Officials to Consider Walton County Comprehensive Plan Changes

By DOTTY NIST

Development in wetlands, tree preservation, recreation fees, and historic structure preservation are among the topics for Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) changes to be considered soon by county officials.
These are contained in CP text amendments scheduled to be taken up by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at its 4 p.m. Sept. 12 meeting at the South Walton Annex.
Last month, on Aug. 8, after hearing from planning staff on the proposed amendments, the BCC had voted to schedule them for hearing on Sept. 12, at which a vote is anticipated on whether to proceed with transmitting the amendments for review by the state Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
On Aug. 8, Walton County Planning and Development Services Director Mac Carpenter explained that the amendments apply to a number of elements of the CP, including Conservation, Recreation, Open Space and Greenways, and Housing, and that they provide for the creation of a new Coastal Management Element.
Kristen Shell, Walton County planning manager, told the commissioner that the project team for the amendments consisted of planning staff and the Walton County consultants the Matrix Design Group.
She explained that this set of amendments is the first of three phases for the project of updating the CP and the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) to make the two documents consistent.
Shell indicated that public workshops had been held and public input taken in preparation for what was being presented, along with review and recommendations from the Walton County Planning Commission.
Proposed changes common to all the elements, Shell told the officials, include reorganization and elimination of outdated or duplicated statements.

Conservation Element

For the Conservation Element in the CP, policy level issues are associated with proposed changes include development in wetlands, tree preservation, on-lot preservation, and coastal upland preservation.

Development in wetlands

For development in wetlands, proposed changes would involve removing the current density limitation for one unit to 20 acres and also the current prohibition on commercial development for entirely-wetland sites. This would be to eliminate conflict with underlying land use entitlements when appropriate state and federal permits have been issued. The draft language references limited densities and intensities that would be quantified in the LDC—and details for utilizing density bonuses, for affordable housing, for example, are envisioned as part of upcoming revisions to the LDC.
As the CP currently exists, an inconsistency has been identified with LDC Section 4.01.03(C)1.a, which states that for an “impacted wetland area” transfer density would be one unit per 10 acres. There will be a requirement to amend this to one unit per 20 acres if the above CP revisions are approved.
The proposed changes would relocate the 25-foot Secondary Wetland Protection Zone (wetland buffer) from the CP to the LDC.

Tree preservation

Per recommendation of the planning commission, the draft would leave in place an existing CP policy (not currently implemented) that LDC requirements be adopted for the “protection and preservation of landmark trees.”
The draft also provides for the addition of CP Policy C-1.2.2, which states, “The County shall adopt requirements in its Land Development Code for the protection and preservation of landmark trees that require protection due to their special value in that they are irreplaceable by any means; that may be associated with historic figures, events, or properties; be rare or unusual species; or have aesthetic value worthy of protection for the health and general welfare of the residents of the County.”
In response to questions from the BCC on Aug. 8, Shell indicated that what would constitute a landmark tree would be determined with the upcoming update of the LDC and would be dependent on the geographic location of the property. She added that there would be agricultural exemptions from tree preservation requirements and that there would be tree mitigation banks associated with most tree preservation requirements.

On-Lot Preservation

The planning commission recommendation brought forward regarding on-lot preservation was in favor of draft language discouraging placement of preservation areas on individual lots within residential subdivisions, with the draft language stating, “For residential development, in order to utilize the preservation buy out option, all remaining preservation areas must be placed in common areas and defined as such within a recorded subdivision plat also having appropriate restrictive covenant language. Alternatively, if not utilizing the buyout option, preservation areas must be recorded in applicable deed restrictions, a conservation easement recorded, or within recorded common areas.”

Coastal upland preservation

Recommended by the planning commission was an amendment to CP language associated with the Coastal Upland Preservation and Coastal Protection Zone clarifying that 95 percent preservation of Coastal Upland natural communities would be required to be within the Coastal Protection Zone (CPZ) and seaward of the CPZ. According to the recommendation, 100 percent of the Coastal Upland natural communities landward of the CPZ would have to be preserved outside of the building footprint. The planning commission also recommended in favor of draft provisions providing for restoration of natural communities within the CPZ when redevelopment takes place.
Among the proposed changes, recently-adopted Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zone language, along with flood zone and Coastal High Hazard Area, hurricane evacuation and Local Mitigation Strategy language, would be relocated to a new Coastal Management Element.

Recreation, Open Space and Greenways Element, recreational plat fees

In connection with the CP Conservation Element, the recommendation was for fee collection or land dedication recreational plat fee requirements to be applied to all residential development, including multi-family, and for developers to also have the ability to dedicate land off-site or separate from their development property under certain conditions in order to comply with these requirements.

Housing Element, historic structures

With some CP policies currently in place for identification and preservation of historic structures, the planning commission recommended in favor of retaining provisions focused on these goals and ultimately providing this protection, with the first step being obtaining grant funding for identification of historic structures countywide.

Archaeological resources

To resolve an inconsistency between the CP Conservation Element and Future Land Use Element, a staff recommendation was provided in connection with draft language requiring a 50-foot buffer, dedicated and maintained in perpetuity, from significant archaeological sites as determined by the state Division of Historical Resources.
The recommendation was for replacement of this language with an objective stating, “To protect and preserve historic and archaeological resources. The County shall protect and preserve historical and archaeological resources within the County, by regulating development that may impact such resources,” and a policy stating, “The County shall coordinate with the Division of Historic Resources to establish historic preserves or parks at sites of known historical or archaeological significance.” When presented on Aug. 8, this new language had yet to undergo review by the planning commission.
Current CP language for Objective L-1.7 Historic Resources requires suspension for up to 120 days of “all disruptive activity” within 50 feet of any location where artifacts of potential historic or archaeological significance are discovered during construction, along with reporting the discovery to the state Division of Historic Resources and to the county, evaluation of the site, and mitigation or other corrective action per direction of the division.

Information online

Drafts of the amendments and other related documents may be viewed at the link: https://walton.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3115076&GUID=E2EBAA66-A727-4426-87E6-857031A10E81&Options=&Search= under “Details.” Additional/updated information should be available by Sept. 8 on the Walton County website, www.co.walton.fl.us, as part of the agenda for the Sept. 12 BCC regular meeting.