the future was another Chat Holley Road-area townhome subdivision, the Villages of Santa Rosa.

This proposal consists of 34 townhomes on 4.30 acres at the southwest corner of Chat Holley Road and J.D. Miller Road.

The applicants are VT Enterprises. The property is in a Residential future land use area and a Neighborhood Infill zoning district.

Tricker questioned the fact that a compatibility analysis had not been provided for board member review. Attorney Adkinson indicated that the analysis was not required to be submitted as an exhibit as had been done with the previous project—but stated that staff had reviewed the project for compatibility and had determined that compatibility had been met.

Speaking for the applicants, among other comments engineer David Forstrom reminded the board members that there was no request for rezoning associated with the proposal and pointed out that the proposed density was less than eight, with from two to eight units allowable for Neighborhood Infill. He also noted that the project meets traffic concurrency.

In public comment, neighboring resident Kyla Jacobsen pointed out that the density for the project is 7.9 units per acres, not much below the eight units per acre maximum. She was of the opinion that that was too dense, given existing flooding of roads in the area, together with traffic congestion.

“The compatibility is just not there,” Landry commented, agreeing with Jacobsen about the traffic congestion in the area and the proposed density.

Among other comments, neighboring resident Tom Jacobsen called for infrastructure to be in place to support such development before increasing density in the area.

A motion to recommend approval of the townhome development carried 5-1, with Cosson voting no.

Other agenda items and county approval process

The Short-term Rental Ordinance received a 5-1 favorable vote and is to move forward to two public hearings before the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) The ordinance was covered in an April 20 Herald/Breeze article

Continued by advance request to the May 12 planning commission meeting were the following agenda items: the WaterColor Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment for Beach ADA Access and the Bowline Apartments.

The Drevinska Rezoning was tabled after some discussion, to be re-advertised due to the item having been incorrectly advertised as quasi-judicial.

Planning Commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendations to the BCC, which has responsibility for final determinations on these items.