BCC approves rezoning for residence and lawyer’s office in Blue Mountain Beach

LOCATION MAP for the Flynn Small Scale Amendment (SSA) with Rezoning (FLU 23-000001), which was approved on April 25 with accompanying developer agreement.

By DOTTY NIST

A rezoning and accompanying developer’s agreement have been approved in preparation for a residence and small lawyer’s office on the south side of CR-30A in Blue Mountain Beach.

The approval came in a split vote of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) after an April 25 public hearing approximately 2 1/2 hours in length at the South Walton Annex.

The rezoning request was the Flynn Small Scale Amendment (SSA) and Rezoning, which called for a future land use change from Residential to Commercial or a lesser category and a zoning district change from Residential Preservation to Neighborhood Commercial or lesser district on 1.15 acres on the south side of CR-30A, 0.06 mile south of Blue Gulf Drive in Blue Mountain Beach. The property consists of two  The accompanying developer’s agreement was requested by Ned Flynn, an attorney, and the amendment and rezoning were requested by his company, SRB2-30A, L.L.C.

The same property had come before the Walton County Planning Commission in September 2023 with a different future land use and zoning proposed (Mixed use and Village Mixed Use, respectively). At that time the planning commission had voted 4-2 to recommend approval, with the applicant later opting to apply for the revised request, which had cleared the planning commission with a 6-1 vote to recommend approval in February.

The rezoning request and developer’s agreement were heard together by the BCC at the April 25 hearing.

Introducing the requests, Stephen Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services clarified that the developer’s agreement was a requirement of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) due to two factors, the first of those being Eglin Air Force Base’s public safety concerns due to the property’s location within the base’s Military Influence Overlay District/Military Training Route Corridor. He explained that normally Eglin wants low density in property in such a location. Schoen said that secondly the CP requires protection of floodplain from additional density and intensity when a future land use map change is requested.

The majority of the property is located within a floodplain, according to the project staff report.

Schoen commented that the requested Neighborhood Commercial zoning would restrict density to one residential unit per lot—but would allow for an increase in allowable live-work units (an additional four such units per acre) where there would be a non-residential component on the ground floor with apartments, for example, above that.

Attorney Gary Shipman and Melissa Ward, certified planner, spoke on behalf of the applicant. Shipman discussed that the majority of the southern portion of the two lots is wetlands and is set aside in conservation easements. He commented that, although there are some residential lots to the south of the property, it is largely surrounded by mixed-use areas.

Shipman spoke about the large portion of Flynn’s two lots that is in conservation easements (75 percent) and the required 20-foot CR-30A Scenic Corridor buffer. He noted that the building footprint would be just seven percent of each of the lots as a result. He also explained that in the developer’s agreement the applicant was agreeing to restrict the type of commercial that could be built to an office of no more than 1,200 square feet.

Shipman brought up state law changes resulting from the 2011 Community Planning Act and case law related to local governments’ ability to deny rezoning requests. He argued that the ability to deny is limited to the basis of concerns about health, safety, morals, or general welfare of the public. “It’s not a popularity contest,” he told the commissioners.

Shipman maintained that the rezoning would be consistent with the use of the areas surrounding the property, calling the subject property “an island” together with two adjacent lots that are also zoned Residential Preservation.

District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell asked if the subject lots are within the Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zone (for Draper Lake). Ward replied that there was some encroachment. but Shipman said there would be no impact in this regard since only seven to eight percent of the lots would be developed.

In response to some questions, Shipman said the developer’s agreement would “run with the land.” He explained that someone purchasing the property in the future would have to go through what would amount to a zoning change to get the restrictive covenants in the agreement removed.

However, Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney, provided the information that per Florida statutes the maximum time period for a developer’s agreement is 30 years, after which time an agreement expires, unless a shorter time period is specified by the local government.

Adkinson also discussed the possibility of a conservation easement changing over time based on Florida Legislature and other legislative body changes or changes in the local government.

Replying to a question on how the conservation easements on the two lots came to be, Ward said a previous owner had worked with the state Department of Environment Protection (DEP) to set up the easements in order to provide for some wetlands on the lots to be filled in order to allow the ability to put in dwelling units.

District 4 Commissioner Donna Johns voiced concern that there would be an increase in traffic with employees for the business and law office clients coming and going.

Shipman replied that without the rezoning two short-term rental houses could be put in on each of the lots under t

he existing zoning, which would create more traffic.

Johns pointed out that full-time resident homes could also be built on the lots.

Ward maintained that residential homes create significantly more traffic than an attorney’s office or a similar use. She also noted that currently 50 percent of the new homes being built in Walton County are being purchased by investors to serve as short-term rentals.

Attorney Tom Lutz spoke in opposition on behalf of the South Walton Community Council (SWCC). Lutz argued that the rezoning should be denied since it would represent contract zoning and spot zoning, which the courts have ruled against. He also maintained that the rezoning would negatively impact the quality of life on neighboring properties.

He told the officials that per Florida statutes a development agreement must include the finding that the development permitted or proposed is consistent with the local government’s land development code and comprehensive plan, meaning that “it has to be compatible with the existing zoning.”

Lutz warned that rezoning the property to Neighborhood Commercial would open it up to any possible use listed in the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC), some of which would include a churches/mosques, day care centers, cemeteries, government buildings, schools, museums, theaters, bed and breakfasts, dry cleaners, retail stores, grocery stores, restaurants, travel agencies, professional services, banks, barbers, beauty shops, medical clinics, cannabis dispensaries, live-work areas with vertical mixed use, and artisanal uses.

He pointed out that at the planning commission hearing on the rezoning there had been strong opposition from neighboring homeowners’ associations and individuals, many of whom had set up their homesteads in Residential Preservation neighborhoods with the expectation that they would not be neighbors to a commercial enterprise.

“They’re under the understanding that the zoning designation they had was set to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood,” Lutz told the officials. He argued that preserving the current zoning on the property would be maintaining the faith with those neighbors—and that that must be an important consideration “when you’re talking about the health, safety, and welfare of those persons.”

Glidewell asked if it would be in the best interest of the neighbors if the BCC denied the rezoning and someone put in two 50-foot-tall monster houses on the property.

Lutz replied that he thought the neighbors would rather have residential homes next to them than a commercial enterprise and associated uses set forth in the LDC.

Glidewell replied that if there was a court challenge and the developer agreement were voided, the other restrictions in the LDC would “kick in.” He repeated that most of the lots are in conservation easements. “I mean,” Glidewell said, “nobody’s going out there and putting a Walgreens; there’s not enough land, and there’s certainly not enough parking.”

Lutz countered that, although it was being said that there was not enough room on the lots for some of the uses under Neighborhood Commercial, some people are creative and will find ways to put in a commercial business if they determine it would be to their financial benefit.

He also pointed out that there are two other Residential Preservation lots next to the subject lots, one of which is for sale. Changing the zoning on the subject lots would weaken the argument for the adjacent lots being left under the current zoning, Lutz contended.

BCC Chairman Tony Anderson noted that any request to change the zoning on the adjacent lots would have to come before the BCC.

Barbara Morano also spoke in opposition to the rezoning as a resident of Draper Lake Coastal Village and on behalf of Bob Everfield, president of the homeowners’ association for Draper Lake Coastal Village, reading a letter from Everfield.

“The nature and degree of the proposed changes are excessive and incompatible with the current surrounding development of homes,” Morano read, in part.

Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, provided a correction to one of Lutz’s remarks. Carpenter stated that the Draper Lake subdivision is not zoned Residential Preservation but is Traditional Neighborhood Development, which allows 30 units per acre.

“We need to make some changes,” Johns said in reply to Carpenter’s comment.

Following some additional discussion, Johns commented, in part, that she did not feel that rezonings should take place on CR-30A. “We just need to let it be the beautiful thing it’s supposed to be, but we’re tearing it up one little spot at a time,” she said of the scenic county road. She was also of the opinion that the proposed change would not be a benefit to the safety and welfare of the citizens, many of whom had so indicated.

She moved for denial of the developer’s agreement, but her motion did not receive a second.

A motion by District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick to approve the developer’s agreement carried unanimously.

Johns then moved to deny the rezoning request, but again her motion was not seconded.

Glidewell moved for approval of the rezoning. His motion was seconded and carried in a 4-1 vote, with Johns voting no.

Separate approval will be required for development of the two subject lots.