By DOTTY NIST
The 30A Trading Company resort wear, beachwear, and gift store has been approved for the southeast corner of CR-30A and Dalton Drive in the Eastern Lake area. The proposal has been known as Dalton Drive Commercial.
The approval came at a Jan. 10 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) special meeting at the South Walton Annex, with strong opposition from citizens. This was part two of the quasi-judicial public hearing on the application, the first part of which, three hours in length, had taken place on Oct. 11.
Applicants for the 6,945-square-foot commercial building were Nick and Simone Afuta, also known as owners of the local Snappy Turtle beachwear and souvenir shops.
No land use change was required for the application, as the parcel had been designated as Village Mixed Use (VMU) since the adoption of the Walton County’s original comprehensive plan 20 years ago, according to county staff and the applicants’ representatives’ testimony. The parcel is flanked by property also designated as VMU on the north, west, and south as well, with the adjacent parcel and the next one to the south also classified as VMU.
There are currently no businesses, just homes on Dalton Drive.
While several apartments had been part of the original submittal, those were eliminated when the applicants learned that a single use was possible on VMU parcels less than three acres in size. The property is one-half acre.
Among reasons expressed for opposition were ongoing drainage problems in the vicinity, the scale and aesthetics of the building, compatibility concerns, the possibility that the business might go bankrupt and stand empty, and concerns that approval of the project would be harmful to the character of the area that people find attractive.
There have also been objections related to the applicants’ plans to grade and pave of 200 feet of Dalton Drive in the vicinity of the business to the intersection and improve the intersection.
The history of Dalton Drive, an unpaved road, has been a contentious one for many years. Residents have pointed out that the road was deeded to Dalton Drive lot owners in the 1970s, and some contend that Dalton remains a private road.
Prior to March 2005, a picket fence stood between the north end of Dalton Drive and CR-30A, blocking the intersection. It had been constructed by Dalton Drive residents and homeowners by permission of Walton County. However, in March 15 of that year, the fence was demolished by another Dalton Drive property owner.
A sign indicating the end of county maintenance stands on Dalton Drive, and until recently it was assumed that all but the 141 feet of the road closest to the intersection with CR-30A was maintained by the county. (Dalton Drive is 1,725 feet in length). However, in October 2016, minutes from a June 2000 BCC meeting were located that showed that all of Dalton Drive was approved for county maintenance at that time.
The Dalton Drive proposal was presented with an alternate design that was different from the original submittal, which had been a white stucco building with towers. The alternate design, more residential in appearance, had been suggested by a local architect. The applicants’ representatives indicated that they would be fine with constructing either design but would prefer the alternative.
Commissioners considering the proposal on Jan. 10 were Sara Comander, Bill Chapman, and Cecilia Jones. On the advice of Walton County Attorney Mark Davis, new commissioners Melanie Nipper and Tony Anderson, who had taken office since the first part of the quasi-judicial hearing on the proposal, did not participate in discussion or voting on the proposal.
Comander expressed concern about lighting and parking for the business and potential impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. She was in favor of the alternate design and holding the developers to that design if the project were approved.
“I just don’t think it’s compatible,” she said of the proposal, moving to deny. Chapman seconded the motion for discussion and launched into a discussion on the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP). He described the plan as being “rammed down” Walton County’s throat by the state and lamented that the county had been “bound to” and “saddled with” the plan since 1996.
He was hopeful that the consulting company recently enlisted by the county to review the CP and Walton County Land Development Code would be able to help make the CP more compatible.
Chapman observed that the BCC is required to follow the law and have a statutory, code, or similar reason in order to be able to deny a project.
Comander’s motion to deny failed, with Chapman and Jones voting no.
A subsequent motion for approval by Chapman carried 2-1, with Chapman and Jones voting in favor and Comander voting no.
The approval was on the condition of the alternate design being used and other conditions, among those a prohibition on outdoor display of merchandise and a buffer and fence being placed between the property and residential property to the east.
During the regular BCC meeting that followed the quasi-judicial hearing, the commissioners voted to hold a 2:30 p.m. Feb. 14 public hearing at the South Walton Annex on a proposal by Dalton Drive resident Robert Raymond and other residents to close off a portion of the road to traffic other than pedestrian and bicycle.
As discussed, the proposed road closure would not affect the area of the approved retail business—but would extend from the area of the sign indicating the end of county maintenance, located south of the business location, to the south end of the road.
By DOTTY NIST