Planning Commission votes to recommend three small scale amendments

By DOTTY NIST

Three requests for small scale amendments with rezoning have cleared the Walton County Planning Commission with recommendations for approval.

The planning commission met on May 9 at Freeport Commons

Voelker SSA with Rezoning

The Voelker Small Scale Amendment (SSA) with Rezoning was the most-discussed agenda item. This is a future land use with rezoning application on behalf of Ronald and Michelle Voelker requesting to change the future land use from Estate Residential to Rural Residential, or a lesser category, and the zoning district from Estate Residential to Rural Village, or a lesser district, on four acres at 121 Dewey Drive, south of DeFuniak Springs and west of U.S. 331.

The property had come before the planning commission previously on Feb. 8 with the future land use category of Residential and the zoning district of Low Density Residential requested at that time. The planning commission had voted 5-2 to recommend approval.

The stated purpose of the proposed rezoning was the same as previously, that the applicants, who own a surveying company with many employees, desire to divide the property into half-acre lots and put homes on the lots that would be residences for the employees, with a total of eight dwelling units on the four acres.

Representing the applicants, attorney Gary Shipman said that after review it had been decided that a different zoning would be a better one for the property.

Also speaking for the applicants, certified planner Melissa Ward explained that the requested zoning, Rural Village allows two units per acre in rural areas that have either water or sewer available. She noted that, as stated at the previous hearing on the proposal, public water is 800 feet from the property, although sanitary sewer is not presently available.

A letter from Randall Holden, utility superintendent for the city of DeFuniak Springs, advised the following, regarding the property: “The City of DeFuniak Springs’ nearest water supply is an estimated 800 feet down the right of way and is not directly in front of the property, this would make water service unavailable unless negotiated with property owner for costs and installations and expansion. The city does not provide sewer service to this location of parcel #22-2n-19-18000-001-0010 DeFuniak Springs, FL 32433. This letter is only to state that water is an estimated 800 feet from the property and no sewage is available, this letter does not guarantee the specific capacity an entity will require for its service, and or services. The city protocol is on a first-come first serve basis for service. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.”

Ward said the property to the north of the site is already zoned Rural Residential. She predicted that the trend in the area of the property would be toward commercial and housing uses.

There was discussion on a Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) policy applying to the Rural Residential land use and the Rural Village Zoning District. The provision, Policy L-1.2.4, states: “This designation is intended to support a mix of uses while preventing the further subdivision into smaller lots that would further degrade water quality from septic tanks, increase densities in floodplains or change the character of existing residential areas. This designation shall also be assigned to areas of reasonably compact configurations that already support small clusters of rural development that are either served by central public water or sewer systems or where such systems are scheduled to be extended within five (5) years.”

At the previous hearing on the proposal, Planning Commissioner Fred Tricker had voted no because in his opinion the request did not comply with the CP with respect to water and sewer availability for proposals for future land use changes. With regard to Policy L-1.2.4, Tricker’s interpretation was that the proposal would not be compatible with the CP, partly since septic tanks would be used.

Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, disagreed, saying that the half-acre lots proposed would be suitable for septic systems, as would quarter-acre lots and larger. “But we wouldn’t want septic on lots smaller than that,” he said.

Carpenter also foresaw the entire area within which the property is located being served by DeFuniak Springs public sewer within the next five years, reporting that planning for this is underway.

Tricker asked if it was not true that currently there was no water and no sewer on the property.

Carpenter repeated that public water was available within 800 feet, adding that the applicants would pay to have public water extended to the site when it was developed.

Tricker said he did not see anything in the record that would obligate the applicants to connect with public water.

Carpenter replied that this would come at the development order stage and that the applicants would not be able to develop the property without connecting with public water.

Bobby Bennett, a neighbor of the property, voiced concern that it would be difficult to fit everything needed for the proposed residences on the property, including access roads for the homes.

David Nance, the closest resident to the property, complained that there was a residence currently being built on the property and that trash was being allowed to blow onto his yard from the site. He said he had made a complaint of this to Walton County Code Compliance. Nance also warned that the road where the property is located is dangerous and said he could not imagine more traffic coming down that road.

Shipman disagreed with Tricker’s opinion that the proposal would not comply with the CP based on Policy L-1.2.4. He asserted that even if Tricker could “figure out a way to say” that there was ambiguity on the matter, that the courts had ruled that “any ambiguity in a zoning regulation or ordinance must be construed in favor of the landowner.” He asked Tricker if he was biased against zoning changes.

Tricker replied, “I’m not biased against it as long as it meets the comprehensive plan and the land development code. I don’t believe it does. That’s not a bias. That’s a strict interpretation of the code.”

Asked about Carpenter’s opinion, Tricker said he did not think it unreasonable for two people to read the same text “and come up with two different conclusions.”

The planning commission voted to recommend approval of the rezoning in a 4-1 vote, with only five board members present and Tricker voting no. The vote was conditioned on any code compliance issues being cleared up prior to the proposal moving forward in the process.

BLS 331 SSA with Rezoning

Two other rezoning proposals on the agenda received votes to recommend approval after brief discussion and no member of the public coming forward to address the planning commission.

The first of those was BLS 331 SSA with Rezoning, a request on behalf of Jay Hicks to change the future land use from Rural Residential to Commercial, or a lesser category, and the zoning district from Rural Village to General Commercial, or a lesser district, on one-quarter acre on the west side of U.S. 331, approximately 0.09 mile north of the U.S. 331/Jolly Bay Road intersection. south of Freeport.

In response to a question, Carpenter said that what could be done with the parcel would be limited due to its size, unless it were assembled with adjoining parcels. He said he believed the parcel to the south was already zoned General Commercial. Carpenter added that the requested change would be consistent with the U.S. 331 Economic Development Corridor Plan that had been approved by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) a number of years ago.

Speaking for applicant Jay Hicks, engineer Curtis Smith told the planning commissioners that Hicks runs a landscaping business and plans to move onto the property some equipment and machinery from out of a residential area where it is currently located. He explained that the applicant is working with Walton County Code Compliance to do so. Smith said the goal would be to put a job trailer on the subject property and run the landscape business from there.

Smith explained that the proposed change would be consistent with the existing use of much of the surrounding area for landscaping services, other outdoor services, and commercial.

A motion to recommend approval of the rezoning carried with all aye votes.

Barrett SSA with Rezoning

The remaining agenda item taken up was also a rezoning request, the Barrett SSA with Rezoning.

This is a proposal on behalf of Earl Barrett to change the future land use from Residential to Industrial and Extractive Uses or lesser category, and the zoning district from Neighborhood Infill to Light Industrial or lesser district on approximately 1.08 acres on the south side of U.S. 331, approximately 1.09 miles east of CR-395 near Peach Creek.

According to the staff report for the request, the stated reason for the proposal is “to sell and [for] the buyer to develop warehouse space.”

Also per the staff report: “The effect of the proposed change will be to change the allowable uses on the subject property, to include light industrial uses, to decrease density from 2 – 8 units an acre to one dwelling unit on the site for security purposes and to increase the allowable Impervious Surface Ratio (ISR) of .60 under Neighborhood Infill to an ISR of .75 under Light Industrial.”

Planning staff had deemed the proposed amendment to be generally consistent with the CP, based on findings and other information in the staff report.

The request received a recommendation for approval with all aye votes.

Tabled and continued item, county approval process

One agenda item, the Chat Holley Text Amendments, was removed from the agenda due to planning department discussions with the applicants on an alternative way to potentially achieve the objectives of the amendments.

The North Gulf Small Scale Amendment (SSA) with Rezoning was tabled by advance request.

Another agenda item, the Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element Amendments, was continued to the June 13 planning commission meeting to allow time for some revisions.

Also continued by advance request to the June 13 planning commission meeting were Arcadia at Hwy. 20 and Emerald Bay Phase 3.

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