By DOTTY NIST
An amendment and rezoning request that had been denied by county commissioners in August was brought back on Nov. 22 and this time received final county board approval.
This was at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) combined regular meeting/land use meeting on that date at the South Walton Annex.
The request was the Patterson Small Scale Amendment (SSA) and Rezoning, consisting of a future land use change from Rural Residential to Commercial and a zoning district change from Rural Village to General Commercial on 28 acres located at the southeast corner of SR-20 and West Bay Loop Road (CR-83 West), west of Freeport.
Clay Adkinson, acting county attorney, explained that after the previous BCC hearing on the project it had been determined that based on a provision of the Walton County Land Development Code contained in a table, that the request should have been heard in legislative rather than as a quasi-judicial hearing as had taken place. He said that no final order had been entered on the previous denial for that reason.
The request was therefore presented on Nov. 22 in a legislative adoption hearing.
Attorney Gary Shipman introduced the property owner, Linda Sue Patterson and noted that the property had been in Patterson’s family for at least three generations.
Prospective developers for the property are Bristol Development, based in Nashville, Tenn.
Shipman recalled that at the first hearing the discussion had been “side tracked” on aspects of a future development order for the property. He noted that while affordable housing was envisioned on the property, the request being brought forward was only for a rezoning. Upon rezoning, Shipman explained, a development order would be sought for multi-family affordable housing, and traffic, stormwater, density, and other issues of that sort would be addressed at that time.
While not brought up at the Nov. 22 hearing, it had been indicated at the August hearing that future plans for the property included not only 23 acres of multi-family development but also five acres of commercial.
Shipman noted that the subject property abuts the large Hammock Bay development and that properties across the street are zoned General Commercial and Industrial. He maintained that the subject property, currently zoned Rural Residential, is no longer in a rural area today.
Also speaking for the applicants, Melissa Ward of Dunlap & Shipman brought up changes in the area since the time of Walton County’s adoption of its first future land use map placed in the Walton County Comprehensive Plan in 1996 and the designation of the subject property at that time as Rural Residential. While at that time the property and surrounding area was mostly undeveloped land, she observed, over the past 20 years Hammock Bay and other “beautiful projects” had changed the previously rural community to “a suburban community,” with single-family residential, multi-family and commercial.
“It’s ripe for change,” she said of the subject property.
Ward said the applicants want to do a project with 20 percent affordable housing, which is not possible under the current zoning. She discussed that with approval of the request a density of 17 units per acre would be allowable.
Asked if water and sewer was available to the property, Ward said that water is available and that there is the capacity to have sewer service with the developers paying impact fees. She also indicated that the developer would be willing to contribute to needed intersection improvements if the state Department of Transportation (DOT) determines that such improvements, including a traffic light, are warranted.
In response to questions, Shipman clarified that the developer would be willing to pay for the light and for turn lanes on West Bay Loop Road.
District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick moved for approval of the request, and his motion was seconded.
In public comment, several Hammock Bay residents and a Freeport resident in attendance spoke in opposition and/or voiced concerns about the rezoning request. Barbara Morano also spoke in opposition on behalf of the South Walton Community Council.
Speaking in favor were Hammock Bay resident Uriah Matthews and John Isaac Southerland, a Birmingham attorney and son-in-law of Linda Sue Patterson.
Citizens’ concerns expressed related to the request included potential traffic congestion and safety issues and incompatibility of high density development on the property with surrounding areas.
Morano raised procedural questions about the rehearing of the request just a few months after the previous denial. echoed the citizens’ concerns, and brought up over-capacity school facilities and limits on sewer capacity that would be needed to serve development on the property.
She urged against the rezoning, maintaining that without a zoning change the property there would be a number of options to develop the property, including single-family residential, neighborhood commercial, agricultural, or parks and passive recreational use.
Matthews urged for approval in the interest of “adding much-needed housing and business services to the area.”
Southerland maintained that the zoning change would be appropriate and “within the scheme of all the remainder of the property that surrounds it.” He questioned whether Patterson would be able to obtain the funds to develop the property with single-family homes as some had suggested. He pointed out that she would, however, be able to put a full-scale farming operation such as a large hog or chicken farm under the current zoning.
At the conclusion of public comment, District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell, who had voted for denial at the previous hearing, said he had done so because of “traffic,”—and that with the applicant agreeing to pay for intersection improvements, he no longer had an objection.
With the vote taken, the request was approved 3-2, with McCormick, Glidewell, and District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson voting in favor and County Commission Chairman Mike Barker and District 4 Commissioner Donna Johns voting no.