Planning Commission votes against abandonment, six other proposals pass [PREMIUM CONTENT]

LOCATION MAP for the O’Neil Transportation abandonment request.

By DOTTY NIST

With six out of seven proposals coming before the Walton County Planning Commission moving forward with favorable votes, the one item not getting a favorable recommendation, an abandonment, yielded the most discussion.

This was at the county board’s Dec. 14 regular meeting at the South Walton Annex.

O’Neil ROW Abandonment

Requested by O’Neil Transportation Services, the O’Neil Right-of-Way (ROW) Abandonment called for the abandonment of an unused portion of a right-of-way located along the southern boundary of the property of Haynes O’Neil, president of O’Neil Transportation Services. This is in connection with his lot on Walton Magnolia Lane in Inlet Beach, which contains a single-family home.

The proposal came forward with the following standard comment from the Walton County Public Works: “Walton County Public Works Engineering Department does not support the abandonment of public right of ways that could serve future needs for beach access, roadways, utilities and stormwater conveyance for the residents of Walton County.”

Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, noted that immediately to the east along the property boundary is a neighborhood beach access that had been part of a planned unit development (PUD) approved by the county (the Lupin Beach PUD). Carpenter said the beach access is maintained by the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC.) He added that the O’Neil lot is not beachfront, that private lots lie to the south of the property.

O’Neil had filed a lawsuit against Walton County and developer EBSCO challenging the county approval of the Lupin Beach PUD. However, Tom Tomasello, an attorney representing O’Neil, told the planning commissioners that there was no ongoing litigation at the current time between O’Neil and EBSCO. He also stated that any future disputes between the two parties would not involve the county.

The Lupin Beach development property is located to the south and west of O’Neil’s property, which is situated adjacent to the eastern county line, according to information provided at the hearing.

The right-of-way along the southern boundary of O’Neil’s lot, Tomasello indicated, had never been used or maintained by the county. He told the planning commissioners that they had the right to ask the county to relinquish the right-of-way in the interest of the public. Tomasello argued that EBSCO did not need to use the right-of-way for access for their adjacent property, as they had access across property that they had owned for over 25 years.

Dean Burgis, an engineer representing the applicant, explained that there was no request by O’Neil for the abandonment of the portion of the right-of-way being used for a beach access and boardwalk, just the part of the right-of-way along O’Neil’s southern property line.

Burgis explained that the EBSCO owns a group of lots configured in an L-shaped area and maintained that EBSCO has access through these lots without having to use the right-of-way on the O’Neil property. The intent of the right-of-way abandonment, he told the planning commissioners, was to remove the encumbrance rather than to build on the right-of-way.

Tomasello stated that each home in Lupin Beach has a beach boardwalk to use or share and that there is a boardwalk for use of properties that are not beachfront.

Planning Commissioner Danny Glidewell observed that as EBSCO’s currently-undeveloped easternmost lots develop, they would need a place for utilities to go. Tomasello countered that all of those lots would be able to be served by use of access that Lupin Beach would have to create on their own property.

Glidewell asked why the county would not wait until the EBSCO property had been platted before considering abandoning the right-of-way. He voiced concern that EBSCO could sue if the county approved the abandonment and could argue that the abandonment had been illegal.

Planning Commissioner John Roberts also expressed concern that taking the requested action could be an instance of the county stepping into a conflict between the two parties.

Tomasello repeated that the applicant was seeking the removal of this “shadow” on his property and did not want a road to be put in this section of his property. He and other representatives also argued that a road on the remaining narrow right-of-way area would not be practical and would serve no benefit to the public.

Representing EBSCO, Eddie Foster voiced opposition to the abandonment. He explained that the right-of-way is needed for access and utilities in connection with several parcels owned by EBSCO, as it provides east-west access to two of the parcels and north-south access to all three. Abandonment of the right-of-way at this time would result in these parcels becoming landlocked, he maintained.

Foster indicated that EBSCO would not object to the abandonment being considered by the county once the final plat had been recorded for Lupin Beach as a PUD approved by the county, at which time there would no longer be a need for access via the right-of-way in question.

Inlet Beach resident Bob Mitchell address the board members in support of the abandonment. He told the planning commissioners that EBSCO had previously gotten the corresponding portion of the right-of-way that had existed on their property abandoned—and that now they wanted to use the part still existing on O’Neil’s property.

“There is nothing wrong with abandoning this piece of isolated right-of-way,” Mitchell told the board members. “Why anybody should have to wait doesn’t make sense,” he added.

Glidewell noted that he had not heard any real reason for making the change requested at the present time. He observed that the county and public works policy was not to abandon right-of-way. Planning Commissioner Chairman Teddy Stewart stated his agreement with that assessment.

Glidewell’s motion to deny the abandonment carried with all aye votes.

The Shoppes @ Inlet

Garnering a favorable vote, but not without opposition, was The Shoppes @ Inlet, a 13,462-square-foot retail development proposed for a 1.48-acre site at the northeast corner of North Walton Lakeshore Drive and U.S. 98 in Inlet Beach. The applicant was F & F Enterprises, also the developer for Shades restaurant and the Crossings at Inlet Beach. The development is to house individual retail shops.

The site is the same one where a Dollar General store had been proposed a number of years ago but had been denied by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).

Neighborhood opposition to The Shoppes @ Inlet did not involve the retail development itself but instead potential impacts on traffic in the community, and particularly those in connection with plans for a second access to the property via North Walton Lakeshore Drive.

Robert Carroll, an engineer representing F & F Enterprises, told the planning commissioners that community members had requested that the applicant not provide a connection with North Walton Lakeshore Drive and that they ask the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for a median cut on U.S. 98 in front of the business. DOT had not agreed to the cut, Carroll said. He said that a right turn lane would be provided on U.S. 98 for the business.

Rich Jaffe, president of the Historic Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association, confirmed that ingress and egress and traffic impacts were the issues of concern for community residents. “As it stands now, this is not good for this neighborhood,” Jaffe said, while acknowledging that he did not know the answer. He did request a sidewalk along North Walton Lakeshore Drive in the area of the property, as one does not exist there now and pedestrians have to walk in the street.

Neighboring resident Bob Smith agreed with the concerns stated by Jaffe and said he could not imagine allowing the large delivery trucks that would be servicing the shops using North Walton Lakeshore Drive, a small residential street, without creating a problem.

Carroll said the applicant would be glad to put in the shops’ leases that no commercial traffic/semis would be allowed to use North Walton Lakeshore Drive but only the U.S. 98 access.

After some additional discussion, Glidewell moved for approval with that condition, along with several others brought forward by planning staff, and with a request to have the applicant work with Walton County Public Works to provide for a sidewalk along North Walton Lakeshore Drive.

The motion was approved with all aye votes, with the exception of Roberts, who abstained due to a business conflict.

Forest View Village PUD Amendment

Minor changes to the Forest View Planned Unit Development (PUD) requested by Forest View, L.L.C., received a favorable vote of recommendation. The county had approved the PUD in 2006, and it had previously been amended in 2015. The 43.24-acre development property is located on the north side of U.S. 98 in front of the new elementary school and Walton County sports park now under construction in southeastern Walton County.

The school and sports park properties had been included as part of the original PUD but were removed as part of the 2015 PUD amendment.

The amendment before the planning commissioners at the Dec. 14 meeting provided for apartment units to be reduced from 288 units to 283 units, for lodging units to be reduced from 127 units to 98 units, for the multi-family apartment zone to be moved slightly north, and for allocated trips for 18,000 square feet of office use, with no change in overall traffic trips. No change was proposed from the previously-approved 180,000 square feet of commercial for the development.

A motion for approval of the PUD amendment carried with all aye votes.

Palmetto Trace Townhomes

Some community members were present to hear about and comment on Palmetto Trace Townhomes. This was an eight-townhome development proposed for 1.16 acres on the west side of Don Bishop Road, north of U.S. 98 and south of Hackberry Way in Santa Rosa Beach.

Ed Stanford, an engineer representing applicant Palmetto Beach, L.L.C., explained that two-story homes are planned and that there had been an effort to site the buildings centrally in order to reduce impacts on adjacent residential properties. He said the plans included on-site stormwater features and three parking spaces per unit, one of those in a garage and the other two spaces in the driveway.

Belinda Martinez, a resident to the north of the subject property, said she would not like having two-story townhomes next to her residence, viewing them as harmful to her privacy. She urged for vegetation to be left in place between the subject property and hers.

Stanford pledged that as much vegetation would be left in place in that area as possible and that the buffer on that side would be “beefed up.” The buffer to the north would be 47.5 feet, he explained.

Steve Stewart, a resident of Winston Manor Townhomes to the west, voiced concern about stormwater, saying that flooding takes place after a small rain. He was also concerned about buffers.

Stanford responded that the plans include stormwater retention, mostly on the north and south. He also indicated that stormwater would be directed to the east through an existing natural watercourse. Stanford added that the buffer on the west side would be 48 feet off Stewart’s property line.

Neighboring resident Dawn Ratcliffe asked if the applicants would be allowed to clear “our easement.” Stanford responded that it would not be touched. Ratcliffe said she had received different information on the proposal in February. Stanford responded that the plans had changed since that time, with the townhomes being “turned sideways,” while the number of units had not changed.

A motion for approval by Glidewell carried with all aye votes.

Other approvals

Other approvals included the following: Draper Lake COW, a temporary 80-foot-tall cell tower on wheels to be located on a 2.51-acre site at 228 Seacroft Road in Santa Rosa Beach; Lot 28 – South Walton Commerce Park, consisting of two industrial buildings totaling 11,750 square feet on a 0.88-acre site on the east side of Serenoa Road in South Walton Commerce Park, north of U.S. 98 in southeastern Walton County; and the Coast Realty Office Relocation, providing for the development of 1,885 square feet of commercial/office space on a 0.96-acre site on the north side of U.S. 98, between Old Ferry Road and Apostle’s Way east of Peach Creek.

Planning commission decisions on development proposals and amendments are provided as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which is responsible for final determinations on these items in public session.