Sandestin Investments garners approvals in eight-hour quasi-judicial hearing

Sandestin Investments, Inc. (SDI), owner of Sandestin Resort, is now considered in compliance with its development order as a Development of Regional Impact (DRI). This sets the stage for additional development within the resort for the first time since June 2014, when the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had made a finding of noncompliance.
The new compliance status was the result of a motion approved at the outset of an eight-hour March 13 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) quasi-judicial hearing at Emerald Coast Middle School. The hearing was attended by well over 100 people and featured testimony by SDI representatives and those of Walton County, along with residents, property owners and attorneys representing opponents of requests presented by SDI.
The initial motion by District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson, approved in a 3-2 vote, was to include common platted areas and also lake/wetland/drainage buffers located within the Sandestin DRI as part of the acreage calculated as open space. The approval resolved the major compliance issue with the DRI development order by putting the DRI over the open space requirement by more than 30 acres.
A number of requests were approved at the hearing, also mostly in 3-2 votes. These included a multi-part Notice of Proposed Change (NOPC) proposal, the approval of which paves the way for future proposals for development within the resort to undergo review, not by the more-stringent Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) requirements but by the standards of a master plan that was part of a 1984 agreement between Sandestin Corporation and the state Department of Community Affairs. That agreement had modified terms for the original Sandestin DRI and master plan approved in 1976.
The 1984 plan does not provide for the 50-foot height limit currently applying generally to new construction in Walton County, although there was an agreement to limit building height to 24 stories as part of the NOPC approved at the March 13 hearing. A 24-story beachfront condominium proposed as part of the NOPC application was withdrawn by SDI during the course of the hearing. The condominium, which would replace Finz restaurant, may be proposed at a later date, according to Dana Matthews, an attorney representing SDI.
Also approved at the hearing was a request listed as an E2 (minor) Change affecting the 6.2-acre Jolee Island, located to the south of the Sandestin Marina.
The property had been designated as Nature Preserve in 2004, a change from the previous Greenbelt/Recreation classification. SDI maintained that the 2004 change had been the result of a scrivener’s error. The approval provided for the property to be returned to the former classification.