Commissioners approve equivalency matrix for future development at Seaside [PREMIUM]

THE EXISTING Town of Seaside Master Plan is to stay in force with the recent approval of a matrix for transfer and conversion of entitlements within the Seaside Development of Regional Impact, according to testimony at a July 26 public hearing on the matrix.

By DOTTY NIST

A request by Seaside Community Development Corporation to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) recently brought out attorneys and residents of the community. This was for an amendment to the Essentially Built-Out Agreement (EBOA) for the Town of Seaside Development of Regional Impact (DRI).

The request was considered at the BCC’s July 26 regular meeting for land use and planning items at the South Walton Annex.

According to Florida Statutes, a DRI is considered essentially built out if the project has been determined to be essentially built out though an agreement executed by the state land planning agency, the developer, and the local government establishing the terms and conditions under which development may be continued..

According to a staff report for the application and attached exhibits:

The Seaside DRI had originally been approved by the county in January 1986 as a 92-acre multi-use development consisting of residential, hotel, commercial, office and civic uses. In November 2001, the BCC entered into the first EBOA for the DRI. That agreement included authorization for the following land uses within the DRI: 340 single-family units, 289 apartment units, 83 condominium units, and 134 hotel units, along with 158,530 square feet of office, workshop, commercial, restaurant, civic, post office, and fitness uses.

MAP SHOWING the 21.16-acre portion of the Seaside DRI to which the recently-approved matrix is to apply.

In February 2017, the first amendment to the EBOA was approved, providing for a 0.16-acre portion of the Seaside right-of-way to be changed to a “Civic” classification to facilitate the relocation of the Seaside Post Office and addition of infrastructure.

Before the BCC on July 26 was for a second amendment to the EBOA applying to 21.86 acres located both north and south of CR-30A, with the amendment to include a land use equivalency matrix.

Renee Bradley of Walton County Planning and Development Services clarified that individual developments within the 21.86 acres would still come before the BCC for consideration.

Representing Seaside Community Development Corporation (SCDC), attorney Gary Hunter summarized the previous approvals for the DRI and reported that 2018 legislation by the state had “repealed the DRI program.” The legislation, however, allowed existing DRIs to continue to exist, he added.

Hunter displayed the existing master plan for Seaside and emphasized that nothing being requested would change the four uses shown on the map (residential, commercial, civic and recreational) or the location of those uses with BCC approval of the request.

He discussed remaining entitlements for development within the DRI, which he quantified as 218 residential units (about a quarter of the residential program) and 52,850 square feet of commercial (about one-third of the nonresidential program).

The proposed matrix was to allow for equivalent conversion if the developer were to request an increase within one of the uses and a corresponding reduction within one of the other uses. Hunter explained that the matrix was calculated not to cause additional impacts to water/sewer, parking, solid waste or transportation over what was currently vested.

He acknowledged concern on the part of some members of the public that approval of the matrix would exacerbate the traffic and parking situation on CR-30A and recognized that the traffic situation was “different” from what existed in the mid-1980s when the original Seaside DRI was approved for the walkable community. However, Hunter made the argument that the obligations for infrastructure, mitigation, and parking for the development “were all established early on.” These obligations should not change, Hunter told the commissioners. He added that it would be impossible for the request being considered to serve as a “fix” for congestion conditions.

Ryan S. Weatherall, an engineer representing the applicant, commented that Seaside became the model for CR-30A as well as around the world in encouraging people to “get out of their cars.” He spoke of strategies put in place for the community, including off-site parking and shuttles and noted that other strategies are being examined.

Weatherall gave examples of how conversions would work with the matrix, including 60 hotel units being converted to 16,200 square feet of residential space. He commented that the matrix would not short circuit the local government review process but would allow for flexibility.

County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman brought up two vacant lots on either side of the Seaside Master Plan “horseshoe.” He said he would assume that those would be developed as commercial. Assuming that no additional parking is available in connection with that commercial, he continued, and that parking would not be proposed to be incorporated with the development of those parcels because Seaside maintains that parking requirements have already been met for the DRI, “where are they going to park?” he asked. “It’s already congested,” Chapman observed.

He commented that the applicant would be “remiss” in not making use of the remaining entitlements to put parking where it is needed.

District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said she did not think Seaside should continue to rely on shuttling employees from the public parking area on CR-283 in Grayton Beach to alleviate parking problems but should instead “look to yourselves,” to solve parking issues within Seaside.

Hunter commented that plans were for 25,000 square feet of commercial to be divided among the two lots that Chapman had highlighted. No parking would be placed there unless it were underground parking, he said. Hunter emphasized that all required parking is already in place.

If stores were to be put on the parcels, those would not survive unless people were able to get to them, Hunter reasoned. He said another alternative would be a hotel on one of the parcels.

“Where would they park?” Comander asked.

Hunter responded that there could be valet parking or underground parking.

“There is no proposal to do anything (at this time),” he clarified.

Hunter observed that driverless cars are being developed and that in the future there will be many fewer cars going into parking areas.

David Smolker, an attorney representing the Seaside Town Council in opposition to the request, argued that problems at Seaside are “severe,” that the matrix was flawed in assessing impacts, and that approval of the matrix could exacerbate problems in the community.

Bill Oliver, an engineer representing the town council, presented research he had conducted challenging the matrix. He also argued that the DRI was in violation due to generating, according to his data, several times the amount of traffic impact mitigated for with the DRI.

Oliver also charged that some homes in Seaside have no designated parking spaces and that there are no designated loading areas for businesses. Seaside should not be allowed to generate more traffic while not providing citizens with adequate parking, he argued.

Weatherall later disputed Oliver’s data and stated, “The idea is that congestion will drive people to get out of their cars.”

“I love Seaside, but I’m worried,” Seaside homeowner Helen Gordon told the commissioners. Gordon spoke of an “unhealthy” situation of cars “cruising” the community, including residential streets, looking for parking spaces.

“Our narrow streets are sidewalks,” said Sissy Canale, also a Seaside homeowner for well over a decade. The commercial development at Seaside serves no purpose for residents unless they can get to it, and they cannot, as there is a two-hour wait at the commercial establishment, she testified. Residents, Canale said, have learned not to move their cars because they will lose their parking spaces, as vehicles coming from outside the community spend as much as an hour circling through the commercial areas looking for parking, then going back onto CR-30A and then getting on the neighborhood streets seeking parking, finally in many cases parking in places where they should not.

She spoke of danger to children playing on the narrow streets and said she herself was almost hit by cars several times when she tried to go for a bike ride. “Seaside is already built beyond its capacity…please don’t make it worse,” Canale urged the commissioners.

In addition to Gordon’s and Canale’s statements in opposition to the request, more than a dozen other citizens had presented objections in writing.

Kelly Anderson read a letter of support from Seaside business owner Dave Rauschkolb crediting Robert and Daryl Davis of SCDC for their careful planning and attention to detail and indicating trust in their judgment in connection with the proposed matrix.

The Davises were also credited for their donation of land and their support for the Seaside Charter School.

Hunter pointed out that the matrix could set the stage for other “visions” for the community as was the school, including a town hall. The matrix could be used to create more civic space, he noted.

While there are more people are more cars than there used to be, but that should not preclude Seaside from proceeding with entitlements, Hunter maintained. “We’ve got a right to build what we’ve got a right to build,” he said.

Hunter urged the commissioners to look at the staff report, which indicated that the proposed matrix was acceptable to staff.

According to the report: “The proposed traffic matrix has been reviewed by engineering and there is no objection to the equivalency matrix as proposed. The equivalency matrix will not allow for changes to the Town of Seaside Master Plan Map. There will be no addition impact to water/sewer, parking, solid waste or transportation that were approved with Ordinance 2001-23 or the original Essentially Built-out Agreement or the 1st Amendment to the EBOA.”

District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson said his understanding was that the request was only that SCDC would have the right to move entitlements. Walton County Attorney Sidney Noyes clarified that the “location” of entitlements could not be moved if the request were approved.

“True,” Anderson responded.

Anderson said he understood that future proposals would come before the BCC. He added that whatever is built, “you have to come up with a parking plan.”

Hunter said he understood that future development would come before the BCC. He discussed that, in contrast with years ago, people coming to stay at Seaside now bring a number of cars, some of which they park where they are staying and some in free parking areas for a week or so. This is a problem that Davis and SCDC are trying to solve, he said.

Comander said she agreed with Anderson and that she understood that there is a parking and traffic problem not just at Seaside but along CR-30A as a whole. “It’s about the matrix today,” she said of what was before the BCC.

Comander voiced confidence in the judgment of staff that the matrix was acceptable.

She was in agreement with previous comments by her fellow commissioners that with development order applications for vacant parcels, additional parking would be expected to accommodate the new development.

Comander moved for approval of the matrix as an amendment to the EBOA, and her motion carried with aye votes from the three commissioners in attendance.