By DOTTY NIST
A land use change for a new industrial park, some proposed amendments to the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP), and a townhome proposal all got nods from the Walton County Planning Commission on March 12.
This was at the county board’s meeting on that date at the Freeport Business Park Boardroom.
Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn LSA
Mac Carpenter, Walton County planning and development services director, presented the Northwest Florida Commerce Park Large Scale Amendment, providing for a future land use change from Estate Residential to Industrial and Extraction Uses and zoning district change from Estate Residential to Heavy Industrial on 226.26 acres about 1 1/4 miles south of the city of DeFuniak Springs, on the west side of U.S. 331 across from West Indian Creek Ranch Road.
The change was being requested by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on behalf of the Walton County Economic Development Council (EDA).
Carpenter explained that plans are for the property to be a new industrial park, similar to the existing ones at Mossy Head and Freeport, and that the county is assisting the EDA with this project.
Stephen Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services provided information on the request. He told the board members that, upon final approval of the large-scale amendment, the property would move to a master planning phase that would include technical details for the industrial park project. At that point transportation and other concurrency issues would be addressed, Schoen commented.
Schoen said the property contains approximately 78 acres of wetlands and that any future impacts to those would require permitting by regulatory agencies.
He noted that this is envisioned as a commercial industrial park, with utilities to be provided by the city of DeFuniak Springs.
Carpenter commented that the objective with the industrial park is to diversify the economy, enhance economic viability, and create jobs.
Planning Commissioner Barbara Brooke said it looked as if there would be limited use of the property due to wetlands.
Schoen responded that there were over 100 acres of uplands on the property and that there would be an effort to see that development is maintained as much out of the wetlands as possible.
Jerome Poelking, a neighbor of the property, asked for more information on the use that was being proposed for the property. “What are they going to put in there?” he asked.
Poelking asked if a gun range was going in.
Carpenter responded that the county would begin on a planned unit development (PUD) application upon approval of the amendment—and that more details, including the location of the uses, would be provided with that application. Primarily what the county/EDA was looking at with the property, he explained, was an industrial subdivision with businesses that, ideally, would be related to the defense industry and support the military efforts at Eglin Air Force Base.
Carpenter said a gun range had already approved in the same neighborhood, and he did not envision another one being approved on the industrial park property.
In response to a question about extraction (mining) as referred to in the proposed future land use, he said the proposed zoning would not allow extractive uses.
A motion for approval of the future land use and zoning classification change carried with all aye votes.
Comprehensive Plan Amendments
Kristen Shell presented revisions to the Comprehensive Plan proposed for the CP Future Land Use Element, some of which were related to the large-scale amendment that the board members has just voted on.
Proposed were changes to the Comprehensive Future Land Use Element to create consistency with the adopted Walton County Land Development Code (LDC). The revisions included changes to the Industrial and Extractive Uses Future Land Use Category to allow industrial uses in various areas of the county with the exception of south Walton County.
Shell said, regarding Industrial, “The old comprehensive plan didn’t allow that to be applied anywhere in the county, basically. It… had a text prohibition on Industrial, except for two places that were from…legal settlements earlier on.” She explained that, with the proposed revisions, the Industrial category would be available for applicants to apply to use by means of the land use change process “in other areas of the county excluding south Walton.”
Most of the other proposed revisions she describe as “clean-up” items.
One of the proposed revisions was to remove all development entitlements associated with the Black Creek Special Planning Area, as this property is now owned by Nokuse Plantation and is to be used for conservation.
Several citizens raised concern about the possibility of some the proposed revisions allowing for industrial uses to come into agricultural areas. Raised by some speakers was the possibility that changes to CP provisions for agricultural areas could be related to a current solar energy facility application for their area (Chautauqua Solar Energy Facility, proposed for northwestern Walton County).
Shell responded that no change was being proposed to any allowable land uses in agricultural land use areas—and that the CP revisions proposed were not related in any way to a solar facility.
Revisions were proposed to two CP policies L-1.2.1 and L-1.2.2 for General and Large Scale Agriculture. Shell explained that the changes were for clarity and merely stated the section of the LDC where allowable uses for General and Large Scale Agriculture were found.
Proposed changes to each of the two policies also added the sentence: Low density residential subdivision development is allowed subject to specific open space/clustering requirements also found in Section 2.02.01 of the Walton County Land Development Code.”
Doug Wycoff, an attorney representing David Herring and the Caney Creek Neighborhood Association, questioned how the proposed change to allow industrial uses in additional areas of the county would promote the health and safety of citizens.
Shell offered to remove the proposed revisions to CP policies L-1.2.1 and L-1.2.2 for General and Large Scale Agriculture to be considered at a later date, since those revisions appeared to be causing mistrust and concern.
“It’s not something we have to do now,” she said.
Wycoff was in agreement on this course of action.
Approved with all aye votes was a motion to recommend approval of the revisions, as presented, with the exception of those for CP policies L-1.2.1 and L-1.2.2 for General and Large Scale Agriculture.
Information on the CP amendments may be viewed online at: https://tinyurl.com/rwn5yas .
The Beach Club
Renee Bradley of Walton County Planning and Development Services introduced The Beach Club, a request on behalf of S&L Karian Properties, L.L.C., for approval of 28 townhouse units on 3.33 acres within the Topsail Development of Regional Impact (DRI) in Miramar Beach.
The project location is on the south side of U.S. 98 and on the east side of Topsail Beach Boulevard, just past the guard shack.
Planning Commissioner Barbara Brooke asked if the property had previously been approved for apartments.
Bradley responded that it had been approved for apartments but that the applicants had decided instead to do the townhome development, which would be “more in keeping with the neighborhood.”
John Henderson, an engineer representing the applicants, described earlier plans for the property, including originally a 115-unit motel. He said the applicants had a development order for a 78-unit condominium and that the property is vested for 115 units in the DRI documents.
Henderson said the 28 townhome units being proposed would consist of 24 four-bedroom units and three three-bedroom units.
Celeste Cobena, a member of the board of trustees for the adjoining Coffeen Nature Preserve to the northwest, spoke on behalf of the preserve. She said the preserve was pleased that single-family homes were now being proposed as opposed to condominium units.
Cobena said representatives of the preserve had met with the project proponents and had voiced concern over the compatibility of the project with regard to buffers, shielding of street lights, and location of power lines on the border between the property and the preserve. She said the preserve had requested that the applicants construct a fence between the townhome property and the preserve and that bear-proof trash cans and/or dumpsters be used by the townhome development.
Cobena indicated that the discussions between the preserve and the applicants had been productive, and she was confident that an agreement would be drawn up before the project goes before the BCC that would satisfy the preserve’s concerns.
Henderson commented that the applicants had agreed to the fence, and he committed on their behalf that there would be no security lights on the back of the homes although he said there would have to be a light at the rear door of each home. He stated that there would be no spill-over of light from the townhome property into the preserve. Henderson agreed that these commitments would be put in writing.
As a motion was considered, Walton County Attorney Sidney Noyes indicated that some of the preserve’s requests, the street lighting and the power pole location, would not be under the purview of the applicants and/or were not found in county code. She suggested a motion based on an agreement between the parties, including the requirement for the fencing and also encouragement for the applicants to work with the preserve to attempt to address the other items identified.
A motion for approval subject to those conditions carried with all aye votes.
County approval process, April meeting cancellation
Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which has responsibility for final determinations on these items in public session.
As of March 16, meetings of the planning commission and all other Walton County volunteer boards were cancelled for the remainder of March and during the month of April, resulting in the cancellation of the planning commission’s previously-scheduled April 9 regular meeting. The action was taken in connection with the county’s response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency.
Volunteer board meetings are expected to resume in May.