Botanic Miramar Beach gets final approval for apartments [PREMIUM]

A RENDERING for the Botanic Miramar Beach apartments. The apartment project got final approval at the Aug. 25 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting.

By DOTTY NIST

A little over a year after starting the county review process, Botanic Miramar Beach has received final approval to move forward with 321 apartments on 25 acres of the Golf Garden golf course property in Miramar Beach.

The master plan for the project had included a future Phase 2 commercial component consisting of a 5,000-square-foot convenience store/gas station, a 4,200-square-foot fast food restaurant, and 16,544 square feet of retail space, although a presentation indicated a recent revision and reduction in that component.

The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted to approve the apartment portion of the project at their Aug. 25 land use meeting at the South Walton Annex, after a hearing approximately 2 1/2 hours in length on the project.

In February 2022, the BCC had voted 4-1 to deny a developer agreement associated with the project, and applicants Davis Development and The Golf Garden of Destin had opted at that time to defer requesting a decision on the accompanying development project. This had been followed by the BCC voting to table the project indefinitely to allow time for the applicants to propose revisions and take the revised project back through the review process.

The project coming before the BCC on Aug. 25 was no longer accompanied by a developer agreement. Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, explained that it had been determined that a developer agreement was not appropriate for this project. He noted that if the BCC approved the project, there would be a condition for a land use restriction associated with a requirement for 20 percent moderate-income apartment units. Carpenter added that the other conditions that had been contained in the developer agreement had been incorporated into the final order of approval that the BCC would consider for the project.

Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney, addressed why the project had come back directly to the BCC without it going back through the review process (Technical Review Committee and Walton County Planning Commission review) as had been discussed when the BCC had voted in February to table the project.

He explained that the applicants had decided not to revise the application other than no longer proposing a separate developer agreement, so there had been no revisions that required the project to be presented again at the Technical Review Committee (TRC) and planning commission. This was due to essentially the same project having been presented before those boards previously (before the BCC consideration in February) per Adkinson’s contention.

“The applicants determined that the process they wished to follow was to have this item heard on the merits without a developer agreement,” Adkinson said.

Speaking for the applicants, attorney Gary Shipman made the case that since this was a quasi-judicial proceeding, the burden was on the applicants to prove that the project complies with the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) and Comprehensive Plan (CP), adding, “that’s the only issue to be decided here today.”

Shipman also explained that the applicants were only seeking approval for Phase 1, the apartments at this time, and that Phase 2, the commercial component that is part of the master plan for the property, would be required to be brought back for a separate development order.

He said that the only changes to the request with regard to Phase 1 was with the stormwater. Shipman indicated that for Phase 2, the future commercial, the current master plan was different from what was contained in the project staff report and had been reduced to “a singular 4,800-square-foot building” on U.S. 98.

Speaking for the applicants, engineer Ed Stanford discussed the revised stormwater plan aimed at addressing concerns about stormwater pop-offs into a state Department of Transportation (DOT) ditch on the property or into the wetlands. Stanford said the new design would not only provide for stormwater management for the development but also compensate for any fill to be placed in existing golf course ponds on the property. He explained that the system would not pop off into the wetlands or ditch. In addition, Stanford said, the design had added additional storage volume in the existing ponds.

In response to a question, Stanford said the design would reduce the amount of water flowing to the north and that it would retain all stormwater on the site. He described the stormwater management system as 40 to 50 percent larger than a normal system for a development of an equivalent size.

Stanford clarified that the revised site plan had taken up some of the previously-envisioned commercial space and put that area to use for stormwater management.

Also speaking for the applicants was Melissa Ward of Dunlap & Shipman, who provided information on the affordable housing component of the apartment project.. She explained that the rental cost for these units would represent at least a $500-per-month discount from market rental rates, with no increase in rent without a change in state numbers governing affordable housing. 

Speaking against the project were a number of citizens, including Steve Young, Jim Thurman, Wes Wyrick, Jim McDowell, Kyla Jacobsen, Tom Hook, Lori Echols, and Margaret Landty. Concerns and opposition were voiced and questions raised with regard to the stormwater plans, high rental cost for the affordable housing apartment units, fears that the apartments would become short-term rentals, sufficiency of the amount of parking proposed, the review process for the project, compatibility of the project with surrounding uses, and exacerbation of existing overcrowding in the area and existing traffic congestion..

One of the residents speaking, Jacobsen, identified herself as a stormwater engineer and said that in her opinion the stormwater plan falls short of the LDC requirements. This was in contrast with the opinions of Stanford and Cliff Knauer, an expert witness on stormwater who had spoken for the applicants.

Jacobsen was critical of geotechnical information used, saying that it had been obtained 450 to 500 feet away from the pond locations. She also spoke of “grave inconsistencies” with regard to the seasonal groundwater table and warned that due to this, the ponds intended to be dry ponds would likely be filled with water most of the time even without a rain event. Jacobsen voiced concern that standing water in the ponds could result in them becoming mosquito breeding areas and that they would be “full of algae.”

She also expressed concern that fill brought in would not be consistent with the permeable sand currently in place on the property, negatively impacting drainage. Jacobsen concluded by asking the commissioners not to approve the project.

Another speaker, Miramar Beach resident Lori Echols, challenged the affordability of the 20-percent affordable housing component of the apartment project among raising other concerns, saying that no one working in the area would be able to afford to live in the apartment complex. She also asked that the officials not approve the project.

Ward confirmed that the apartments would be long-term rentals and would not be converted to short-term rental. She said the developers would keep the project and maintain it.

In concluding remarks, Shipman asserted that no evidence had been presented to support a conclusion that the project did not meet LDC and CP requirements and asked for approval.

District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson asked if the applicants would consent to make it part of the agreement for the project that the apartments would not be short-term rentals, as had been stated.

Shipman consented to this on behalf of the developers.

A motion by District 4 Commissioner Trey Nick for approval of the project carried unanimously.