By DOTTY NIST
Requests for land use classification and zoning changes took up a large part of the Walton County Planning Commissioners 3+-hour meeting on July 14, with the board members also taking up storage unit projects, a commerce park plan, and other proposals.
The planning commission met on that date at Freeport Commons.
Finch SSA and Developer Agreement
The Finch Small Scale Amendment (SSA) was a request by John Finch to change the future land use and zoning of 15 acres located on U.S. 331, approximately one mile north of the U.S. 98/Rock Hill Road intersection The requested land use change was from Commercial and Estate Residential to Industrial and Extractive Uses, the zoning change from General Commercial and Estate Residential to Light Industrial.
Introducing the request, Walton County Planning Manager Kristen Shell provided information on the amendment with regard to compatibility and suitability plus a new element, allocation, which she indicated had not been discussed previously in connection with land use amendments.
Shell told the planning commissioners that they would see in the project staff report “an allocation study for how much General Commercial, Light Industrial, and Heavy Industrial and Extractive Uses we have currently available for development by planning area.”
“So one of the things we want to keep in mind when we’re looking at land use changes is how much of that land is available, and where is it located,” Shell continued.
She noted that in the planning area within which the amendment property is located, there are only 8.9 acres of vacant industrial property.
Shell discussed other aspects related to compatibility and suitability of a request such as whether adequate infrastructure, water and sewer are available and compatibility with regard to Eglin Air Force Base.
For the subject property, she observed, a change to Industrial would bring it into better compliance with the nearby air force base because the zoning would no longer lend itself to population densities that could interfere with Eglin’s mission.
Shell said staff had found the request to be generally consistent with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan, while noting that greater consistency could be achieved by the developer committing to have water and sewer installation on the property.
Shell also explained that the county’s U.S. 331 Economic Development Corridor Plan includes a policy promoting “targeted economic development” along the corridor. With relatively few industrial and commercial lands available for these purposes, the request would provide greater consistency with regard to that policy, she told the board members.
In response to a question, Shell said that on planning allocations at least a 30-percent mix of commercial properties to residential is desirable, or otherwise “you become residential heavy.” The latter situation can be problematic due to people having to live far from where they work, transportation impacts and economic impacts, she explained. “There’s a number of good solid reasons for promoting that mix,” Shell concluded.
Representing the applicant, Melissa Ward of Dunlap & Shipman was appreciative of Shell’s introduction and discussion. She noted that the applicant had been engaged in conversation with Eglin about the request.
She described the applicant’s intent for the property as warehousing and parking, fleet management and fleet maintenance, explaining that he has a business that includes a shuttle service (Sunshine Shuttle). Ward said there is no intent for shopping, restaurant use or entertainment, so the natural choice zoning was Light Industrial.
Also representing the applicants, engineer Michelle Baker spoke of her discussions with Freeport and DeFuniak Springs to arrange for water service. She said the property is in Freeport’s water franchise area but that Freeport has indicated that they would not be able to provide this service. She commented that DeFuniak Springs had expressed interest but that permission from Freeport would be needed due to the franchise area issue. “I don’t have a definite answer yet,” Baker said.
She said city sewer would not be possible but that this would not be a requirement for industrial use and that the septic tanks that would be used would be very low impact.
Responding to a question on jobs related to the project, Ward said Finch would be expanding his shuttle business and planned to increase the size of his fleet, which would mean additional employees. She said Finch had been looking for a suitable place in south Walton County for close to 10 years and was now proposing the subject property as his location.
A motion to recommend approval of the amendment was passed.
Also carrying was a recommendation to approve an accompanying developer agreement incorporating development restrictions applying to the property, including those requested by Eglin. Per legal counsel discussion, those restrictions may be brought forward in a different form to run with the land rather than as a developer agreement similar to those that the county had recently used previously.
Morgan SSA and Developer Agreement
In contrast with the previous requests, the Morgan SSA and Developer Agreement did not get as good a reception from the planning commissioners.
The request was to change 4.66 acres at 4646 State Hwy. 20 West near Freeport from an Estate Residential to an Industrial and Extractive Uses future land use and from a Estate Residential to a Light Industrial zoning district.
Introducing the request, Renee Bradley of Walton County Planning and Development Services told the board members that water service is available to the property but not sewer. The property is surrounded by residential, she continued, so buffering would be required at the development order stage for compatibility.
Asked about the proposed use of the property, Bradley responded that this would be a boat storage yard.
Asked about previous violations on the property as a junkyard, Bradley said the property was no longer in violation and that the code enforcement case had been closed for some time. She clarified that there had been some salvage storage on the property associated with a storm event and that the items had been removed.
Speaking for applicant/property owner Ben Morgan, engineer Rudy Mall confirmed that the items had been removed within the required time frame and that no fines had been imposed. He emphasized that the applicant was not proposing using the property as a salvage yard.
Instead, Mall said, the applicant intends to develop a watercraft storage facility on the property. He explained that after two community meetings the conceptual plan for the facility had been revised to resolve neighborhood concerns such as noise, glare, aesthetics, wetland impacts, road blocking impacts and hours of operation. However he said the majority of the concerns could not be addressed until the development order stage. Mall said the applicant would agree to increase buffers on the property where needed to enhance compatibility.
Steve Hall, attorney for the planning department, credited the engineer for doing his job and the applicant for his willingness to work with the community. However, Hall pointed out that what was relevant for the planning commissioners to consider with the proposed amendment were the factors pointed out by staff, such as suitability, infrastructure support, environmental issues related to the site, and allocation of the type of uses proposed.
Mall described other commercial uses within a one-mile radius of the property and argued that the watercraft storage facility would be compatible with surrounding diverse uses, also arguing that the property is on a major arterial roadway.
Bradley clarified that a salvage yard would not be allowed under the proposed zoning.
Public comment by a number of residential neighbors of the property included a common concern about the amendment “opening up” the use of the property to Light Industrial uses that would not be desirable for the neighborhood.
A motion to recommend denial of the amendment carried with all aye votes but one, resulting in a recommendation of denial. This vote negated the accompanying developer agreement, and the board moved on to the next agenda item.
Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn Conceptual PUD
Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn Conceptual Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a major development order application on behalf of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) for a 253-acre commerce park located approximately three miles south of I-10 on Progress Street off U.S. 331.
A large-scale amendment providing for the current land use classification and zoning district of the property, Industrial and Extractive Uses and Heavy Industrial, had been approved in August 2020. The county had previously issued development orders for projects on a couple of lots within the industrial park, Stephen Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services noted.
Among the conditions of the proposed conceptual PUD were maintenance and management of buffer areas, covenants and restrictions applying to the remaining lots within the property, and a statement from Eglin Air Force Base before development order issuance that air force base concerns had been met.
A number of deviations were requested with the PUD, among those use of the minor development process for future development sites on the property in order to expedite review and blanket parking standards of 1.5 spaces per 1,000 feet of gross floor area unless a specific permitted use is requested. No residential uses were part of the PUD.
In response to comments from neighboring property owners, Schoen stated that at least a 25-foot buffer would be required for any industrial use bordering a residential use—and that a 30-foot buffer had been approved for the truss manufacturing company under construction. He pledged to work with the developers of that site to ensure that any part of that buffer that had been cleared would be replanted.
He also agreed to look into any breakdown that might be occurring with neighbors receiving any required notifications in connection with use of the industrial park property.
The conceptual PUD received a vote to recommend approval.
Storage expansion and combination storage project to move forward
Also receiving favorable votes were two projects involving storage. The first was the Fayard Self Storage Expansion, providing for the construction of 79,772 square feet of mini storage with 24 covered RV storage spaces, a 1,400 square foot manager’s residence and associated infrastructure on 3.47 acres at 5061 U.S. 98 West.
Sean Humphrey, an engineer representing the applicants, Beach Properties of Destin, L.L.C., told the board members that this would be an expansion of the existing mini storage south of Don Bishop Road and would be located on the old Hicks Nursery property. He stated that the project would meet 100-year storm design standards.
The other project, which proposed to combine storage with other uses, was Move It Storage Santa Rosa Beach. The project would consist of 92,037 square feet of mini storage, 7,000 square feet of fast-food restaurant, and 4,000 square feet of medical office and associated infrastructure in two phases on 7.90 acres on the north side of U.S. 98 West, east of the Publix Shopping Center and west of Veterans Road in Santa Rosa Beach.
Representing the applicants, Move It Storage, Humphrey commented that phase one would be the storage warehouse with 586 units/92,037 square feet. He said the details of phase two had not been finalized but that a master plan was being presented for what would be possible on that portion of the property. Humphrey said that phase two could possibly be sold off and that the buyers could decide to propose something different.
The Move It Storage request also received a vote to recommend approval.
Watercolor PUD Amendment for Beach ADA Access
WaterColor PUD Amendment for Beach ADA Access was a request on behalf of the Watercolor Community Association to amend the Watercolor Development of Regional Impact (DRI) in order to construct an additional ADA emergency access dune walkover on 2.55 acres on Goldenrod Circle, directly across from South Watercolor Boulevard.
The addition of the beach access would bring the number of beach accesses to three for the community.
Representing the applicants, Melissa Ward indicated that the purpose of the additional access was to ensure that emergency personnel would be able to get onto the beach more quickly when needed.
The proposed access received a favorable vote.
Two large apartment projects, U.S. 331 Apartments and Encore at 331, received favorable votes, as well, at the meeting. These projects are covered in a separate Herald/Breeze article.
Continued item, county approval process
Continued to the Aug. 11 planning commission meeting was one agenda item, the Bishop Landing PUD.
Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendation to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), which has responsibility for final determinations on these items in public session.