By DOTTY NIST
A small-scale amendment, a remodeling plan for McDonald’s and plans for a tile distribution company building recently got recommendations for approval by the Walton County Planning Commission, while the planning commissioners voted 6-1 to deny the proposed abandonment of part of an easement on a beachfront lot in Seagrove.
The decisions took place at the Aug. 9 regular planning commission meeting at the South Walton Annex.
Bannerman Small Scale Amendment
Garnering board approval was the Bannerman Small Scale Amendment, a request by LGM, L.L.C. and Anthony Lee Collins, providing for a land use category change from Residential Preservation to Conservation Residential, two units per acre, on a 2.83-acre parcel on the south side of CR-30A, to the west of and abutting Bannerman Beach Lane in the Blue Mountain Beach area.
Vivian Shamel of Walton County Planning and Development Services explained that there had been a previous request to change the property from Residential Preservation to Low Density Residential, which was denied. Denial by the BCC had been on Jan. 12, 2016, after concern was voiced that the change would potentially allow up to 11 units on the parcel (four units per acre).
Shamel noted that the change currently being proposed would allow only two units per acre, which would be consistent with development on surrounding property. In addition, the proposed land use classification would not allow clearing of the entire lot but only 50 percent, she commented.
Shamel explained that the lot is in an unrecorded subdivision and that under the existing classification only one single-family home is allowed on the 2.83-acre parcel.
Engineer Scott Jenkins, representing the applicants, echoed that a 50-percent preservation requirement would apply with the request. He told the planning commissioners that plans were for five lots to be created, averaging 0.56 acres in size and each at least one-half acre.
The request was approved with all aye votes.
Hinton Drive Abandonment
Requested by Stan Benecki, the Hinton Drive Abandonment proposed the abandonment of 17 feet of a 33-foot-wide patent easement running north and south on property at 47 Hinton Drive in Seagrove, with the easement on the beachfront lot extending to the mean high water line.
The abandonment was proposed in order to provide the applicant with more buildable space on his 0.707-acre lot.
Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, explained that the county has access rights on the (undeveloped) 33-foot-wide easement and that the applicant was offering, in exchange, the public use of the sandy beach south of this residential property.
Carpenter referenced the county’s current efforts to affirm customary recreational use of the beaches in the wake of Walton County’s customary use beach ordinance having been negated by state legislation in this year’s session.
He did not speak for or against the request, saying that the planning department does not take a position on abandonments.
“It’s really a swap,” commented attorney Gary Shipman, representing the applicant.
Shipman explained that what the county currently has on the property is what amounts to a roadway easement running from the street to the water. What was being proposed, he continued, was narrowing that easement in exchange for “7,654 square feet of sandy beach,” on the south side of the property being made available to the public
“All you’re giving up is something you’re not going to use,” Shipman said, noting that two feet of easement on the beach would be provided in exchange for each foot that would be given up from the 33-foot easement.
“The public will have free use of the beach…it’s simply a realignment of where the easement is,” he summarized.
A proposed beach access easement agreement was presented in connection with the request. Terms included a warranty being provided by the county that there would be no offensive or harmful disruption in connection with the beach easement, that the county would be required to obtain the property owner’s consent to alter or make improvements in the beach easement, and that no vending would be conducted on the beach easement except by the property owner or his representatives.
Planning Commission Chairman Teddy Stewart observed that the proposal appeared to be assuming that the county would not prevail in affirming customary use on the beaches. He noted that several letters in opposition to the request had been received.
“There’s no sure thing on customary use and this is a sure thing,” Shipman responded.
“We would be opposed to the easement,” commented Brian Kellenberger, beach operations director for the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC). He explained that, although it would be possible to construct a beach access within a 16-foot wide easement, it would be helpful to retain the full 33 feet of width in order to facilitate features such as a bike rack, shower, and opportunities for beach equipment storage in order to get equipment off the beach.
The proposed terms in connection with vending that were contained in the beach access agreement were discussed, with concern voiced that they could effectively be used to keep out the public. However, Shipman agreed to remove those and pledged that the property owner would allow vending on the beach if the county wanted it to be provided there. Heather Christman, assistant county attorney, commented that the legal department was confident that terms in the agreement that would be of concern to the county could be worked out.
Shipman indicated that he was surprised and shocked at the opposition to the request, given previous discussions he had participated in with TDC staff.
Planning Commissioner Danny Glidewell moved to deny the request, based upon the TDC’s opposition and its testimony that the full 33 feet was needed. He added that he thought “most of us” were confident that customary use would “come back.”
Perry disagreed, saying that gaining access to the beach should be the primary purpose. He warned that not approving the abandonment would be “gambling,” on public use of this portion of the beach.
Planning Commissioner Mike Barker suggested an additional meeting or meetings between the applicant and TDC staff.
A vote taken on Glidewell’s motion for denial yielded all aye vote except for that of Perry, resulting in failure of the abandonment request.
Commercial building, and remodeling plans
The board members voted recommendations of approval for Sellers Tile, a 20,600-square foot tile distribution company building proposed for 2.01 acres at 2800 U.S. 98 West in Santa Rosa Beach, and remodeling plans for the Miramar Beach McDonald’s at 12830 U.S. 98, with the latter plans including construction of a dual drive-through along with architectural and ADA improvements.
Approval process and board meetings
Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which is responsible for final determinations on these items in public session.
Planning commission meetings are held regularly on second Thursdays at 4 p.m. at the South Walton Annex. These meetings are open to public attendance and participation.