By DOTTY NIST
Of 54 properties available for county purchase for beach access and parking, officials have narrowed down to six potential purchases moving forward.
This was the outcome of the Dec. 13 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) special meeting at the South Walton Annex, at which Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Executive Director Jay Tusa presented his recommendations to the BCC.
Tusa had been tasked with bringing forward for consideration properties available for purchase with TDC funds for public parking and use by beachgoers.
A surprising number of property owners had offered parcels for purchase to the county, with the value of available properties totaling $115 million.
Tusa said the six purchases recommended would total roughly $20 million.
Among properties eliminated from consideration were possible offsite beachgoer parking parcels located adjacent to Gulf Place, in Blue Mountain Beach, and on CR-395, along with bayfront parcels. Tusa said this was due to BCC direction to prioritize beachfront over nonbeachfront property and due to covenants and restrictions that might pose problems with intended uses. He did not recommend a Little Redfish Lake parcel, nor one of two offered on San Roy Road due to ingress/egress issues, nor one close to the Santa Clara Beach Access due to a desire to “space out” beach access. Also not recommended were parcels offered on Fort Panic Road due to an abundance of beach access opportunities already in place in that area, including recently-acquired property near Stinky’s Fish Camp restaurant.
Parcels previously offered to the county in the Seacrest area were withdrawn due to a change of mind by the property owner, who wanted to build on them.
Properties recommended for purchase were mostly beachfront, with the first of those located in Miramar Beach about 1.35 miles east of the existing Miramar Beach Regional Access. Tusa commented that 20 to 30 90-degree parking spaces would be possible plus 15 parallel parking spaces.
Also recommended was property at the Oyster Lake outfall, where both upland and beachfront parcels were available.
Tusa recommended keeping the Highland House Bed and Breakfast property near Gulf Place under consideration, where a restroom and approximately 15 parking spaces would be possible to provide relief for Ed Walline Regional Beach Access, one of the counties busiest beach accesses. He called for a title search on the property and evaluation to ensure that property ownership was such that people would be able to get to the beach from the bed and breakfast property.
Also recommended were three parcels of beachfront property across from Cafe 30-A, located about half a mile from the Santa Clara Beach Access, where Tusa said 36 to 40 parking spaces would be possible. He did not recommend Hinton Drive property associated with this offering.
Recommended as well was some Eastern Lake property about four-tenths mile from the Santa Clara Beach Access that Tusa noted would be suitable for about 12 parking spaces and a dune walkover and restroom.
The final recommended purchase was adjacent to the 2.5-acre county-owned beachfront property in the Walton Dunes area, off the east side of Beachfront Trail. Tusa noted that it could potentially help with parking in connection with a possible decision to construct a beach access on that property, with about 15-20 parking spaces possible.
There was discussion that $6 million in TDC funds was currently available toward these purchases. Tusa also said that conversations with legal counsel and a Walton County Finance had indicated that a total of $18 million to $20 million could be made available for the property purchases from bed tax funds.
Tusa suggested as the next step moving forward with title searches on the recommended properties. This was agreed to, with resulting information to be brought before the BCC at its Jan. 10 regular meeting.
By DOTTY NIST