Several subdivision requests dominate Planning Commission meeting [PREMIUM]

DESIGN OPTION for homes in the proposed Lakeshore Subdivision Conceptual PUD that was presented as part of the project compatibility report. The proposal was one of the agenda items coming before the Walton County Planning Commission on Nov. 10.


Three subdivision requests took up most of the Walton County Planning Commission’s Nov. 10 meeting.

The three-plus-hour meeting took place at Freeport Commons.

Lakeshore Subdivision Conceptual PUD

A six-lot subdivision proposed for Inlet Beach coming forward as the Lakeshore Subdivision Conceptual Planned Unit Development (PUD) generated a lot of discussion. The project is proposed by Sunset Beach Capital for 1.2 acres located one-tenth mile south of the U.S. 98/South Walton Lakeshore Drive  intersection in Inlet Beach, at the corner of South Lakeshore Drive and Walton Magnolia Lane. The request before the planning commissioners was for a conceptual PUD master plan for the project.

The property is in a Residential future land use area and a Neighborhood Infill zoning district. It is also subject to the Inlet Beach Neighborhood Plan.

Introducing the request, Kelly Schultz of Walton County Planning and Development Services noted that the applicant had agreed as part of the project to install public parking and a sidewalk in order to improve a parking area that had historically been used in the community. This would include a crosswalk providing direct access to the public beach access located just south of the project site.

Schultz explained that in order for those elements to be included plus some requested deviations, it had been necessary for the project to be proposed as a PUD.

Schultz indicated that the deviations proposed had been for setbacks and to allow for the detailed/technical plans for the project to undergo review as a minor development by the Walton County Technical Review Committee and not be required to go before the planning commission and Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).

Kristen Shell, county planning manager, explained further about the public parking and other improvements. She said the area at the front of the development property, a sand area, has been used historically for public parking, including a section where people park boat trailers. With this plus the public beach access to the south of the site, she said, the area gets “pretty congested.” 

Shell said the applicants had furnished a plan to install pavers and landscaping to provide parallel parking within the public parking area, with that parking area to be given to the county. “And so that is the public benefit,” she said.

Shell explained that multi-family units would be allowable on the site—but that instead only six units were being proposed, and those would be single-family units. She noted that the plans would put parking to the rear of the buildings so that it would not add to congestion in the area, plus avoid having numerous driveway accesses.

Speaking for the applicants, engineer Doug Patton confirmed that plans were for them to give the improved parking area at the front of the project site to the county and provide at their expense the other improvements that Shell had outlined. He said the homes would be $10+ million homes with five to six bedrooms.

As described in a PUD report submitted by the applicants, the requested setback deviations would reduce the front setback on the lots from 20 feet to eight feet, side setbacks from a required 7 1/2 feet to zero to four feet (varying), and rear setbacks from 15 feet to zero feet. Regarding the rear setback, the report states that a proposed 15-foot-wide road would separate the development from the Palms at Inlet Beach property to the east—and that none of the homes would be closer to that neighboring development than the usual 15-foot rear setback.

The report continues, “In addition to the roadway, there is parking in the rear measuring 20 feet in depth that provides a total of 35 feet between the homes within the Property boundary and the neighboring development to the east.”

“The side setbacks will provide, combined, 8 feet between the buildings. The 8-foot front setback is in addition to the parking and sidewalk provision along the western boundary of South Walton Lakeshore Drive,” the document also notes.

In response to a question, Patton said there were no plans for the homes to be short-term rentals. However, planning commissioners observed that a purchaser of the properties would not be prevented from using them as short-term rentals.

In public comment, Inlet Beach resident Rich Jaffe warned that with the development Inlet Beach residents would be facing the same problem that exists throughout the community, “people wanting to build monster houses.” Regardless of the intention of the applicants, he said, especially with the proximity of the property to the beach, the reality would be that the homes would turn into short-term rentals.

Jaffe spoke in opposition to the applicants being granted the setback deviations, which he said would give them a privilege/special treatment that other property owners do not have. While speaking in support of six units rather than nine, Jaffe said he would like to see the homes fit on the lots without the proposed setback deviations.

Inlet Beach resident Danny Hornsby charged that the parking proposed to be donated to the county would serve as parking for the lot owners in the development. “He needs that parking to do what he wants to do,” he said of the applicant.

Shell responded that the public parking to be given to the county would not be able to be used by the development. She added that the county had started a program of ticketing illegal parking and marking roads to get better control of the parking situation near beach accesses.

South Walton county resident Barbara Morano identified the request being proposed as a PUD as “the bigger problem here,”

“Now we’re looking at six homes and we’re saying that’s a planned unit development,” she objected, arguing that this was not a true PUD and that the PUD process was being used as “a loophole.”

Speaking in favor of the request, as public comment continued, was Mickey Whitaker, who praised the improvements to accompany the development plans and the “consideration” for the neighborhood with the modifications aimed at addressing congestion. “To me, this is a positive development,” he said, adding, “I think if the neighbors really looked at it, they would be convinced that…this is the best thing that could happen to this property.”

Speaking for the applicants, Melissa Ward of Dunlap & Shipman brought up the stormwater design for the property, planned to be put under the road at the rear of the houses. Ward also said there would be a French drain system between the houses. She described this stormwater management as “extensive” and “innovative.”

Planning Commissioner Fred Tricker commented that he did not believe the project qualified as a PUD, and that he did not see the innovative design or public benefit that would qualify it for that status—or warrant the requested deviations that were being sought through the PUD process. He did not think the deviations were justified “on the basis of building a bigger home.”

Planning Commission Chairman Lee Perry countered that he saw this as “a much better development that potentially could be done with somebody who goes in to maximize the density.”

On a motion by Planning Commissioner Michael Harbin, the board members voted to recommend approval of the request, with Tricker voting no.

Bristol Conceptual PUD

Also receiving a recommendation for approval was the Bristol Conceptual PUD. a proposed conceptual PUD for the 24-acre Christian International property on the north side of U.S. 98 east of Peach Creek. This PUD proposal is for 408 multi-family units (apartments and townhomes) and infrastructure with 20 percent income restricted (affordable) units.

        In July 2022, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had approved an amendment rezoning the property along with additional acreage south of U.S. 98 to General Commercial, setting the stage for elements of the PUD to come forward for consideration.

Introducing the request, Steven Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services noted that deviations previously proposed had been reduced to two. The first of those was reduction of rear and side setbacks from 20 and 15 feet, respectively, to zero feet only on the north and eastern sides of the property. He explained that, however, there would also be a 10-foot-wide landscape buffer between the zero setback line and the property line.

Schoen said the second requested deviation asked for “technical review only” (minor development review) of any applications associated with the development after conceptual approval.

In response to a question, Schoen said any encroachments into what would be the normal setback would be “generally accessory garages, and not primary structures on site.”

Speaking for the applicants, attorney Gary Shipman explained that the setback reductions were being requested on those sides of the property bordering an existing high berm composed of spoils from the dredging of the nearby Intracoastal Waterway. He also emphasized the benefit to the public of the affordable or moderate income housing component of the development.

Public comment included remarks from Barbara Morano, representing South Walton Community Council (SWCC). As she had done in connection with the previous request, Morano questioned that this development was being considered a PUD. While acknowledging the affordable housing component, she said of the development, “It’s a regular apartment complex with a standard pool and a few standard amenities.”

Morano also urged against future requests associated with the development undergoing minor rather than major development review. “You’ve got a lot of things to consider here,” she said.

Chairman Perry was complimentary of the request, saying, “I think it looks like a good project based on what they’re doing.”

Tricker said he did have a problem with the request to eliminate future major development review of the detailed PUD. He moved to recommend approval on the condition of these future reviews undergoing the major development process.

The motion carried with all aye votes.

Bishop Landing PUD Technical Review

The third subdivision proposal heard at the Nov. 10 meeting was Bishop Landing PUD Technical Review.

        On Sept. 22, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had approved conceptual plans for his 187-unit residential project proposed for 103.8 acres on the eastern side of Bishop Tolbert Road in Santa Rosa Beach.

        Planned for Bishop Landing are 84 single-family homes, 103 townhomes, and a community park and pavilion.

While this technical review was required to come before the planning commission, conceptual plans and detailed plans for the project had accompanied the previous application and approval. The applicants had not requested that review of future submissions for the development be limited to minor development review.

The conceptual PUD had been presented with no deviation requests. However, along with their approval the BCC had recommended and approved a deviation allowing for the removal of a commercial component that had been a requirement based on the land use category of a portion of the property. This had been proposed as a small wedding chapel.

Introducing the project, Kelly Schultz told the board members that what was before them was identical to what they had been presented with before with the exception of the wedding chapel having been removed from the plans.

Tricker recalled that a question had been raised about the ownership of Bishop Tolbert Road in connection with the development. There had been contention by residents of the road that it was a private rather than a public road, a factor that would have a bearing on the project plans, which show an access to the development site via Bishop Tolbert Road.

Steve Hall, acting county land use attorney, addressed the board members on the issue. He reported that the residents involved had filed a legal challenge in Walton County Circuit Court to the BCC approval of the development along with a quiet title action in connection with Bishop Tolbert Road. Hall explained that the legal challenges would not prevent the planning commission from hearing the request or prevent the applicants from moving forward with the development. However he said the applicants would do so at their own risk, with the possibility of the circuit court requiring the county to rehear the project in the future.

Teri Tolbert, a plaintiff in the legal challenges, spoke briefly, saying that she still contended there was no public right-of-way on Bishop Tolbert Road and that “we intend to prove that in court.”

Adam Brock of Brock Built Homes, project developer, told the board members that he owns half of Bishop Tolbert Road (to the center line) and stated, “there’s no question of access on that road.” He argued that neither of the legal filings would have any impact on the feasibility of the project as designed.

In response to a board member question, Brock said he had looked at two or three different scenarios for adjustments to the plans that could be undertaken depending on the outcome of the litigation, with the possible result of the loss of one lot, and he described the possible measures, among those a shifting over of the road or conversion of ingress/egress points on Bishop Tolbert Road to life safety accesses.

Planning Commissioner Robert Arnold recalled that at the planning commission’s last hearing on the project, the road ownership had been the main issue rather than the project. Perry agreed, but Tricker recalled that compatibility had also been an issue.

A motion to recommend approval carried, with Tricker voting no.

Other recommendations for approval

There were also recommendations for approval at the meeting for the following proposals: Day Large Scale Amendment (LSA), a request on behalf of  Philip Day for a future land use and zoning change from Large Scale Agriculture to General Agriculture on 236 acres located on the east and west sides of Long Road, approximately one mile from the Long Road/Richardson Road intersection, near Laurel Hill; EB Development Rezoning, a rezoning application on behalf of Emerald Bay Commercial 09, L.L.C., providing for the rezoning from Coastal Center to Coastal Center Mixed Use for 1.15 acres located four-tenths mile east of Emerald Bay Drive on the north side of U.S. 98 in Miramar Beach; Bayport Commercial SSA, a request on behalf of DJFO, L.L.C., for a future land use change from Rural Residential to Commercial and a zoning change from Rural Village to General Commercial on 6.3 acres located on CR-3280, approximately four-tenths mile west of U.S. 331, south of Freeport; Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn, a Walton County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) project with Walton County cooperation proposed for 253 acres on the west side of U.S. 331, south of I-10; and Forest View Village PUD Amendment #5, a request on behalf of MH Forest View, L.L.C., to reallocate commercial square footage within the 37.24-acre Forest View commercial PUD property, the location being the north side of U.S. 98, west of Serenoa Road and east of M.C. Davis Boulevard in southeastern Walton County.

Continued item, county approval process

Continued to the Dec. 8 planning commission meeting was one agenda item, the Fair Winds RV SSA with Rezoning.

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