Planning Commission recommends denial of two Lee Place rezonings

By DOTTY NIST

In split votes, the Walton County Planning Commission has voted to recommend denial of two rezonings proposed for Lee Place, north of CR-30A in Seagrove. In other action, the planning commissioners voted to recommend approval of a 45,800-square-foot warehouse/office development in the South Walton Commerce Park.

The decisions took place at the April 11 planning commission meeting at Freeport Commons.

135 Lee Place Rezoning

The first of the two proposed rezonings was the 135 Lee Place Rezoning.

This is a request on behalf of Sand Juan Dollars, L.L.C., to change the zoning district of 0.41 acre at 135 Lee Place from Residential Preservation to Neighborhood Infill or a lesser district.

Lee Place is east of Robert Ellis Street in Seagrove.

The property is in a Residential future land use area.

Introducing the proposal, Stephen Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services told the board members that staff had determined that the request would comply with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) and Land Development Code. (LDC).

In reply to a question, Schoen said the subject property abuts state forest lands to the north, adding that a 10-foot buffer would be required from the state property against that property line.

Representing the applicants, attorney Stephen Tatum said the applicants/owners were the same for the two rezonings although there was an L.L.C. for one of the requests.

He said the intent for both requests was to split the property down the middle and create two residential lots for each property in order for one house to be built on each lot.

Tatum displayed maps showing lots of a similar size to those that would be created, a quarter acre to two-tenths acre, at various locations along Lee Place. These had been half-acre lots that had been split over the years, he explained.

Tatum said the current zoning would not allow the lot split—but that it would be allowed under the requested zoning or any other residential zoning district.

With the 0.41-acre property split into two lots, he explained, the resulting lots would be two-tenths acre each, similar to the size of most lots in the vicinity.

Tatum said that once the lots were split his clients wanted to sell them to home builders or someone who would build their own home. What the applicants do not want, he said, is for a home with a 4,000-square-foot footprint to be built on the lots as is happening on the half-acre property next to that where the applicants reside on the south side of Lee Place.

Tatums said the applicants want to see the current development pattern continue in the neighborhood with nice homes being built.

Planning Commissioner Forrest Buzan asked if it were not true that the applicants would not have control over what would go on the lots after they were sold.

Tatum said this was not true, that for all intents and purposes once the two lots had been created only one dwelling unit would be possible on each lot with the requested zoning.

Planning Commissioner Dean Burgis had recused himself for the hearing on the request and spoke on behalf of the applicants. He explained why the request was considered as meeting traffic concurrency, noting that it would have a “de minimis” or not impactful effect on traffic with an increase of fewer than five traffic trips for the two lots. He added that the applicants had agreed to provide a land use restriction agreement limiting them to building one unit on each of the lots.

Planning Commissioner Fred Tricker questioned whether any increase in density at all should be allowed, since CR-30A is already over capacity for traffic.

Burgis countered that leaving the lot at its current size would make it more likely that someone acquiring it would build a “monster house” with 12 to 15 bedrooms that would generate more traffic than with approval of the rezoning.

He said splitting the lots for two homes would not result in half the size of the current developable area on each lot, but one-third due to the double setbacks that would be incurred.

In response to a question, Burgis pointed out that if the property were to remain in the Residential Preservation zoning, the owner could go apply for a building permit and build a large house without having to come before the planning commission for approval.

Walton County Planning and Development Services Director Mac Carpenter commented that, while a building permit review is done for every building permit, typically no compatibility analysis is done for single-family building permit applications. However, if the home is proposed to be a short term rental, he explained, some existing LDC language allows staff to require some limited compatibility measures.

Tatum provided letters from 16 property owners in the area who live along Lee Place who are in favor of the zoning change.

Half a dozen neighboring residents in attendance spoke in opposition to the requested change. Concerns were identified with traffic congestion and danger affecting both vehicles and pedestrians in the busy neighborhood, and there were fears that the increase in density would exacerbate those issues. It was pointed out that Lee Place is a dead-end road.

“I feel that the current zoning is in the best interest of Lee Place and its neighbors,” said architect John Gary, one of the Lee Place residents and homeowners. Gary was of the opinion that planners had been correct in putting the large lots up against the forest. He told the board members that allowing the lot splitting would be a detriment to health, safety, and welfare of the area rather than promoting those aspects.

Gary saw no way that someone could be prevented from developing the two lots that would be created “to the max” if this was what the owners wanted to do, as was already happening on some of the lots in the neighborhood.

Responding to some of the comments, Burgis was of the opinion that there would be a higher likelihood of permanent residents building homes on the lots with the lot split than short-term rentals being built there, which would “drive up” traffic more.

Addressing stormwater and flooding concerns, Burgis said the lots would be designed to meet 100-year storm standards, which would mean that stormwater discharge from the lots would not be able to exceed that of the pre-development (undeveloped) condition. if there were any discharge.

Applicant/property owner Stephen Baker also spoke. He pointed out that his family is living on Lee Place and said he did not want big houses or more traffic. Baker said he just wanted to split the lots as had been the precedent in the neighborhood. “I want it to be a beautiful neighborhood,” he said.

The Baker home is a Katrina cottage that he explained they are going to be expanding. However, Baker was clear that cottages of this nature were not planned for the lots proposed for splitting.

Tricker moved to deny the request, reasoning that from what the planning commission had heard from the neighbors there was a bad traffic situation that would be made worse with the rezoning, particularly if it were approved and other property owners in the neighborhood were inclined to apply to do the same. He was of the opinion that the rezoning would represent a detriment rather than a public benefit.

Planning Commissioner Kyla Jacobsen seconded, commenting in part that people understand what the zoning is on property when they purchase it.

Planning Commissioner Michael Harbin was familiar with the area and said that in the past he had bought a lot there and split it. He was of the opinion that the majority of the traffic was coming from Cassine property to the south. He thought that stopping short-term rentals would be a big improvement in the area.

Tricker’s motion was approved in a 3-2 vote after some additional board discussion, with Jacobsen and Buzan also voting for denial. Planning Commission Chairman Lee Perry and Harbin voted no.

This resulted in a recommendation to the BCC for denial of the rezoning.

Baker Rezoning

The Baker Rezoning, formerly known as the Sunday Rezoning, was a similar request on behalf of Baker and wife Michelle Baker.

This request would provide for a change from Residential Preservation to Low Density Residential four units per acre or lesser district on 0.51 acre on the north side of Lee Place, 0.06 mile east of the Robert Ellis Drive/Lee Place intersection.

Tatum indicated that a different zoning district was being requested due to the slightly larger size of the property and the fact that the requested zoning would provide two units per half acre.

He argued that there had been no competent substantial evidence presented by the opponents with the first request that the rezoning would negatively impact CR-30A. He also maintained that the existing zoning, Residential Preservation, is not a correct zoning district for these properties per the LDC since they are not platted lots.

Tatum also told the board members that rezoning would increase property values, which would help the neighborhood as a whole, and that there would be the benefit of an increase in the tax rolls.

The citizens in attendance reiterated their opposition to rezoning in this instance.

Amy McFarland, a Cassine Village resident and homeowners’ association board member, said she felt the burden should be on the person making the request to show that it is in the public’s best interest. She thought the residents had met the border of showing that the rezoning would have a negative impact for the public’s health and wellbeing.

Freeport resident Dave Hewins joined the Cassine and Lee Place area residents in speaking against this rezoning, advocating for “slower changes” with property and “continuity of value” for those who purchase property.

A motion by Harbin to approve the rezoning failed in a 2-3 vote.

A motion for denial by Tricker carried 3-2, resulting in a recommendation to the BCC for denial on the second rezoning, as well.

SWCP Lot 12

In other action at the April 11 meeting, the planning commissioners cast all aye votes to recommend approval of SWCP (South Walton Commerce Park) Lot 12, a proposal by Sustainable Growth, L.L.C., to develop 45,800 square feet of commercial warehouse/office space and infrastructure on 2.28 acres on the west side of Serenoa Road, north of U.S. 98, as part of the South Walton Commerce Park, which had been approved by development order in 2004.

Continued and removed agenda items, county approval process

Continued to the May 9 planning commission meeting by advance request were the following agenda items: North Gulf Small Scale Amendments (SSA) with Rezoning, Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element Amendments, the Barrett SSA with Rezoning, and Arcadia at Hwy. 20.

Another agenda item, the Map of Gaskin Block E ROW Abandonment, was removed since it had been discovered that the subject property had been abandoned in 1972, with the abandonment just not having been properly recorded.

Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are presented as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), which has responsibility for final determinations on these items in public session.