By DOTTY NIST
An proposed amendment to the Seascape Development of Regional Impact (DRI) has cleared Walton County Planning Commission with a 6-1 favorable vote.
This request by the 237+-acre Miramar Beach-area resort was the only agenda item to undergo review by the planning commissioners at their July 11 regular meeting at Freeport Commons.
The other two agenda items, Bishop Landing Planned Unit Development (PUD) and the Bess Place Abandonment, were continued to the planning commission’s September meeting, which the members voted to reschedule to 4 p.m. on Sept. 14.
Ken Metcalf of Stearns Weaver Miller outlined the proposed Seascape DRI Amendment on behalf of the resort. Per discussion, at the meeting, the DRI dates back to the 1970s. The proposed amendment would make a number of revisions to the master plan for the resort, one of which would be to annex approximately 2 1/2 acres of contiguous land acquired by the applicants along U.S. 98 at the northwest portion of the property.
Metcalf explained that the main change with the amendment would be to allow for an option for the applicants/developers to reduce the density and building height on two parcels that are currently approved for 24 stories/250 units (Parcel A) and 12 stories/200 units (Parcel B). These units have not been developed.
Metcalf said the option for Parcel A would be to develop it with 32 single-family dwelling units and move the balance of the previously-approved units to other locations along U.S. 98 as identified on the DRI master plan.
On Parcel B, Metcalf commented, the option would be to build any number of stories less than 12 and also relocate s
ome of the previously-approved units to locations identified with the amendment.
The proposal also involved the relocation of a previously-approved driveway cut to the west for access of the property to be annexed.
Metcalf also explained that the proposal would allow for residential units being relocated to be converted to commercial, using an equivalency conversion chart, and that height for any relocated units would be 50 feet or less.
He maintained that the options would provide for moving the property toward greater conformance with the Walton County Comprehensive Plan due to potential height reduction plus moving development density north away from the beachfront area and enhancing mixed use to provide greater walkability.
Metcalf noted that any expansion of development areas would be in conformance with county standards governing how much of such expansion could occur.
He summarized that there would be no density increase with the options and likely a reduction in density.
In discussion of potential reduction of open space associated with the proposed changes, it was clarified that there is no minimum open space requirement associated with the Seascape DRI, although a county maximum impervious surface standard would apply with any projects.
Metcalf also brought up future adjustments to the resort’s 18-hole golf course, which is planned to be converted from a par four course to a par three course.
Asked about community meetings in connection with the amendment, Metcalf said those had been held and that the proposal had been positively received.
Planning Commissioner Dan Cosson asked about the amount of green space reduction that would be associated with the options. The response was potentially 25 acres.
Representing some of the property owners in Seascape, Melissa Ward observed that the amendment would not result in a traffic increase, which she said was appreciated by the owners. She called the potential loss of 25 acres of open space “the downside” of the amendment, saying that stormwater issues were a concern and the homeowners were interested in how that would be handled.
Ward said it was her understanding that the amendment would not give the applicants final permits to “do anything,” but that minor development order approval would be required for them to move forward with any projects.
Kevin Smoker, an owner at Seascape since 1979, voiced concern about flooding that had occurred in the past at the resort. He was also concerned about changes being planned for the golf course, including the change to a par three course.
Planning Commission Chairman Lee Perry clarified that the change to par three was not something that was within the scope of the planning commission for a decision but instead what was before them was the amendment providing for density transfer between the parcels. He said the golf course changes were something the resort already had the right to do.
Jay Nettles of Seascape Resort spoke briefly about the plans for the golf course, explaining that there would be an upgrade with new tees, greens, cart paths and irrigation in conjunction with the change to a par three course. He thought the change to par three would be a benefit, since there had been complaints that it took so long to play 18 holes.
The planning commissioners voted to recommend approval of the amendment, with Cosson casting the one nay vote. The request is to proceed to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners for a final determination.
Detailed information on the amendment is available online as part of the planning commission meeting agenda at https://walton.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=1441or tinyurl.com/ye2y956s