By DOTTY NIST
A rezoning that would allow for a drive-through window at a proposed McDonald’s restaurant on U.S. 98 in Miramar Beach has received the Walton County Planning Commission’s recommendation of approval in a split vote.
The McDonald’s Rezoning was the one item on the agenda at the planning commission’s Nov. 9 meeting at Freeport Commons.
Kimberly Seyer of the Seyer Group presented the rezoning request representing property owners Neely, L.L.C., on behalf of McDonald’s, the company interested in acquiring the 1.49-acre property for a quick-service restaurant.
The property, wooded and vacant, is located at the southwest corner of the U.S. 98/West Hewett Road intersection, across the highway from Walmart. It is currently zoned as Village Mixed Use. The parcel would be rezoned as Coastal Center Mixed Use with approval of the request or, alternately, a zoning district with less density by determination of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC). The property is in a Mixed Use future land use area.
Introducing the rezoning request, Stephen Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services told the board members that staff had found the rezoning application to be complete and substantially consistent with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) and Land Development Code (LDC).
Planning Commissioner Fred Tricker expressed concern about the single use proposed (fast food restaurant) on the parcel within the requested Coastal Center Mixed Use zoning.
Schoen responded that, while he understood the concern, staff had been interpreting the code as not requiring a mixture of uses for Coastal Center Mixed Use. There is no prohibition on a single use as there is for other districts, he explained.
Tricker pointed out that under the current zoning a restaurant but not a drive-through restaurant would be allowed on a small parcel less than three acres. He was of the opinion that this restriction had been established “for a reason.”
Tricker also praised the CP language providing for varied uses in mixed use areas as a great small-town concept.
Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, commented that there are a variety of uses in the mixed-use area of which the subject property is a part. He said it is not required to have a variety of uses on property the size of the subject parcel.
Tricker continued to disagree and suggested that the applicants might instead need to request both a commercial land use classification and zoning district for the proposed restaurant.
Asked why the current zoning for the property would allow restaurants but not drive-through restaurants, Carpenter replied, “to discourage drive-through restaurants in that particular zoning district…”
“…on those particular small parcels,” Tricker added.
Carpenter thought that this had been due to the mood of the county commission when the regulations containing the prohibition were adopted.
He explained that the applicants had the opportunity to request the zoning district change, although not the (absolute) right to have the request approved. “But they do have the due process right to apply,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Kyla Jacobsen commented, “I was looking at the land development code and the primary uses allowed between Village Mixed Use, Village Mixed Use Center, and Coastal Center Mixed Use. The only difference in the primary uses allowed, “ she continued, “is Village Mixed Use has an active recreation use.”
“So, I guess the bottom line is the only difference between Village Mixed Use and moving to the Coastal Center is to allow for the drive-through,” she concluded.
Stephen Schoen clarified, “It will allow for general commercial uses on parcels less than three acres.”
According to the staff report for the request, “The effect of the proposed map amendment will be to change the allowable uses on the subject property, to general commercial uses (on parcels less than three acres and wanting to provide a single non-residential use). The density allowed under the Village Mixed Use and Coastal Center Mixed Use zoning districts are essentially the same with some nuanced expectations when it comes to the allowable density. The intensity allowed under Coastal Center Mixed Use is limited to .75 while the Village Mixed Use zoning would allow for a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 2.00 at this location. This equates to a reduction in allowed intensity if the Zoning change is approved.”
The staff report also detailed that there is an existing right turn lane with an existing access driveway shared between the property and the Murphy Express gas station that is located at the southeast corner of the same intersection.
The report stated that the shared access for these properties is recorded in Walton County public records and provides for cross-access between the subject property and the Murphy Express.
The board members discussed the traffic analysis that had been provided with the rezoning request. Seyer clarified that the analysis had been for the broader use of rezoning for a commercial designation as required. She noted that when the applicants submit an application for the actual permit for the business, the traffic analysis will be required to be for a fast food use.
After some discussion about traffic congestion at the intersection, Carpenter commented that it would be “very possible” that the design of the restaurant could indicate that the roadway would need to be extended further to the south and the entrance be placed closer to the southern end of the property. “That would be determined at the development order stage…that’s something we absolutely will consider,” he said.
After a motion by Planning Commissioner Barbara Brooke to recommend approval of the zoning change request, a vote was taken. The motion was approved in a 4-2 vote.
The request is expected to go before the BCC for final consideration on Nov. 28.