By DOTTY NIST
An RV park proposed for Moll Drive dominated the July 8 Walton County Planning Commission meeting, getting a favorable vote after a hearing of almost two hours, in spite of community opposition.
The meeting was held at Freeport Commons.
South Walton RV Resort
Known as South Walton RV Resort, the proposal is for a gated 66-pad RV resort on 9.93 acres on the east side of Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach, south of U.S. 98 in Santa Rosa beach. The facility would also have a clubhouse and pool.
The RV resort proposal is dependent on final approval of a small-scale amendment that is also being requested by the applicants, SRB Land, L.L.C. The amendment would change the future land use classification of the subject property from Residential to Mixed Use and would change the zoning district of the property from Neighborhood Infill to Coastal Center Mixed Use.
According to Kristen Shell, county planning manager, an RV park would not be an allowable use on the property with the existing future land use and zoning district.
The small-scale amendment had come before the planning commission on May 13 and had received a 4-2 favorable vote. It has yet to go before the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).
Speaking on behalf of the applicants at the July 8 planning commission meeting, engineer Dean Burgis described the RV resort project, noting that nearly 60 percent of the site would be reserved for open space and that the height of the tallest building on site, the maintenance building, would be 23.1 feet. He explained that electrical hook-ups and water and sewer connections would be available to each RV pad and that there would be no pump-out facility.
Addressing another concern, Burgis said there would be no generators running and that the RVs would not be allowed to move during their stay at the resort.
He explained that as a result of a community meeting the applicants had increased the buffer between the proposed resort and the residential neighborhood to the east, Edgewood Terrace, to 25 feet wide with plantings.
Asked about St. Rita’s Catholic Church to the north, Burgis said plans are for only the pool and clubhouse to back up to the church, adding that those would border the church’s day care facility. He explained that the applicants would fence around the whole property with a six-foot vinyl fence except for a wetland area. Burgis said there would be a fence between the RV resort property and the church day care facility, along with a hedge.
He discussed stormwater management, which is to feature two large detention ponds and is to meet 100-year storm criteria.
In addition to Edgewood Terrace and the church, Burgis detailed neighboring properties, including the Helen McCall Park ball fields to the south, a farmer’s market under construction to the southeast, a light industrial park to the northeast, and, immediately to the west, the planned Saltaire PUD, a large mixed use development.
Burgis said a total of 153 parking spaces would be provided for the RV resort, which he thought would be plenty for a 66-space RV park.
Pike Hall IV, owner of the proposed RV resort property, also addressed the planning commissioners, representing himself and his father, who he said is his real estate partner. “We’ll be the manager and owner and developer of South Walton RV Resort,” Hall said.
Hall detailed his memberships, including the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds and the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Hall said he had attended the campgrounds school of the latter association, which is focused on management of RV parks.
Hall also listed development experience of the partnership, among those multi-family developments such as the Courtyards of Santa Rosa Beach and Fairway Villas.
He described criteria for RVs that would be accepted at the RV resort, including that all would have to be at least 24 feet long and 10 years old or newer, unless approved with special permission by him. Quiet hours, he said, would be 10 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., and check-in times 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, with no late check-ins or check-outs allowed.
Hall said there would be a three-day minimum stay and a one-month maximum stay, the latter to accommodate snowbirds.
Project consultant Randy Gardner also addressed the board members. He emphasized the RV resort’s amenities, including the clubhouse, which is to be just under 5,000 square feet, an entertainment room, a gym, a kitchen/meeting room, dining area, two laundry rooms, the pool, and a hot tub. He pointed out that RVs in the category of those allowed would be in the $100,000 price range.
Speaking in opposition was South Walton Community Council (SWCC) Board Member Barbara Morano. Morano said she is also a member of St. Rita’s.
Morano spoke of the features of Moll Drive that were positive for a residential neighborhood, including the park, the upcoming Saltaire development, the farmer’s market, shopping and the day care center. “This could be a residential neighborhood, as opposed to an RV park,” she said of the property. “I believe the elements that I just said are perfect for a stable residential neighborhood,” Morano emphasized.
She charged that the property could be developed as Neighborhood Infill but that it was being proposed to be an RV park just “to increase their profitability.”
Morano also wondered how long Hall would serve as onsite manager. “This RV park could be sold in a day, in a year, or five years,” she said.
Morano questioned whether RVs would bring cars for getting around to go to the beach or to restaurants, warning that many of the guests would not and would probably rent low-speed vehicles to get to the beach. “So now we’re going to be dealing with low-speed vehicles, and low-speed vehicles are not allowed on 98,” she charged.
“In my opinion, it will look like a Walmart parking lot,” Morano also said of the proposal.
Michael Henry, president of the homeowners’ association for Edgewood Terrace and an adjoining property owner, told the board members that the association’s main concern was the land use change. He also observed that, although a lot of thought and care had gone into the design of the project, there would be no obligation for a future owner to adhere to many of the plans that had been described. Henry brought up runoff and flooding concerns, as well, due to the hard surfaces that would be on the site, along with traffic, noise and lighting concerns in connection with the proposed RV resort.
Stewart Danos spoke as a representative of St. Rita’s Parish. He began by clarifying that what had been referred to as a day care facility was in fact a church preschool. “We handle kids from infancy all the way up to four years,” he said, adding that the church’s expectation is to add a full and fully-accredited elementary school up to fifth grade.
Danos said that, while he had no issue with RV parks in general, he would be concerned about “the transient community that an RV park brings, regardless of whether the property gets sold to a future owner or not,” particularly with young preschool children engaged in outdoor activities in the area. He added that the rezoning would be a bigger concern because an owner could decide to change the property to a different use in the future.
Identifying himself as senior director of state relations in program advocacy for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, Jeff Sims raised objection to RV owners being characterized as members of the transient community. “That’s not who we are,” he said.
This is a high-end facility,” he said of the proposed RV resort, adding that the majority of motor coaches do tow vehicles.
“These are a very good complementary asset to the community,” Sims said of RV parks, adding that the average expenditure per day per person at these parks is approximately $176, coming not only from rental fees but purchase of fuel, groceries, meals, and entertainment in the community.
“In my opinion,” Sims said, “Mr. Hall has put in place nearly everything that I can think of that should alleviate people’s fears.”
Describing himself as “very pro-RV,” Planning Commissioner Dan Cosson credited the applicants with presenting a “stellar facility.” Crime, he continued, would not be an issue because RVers are not that kind of people. “It’s family oriented,” he said.
However, Cosson said that he places Walton County citizens “first and foremost” when making decisions as a planning commissioner. He explained that he believed it to be important to listen to citizens, particularly when a citizen comes in representing 500 or more residents as was the case with Morano, not to mention the church representative.
“I’m going to stand behind the citizens of Walton County,” he said.
Planning Commission Chairman Lee Perry commented that, for him, it all boiled down to the compatibility issue. He said he was not sure what would be compatible due to so many different uses in the area.
“I do not believe that a single-family residential subdivision would be compatible at all in there,” he said. He noted that 80 townhomes could go in on the property with the current zoning and questioned whether that would be more or less compatible
Perry said the project that had been presented seemed as good as anything he had seen presented and that he did not have a problem with it.
Responding to Cosson’s comments, Perry noted that the applicant is also a citizen entitled to his rights.
Planning Commission Tom Babcock voiced confidence that the RV park would be operated correctly, saying that it appeared that the owners would be respectful to the church, as they should be. He moved for approval.
The motion carried with all board members’ votes in favor with the exception of Cosson’s nay vote.
Both the RV resort development proposal and the associated land use change amendment are scheduled to be presented to the BCC on July 22. A final decision on both may take place at that time.
Other recommendations for approval
Other agenda items receiving favorable votes for recommendation of approval were the following: Dearing Small Scale Amendment (SSA) with Rezoning; Eden’s Landing SSA; Prominence – Development of Regional Impact (DRI) Amendment #2 (Grace Point); Prominence – Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment #2 (Grace Point); Watersound PUD Amendment; and Watersound Origins Phase 7.
More information on the the July 8 planning commission meeting is available online at https://tinyurl.com/2mkz6bfs
Continued items, county approval process
Continued agenda items included the following, all continued to the Aug. 12 planning commission regular meeting: Walton County Civic Large Scale Amendment (LSA) and Zoning Change; Workforce Housing Methodology; the Girl Scout RV Park Developer Agreement; and Bay Grove Motor Lodge & Food Court.
Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which is responsible for final determinations on these items in public session.