THE BLUE MOUNTAIN Beach Creamery is here to stay even if there is a hurricane, following a July 25 decision of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners. (Photo by Dotty Nist).
By DOTTY NIST
“The place is a landmark,” Walton County District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson said in moving for approval of an amendment to reclassify the Blue Mountain Beach Creamery property from Residential Preservation (RP) to Neighborhood Commercial (NC).
Shortly later, there was a vote to approve the motion at the July 25 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
The quarter-acre property is located on the southeast corner of the CR-30A/CR-83 intersection in Blue Mountain Beach.
This was one of several requests by property owners Christine Taylor/Yellow House, L.L.C., over the past six years for a reclassification of the property to Neighborhood Commercial.
Soon after acquiring the property in 1995, the owners began to use it for a home-based business and subsequently other limited commercial use, according to their testimony at hearings on these requests. At one time the property was in use as a real estate office. In 2000, the property owners prevailed in a Walton County Code Enforcement Board case challenging the latter use. The board decision was based on assurances extended to the Taylors in connection with the letters written over the years by county staff.
Walton County has considered this to be a grandfathered nonconforming use of the residentially-classified property. Currently an ice cream shop, the Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, operates on the property.
In September 2010, the BCC had considered an amendment proposed by county staff for a land use classification change on the property from RP to NC. The amendment was denied by the BCC at that time.
The request came before the BCC again in July 2011 as an amendment privately sponsored by the property owners, where it encountered opposition from Blue Mountain Beach residents. After a BCC vote to move the amendment to the second required public hearing, the amendment was withdrawn.
In August 2014, the property owners filed a lawsuit in Walton County Circuit Court challenging the BCC’s September 2010 decision to reject the amendment, and seeking a court injunction to compel Walton County to designate the property as NC.
In May 2017, the BCC approved an agreement to settle the lawsuit, providing for the county to sponsor, and for the BCC to consider, an amendment to reclassify the property to NC.
When the latter amendment came before the BCC on July 25, attorney David Theriaque appeared to represent the owners, furnishing the commissioners with copies of an online petition in favor of “saving” the Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, with more than 700 signatures attached.
He called the business a “fantastic” ice cream shop and pointed out that the three other corners of the intersection were classified as Village Mixed Use (VMU). He said he could not see anyone wanting to live in the building.
Under the current classification, Theriaque explained, the property owners could lose their business in a hurricane, as, due to the nonconforming status they would be unable to rebuild.
There is no residential use of the property, and there are no plans to expand the business, he continued.
Sidney Noyes, interim county attorney, advised that any proposed expansion after approval of the amendment would require an application to the county.
“It’s a pretty awesome thing to have in our neighborhood,” Blue Mountain Road resident Kyle McQueen told the commissioners in support of the amendment, although he observed that there are sometimes parking problems associated with the business.
“Nobody wants it to go away,” agreed Kaylyn Rhodes, a Blue Mountain Beach native who explained that she had been employed at the creamery for the past three years and would be leaving to attend the University of Florida in a few weeks. She said her work with the creamery had been the “best job I’ve ever had,” and that she planned to return to help run and manage the business.
There was no public comment in opposition to the amendment at the July 25 meeting.
Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, commented that NC is a much less dense category than the VMU that exists on the other corners of the intersection. Not allowed under the NC classification would be bars, convenience stores, or gas stations, he noted.
According to the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC), NC is to allow for “a limited group of commercial uses to serve the needs of…residential areas.”
“All neighborhood commercial uses must be designed in use, scale, character, and intensity to be compatible with, and to protect, the abutting and surrounding residential areas,” the LDC further states. Allowed uses in NC include offices, professional services, storefront retail shopping, neighborhood grocery stores, bed and breakfasts not exceeding 10 rooms, banks, bakeries, cafes, and restaurants without drive-thrus.
In conjunction with his motion for approval, Anderson called the ice cream and service at the business “wonderful,” and emphasized that this is a family-owned business.
“We want family-owned businesses on 30A, we don’t want chains on 30A,” Anderson said.
His motion was approved with all aye votes of the four commissioners present at the meeting.