By DOTTY NIST
Receiving final approval on April 28 was a request to rezone some church property in Miramar Beach that is planned to be sold to a beach services company to house seasonal employees.
This was at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) land use meeting on that date at the South Walton Annex.
The request was presented as the Destiny Worship Small Scale Amendment (SSA), providing for a future land use change from Public Facilities and Institutional to Mixed Use, and a zoning district change from Institutional to Coastal Center, on 1.67 acres at 244 Holiday Road North in Miramar Beach. This was a hearing to consider adoption of the amendment.
Representing the applicant, attorney Stephen Tatum outlined some history on the property, which he explained had been purchased in 1989-90 by current owners Destiny Worship from the Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Symeon. The latter ministry had relocated to Miramar Beach from another area in 1988.
Tatum told the commissioners that the Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Symeon had used the property for dormitories and that there is also a chapel on the property, along with a large recreation room facility with a kitchen in it. He described the latter as a type of fellowship hall where some classroom instruction had also taken place.
Tatum said there was dormitory space for 29 on the property but that the plan for the beach services company who would be purchasing the property was to reduce that down to 22 in order to make the accommodations more comfortable for the beach services employees who would be staying in the dormitories.
Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, indicated that the applicant had met requirements of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) and Land Development Code (LDC) with the land use change/rezoning proposal. He said that since the property would be sold to a private entity, it would be necessary to make a change from Institutional to something else—and that the most appropriate zoning designation would be Coastal Center, which is the zoning district the property is surrounded by.
Carpenter clarified that what was before the BCC was not a request to approve a use of the property.
According to the project staff report, the beach services company that will be buying the property, La Dolce Vita, owns two parcels to the west of the subject property. The report indicated that the site would be used by employees but that customers of the business would not go there for services.
It noted that plans were for the existing use of the site to remain the same under the new owners—but that since the property would be operated by a commercial enterprise and not a religious institution, it would no longer comply with the LDC under the existing zoning.
In response to a question, Carpenter stated that the property would become taxable with the sale to the company, which was not currently the case due to its ownership by the religious institution.
County Commission Chairman Mike Barker voiced concern as to whether approval of the amendment could add congestion to an already-congested area.
Tatum spoke about a transportation concurrency analysis provided with the application comparing potential traffic trips based on land use designation. He noted that the analysis showed that going to Coastal Center would reduce traffic trips by 22 trips based on the highest number of trips that would be possible under each of the land use classifications.
This involved a comparison between a large medical facility, which would be possible under the current classification of Institutional, and a strip mall, which would be possible under the proposed one of Coastal Center. However, Tatum clarified that there was no intent to develop a strip mall on the property and that such a development on the property would not survive due to the unfavorability of location for such a use.
Addressing another concern brought up by the BCC, that the property could be used for short-term rentals after the rezoning, Tatum said the dormitory units would not be ones that people would be willing to rent short-term and that this was certainly not the intent of the beach service company.
Tatum confirmed that Don Carlin, owner of La Dolce Vita, owns the building directly to the west of the site—and that most of the company’s maintenance of the beach chairs that it rents out is done at that building. In addition, Carlin owns an office building to the west of the maintenance building, Tatum noted.
Tatum identified Carlin’s sole reason for planning to buy the church property as being to obtain the dormitories, although it might also be possible to do some storage on the property and for some of the outside area to serve for beach services business use.
He explained that La Dolce Vita has seasonal employees who are in the area from the end of May to the middle or end of August, college students who work for the beach services company and live in the area during their employment.
Tatum said that previously Carlin had sleeping space for these employees at the Sandestin employee housing area but that this had been eliminated when the Hotel Effie opened at the resort.
He described plans to require the students who will stay in the dormitories to sign an agreement with rules for lights-out time and prohibiting partying/drinking. Tatum said there would also be a person living on site to ensure that the students behave.
He highlighted improvements that Carlin had already funded on the church property, including landscaping and repainting.
Asked to come forward, among other comments Carlin told the commissioners that his company has over 200 employees. He also said that even without owning the church property he had spent $300,000 on it in landscaping and painting, with a new roof on the way for five structures and a new fence to go around the property and also on the property of the adjacent neighbor, all funded by himself.
Carlin said the students working for him are his responsibility and that he takes it seriously.
After a motion by District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell for approval of the amendment, which received a second, Forest Shore Drive resident Lori Echols spoke in favor of the request. She confirmed that the appearance of the property had improved greatly from Carlin’s work and was of the opinion that his actions were an example of what businesses should be held to in Walton County.
There was no public comment in opposition to the amendment.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson was also complimentary of Carlin and the way he takes care of his employees. He said he was 100 percent in support of the request.
Barker and Glidewell were in agreement that they were generally not in favor of rezonngs, but both indicated that in this instance there would be significant public benefit associated with the request.
McCormick commented that he was prepared to “take a leap of faith” that what was going to be done with the property, which he did not have an issue with, would end up being what was done, adding that he could support the request.
With a vote taken, Glidewell’s previous motion for approval carried unanimously.