County board members approve three variances; one variance request fails

The Walton County Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) recently approved three variance requests, all involving reduction of setbacks. One setback reduction request, involving the rebuilding of a shed in poor repair, failed to garner board approval.
The actions took place at the ZBA’s Nov. 16 monthly meeting at the South Walton Annex.

Variance for sunroom: 
In October, applicants for the first request, Tom and Lauren Basillo, had purchased a Miramar Beach home in connection with which the previous owners had filed a variance application for a 2.4-foot reduction in the required 15-foot rear setback. This was for a sunroom on the back of the home.
Tom Basillo told the board members that he and Lauren had not found out about the variance request until the day before they closed on the home on Oct. 20.
The variance request had been scheduled to be heard at the Oct. 19 ZBA meeting, but that meeting had been cancelled due to lack of a quorum.
Bob Baronti of Walton County Planning told the board members that the previous owners of the home, Robert and Judith Bonzheim, had been made aware that they would need to obtain a variance for the sunroom before building it but that they had not obtained one. Only when their real estate agent told them there would be a problem in selling the home did they apply for the variance, he explained.
The board members discussed that it would be necessary for the Basillos to tear down the sunroom if the variance were not granted. On a motion by ZBA member Bill Fletcher, the variance was approved with all aye votes of the five board members present.

Variance for shed fails:
Dean Burgis of Emerald Coast Associates presented a variance request associated with plans to rebuild a shed on residential property on West Hewitt Road north of U.S. 98. Joshua Schilling was the applicant.
Burgis explained that the existing shed, built in 2008 at the same time as the home on the lot, is located five feet from the side property line. The shed, he continued, is in poor repair, and the property owner would like to rebuild it on the same foundation.
As presented in the staff report associated with the application, the request was for a variance from the current Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) Section 5.00.03 requirement for structures to be set back from the side property line by a minimum of 7.5 feet. The report also noted that the subject lot had been created before June 1975, when the applicable side yard setback was five feet.
According to the report, proof of unnecessary hardship, one of the criteria for granting variances, had not been provided by the applicant in the judgment of county staff. Letters of opposition to the variance had been also been received from neighbors.
Burgis maintained that no variance should be required due to the lot having been created prior to 1975. He also stated that the existing shed had been built as permitted by the county in 2008.
Hayward Dykes, Jr., ZBA attorney, advised the board members that they would only be able to make a determination in the case as to whether a variance would be granted or not, rather than whether or not a variance was needed. (The ZBA is also empowered to hear appeals of planning department decisions, but apparently there had been no such application filed associated with the request.)
Dykes also brought up the possibility of the applicant rebuilding the shed on the same foundation with the exception of the 2.5 feet encroaching into the setback and leaving that part of the foundation in place with no vertical construction.
Wayne Dyess, Walton County planning and development director, indicated that doing so would comply with the LDC and building code.
Burgis argued that there could be problems with the foundation if the shed had a “turn down slab” and the structure was rebuilt short of the existing 2.5 feet on the one side.
Board Chairman Joe Johnson observed that, since the lot is 2 1/2 acres, it would be possible to rebuild the shed at another location.
ZBA member Bill Fletcher moved to approve the variance, saying that the shed is an “eyesore” that it would be a good idea to improve.
ZBA member Tony Vallee commented that the shed slab might or might not be a turn down one. “I just don’t see a true hardship,” he said.
Vallee added that the idea with nonconforming structures is to bring them into code compliance when the times come to rebuild them.
A vote was taken on Fletcher’s motion. It was 3-2 for approval.
Dyes stated that the variance was considered to have failed due to less than four members having voted in favor.

Emerald Bay Phase 2A variance request: 
Presented by Cliff Knauer of Dewberry/Preble-Rish was a request for setback reductions for lots on 4.5 acres on Cobalt Lane in Emerald Bay Phase 2A in the Miramar Beach area. This was a subdivision approved in 2005 and already platted, with infrastructure completed, according to meeting testimony.
The request was for a reduction in side setbacks from 7.5 feet to five feet and for rear setbacks to remain at 15 feet as platted except for pool decks, which would be subject to five-foot setbacks. Knauer noted that the requested setbacks were in line with covenants and restrictions for the subdivision.
Renee Bradley of Walton County Planning recalled that when the subdivision had been approved in 2005 as a development of regional impact (DRI) but not as a planned unit development (PUD), the developer had not requested reductions from standard setbacks. She said staff had therefore applied the standard 7.5-foot side setbacks and 15-foot rear setbacks.
There was discussion that in former years developers had been allowed to build to setbacks provided for in subdivision covenants and restrictions—but that currently standard county code setbacks are considered to supersede subdivision covenant and restriction setbacks.
The developer, when ready to build, learned that he would no longer be allowed to build to the covenant and restrictions setbacks, Bradley explained. She said staff did not object to the variance request.
Knauer explained that, even with the approval of the variance request, the applicant would then be required to follow through with an amendment to the subdivision development order, a minor development order process, and replatting in connection with the setback reductions.
A motion for approval on the condition of the latter processes was carried with all aye votes.

Jasmine Dunes variance request: 
In other board action, a variance was approved to acknowledge a form of setbacks provided for the covenants and restrictions and architectural code established prior to 1996 for the Jasmine Dunes subdivision. The subdivision is located on Jasmine Circle, 0.70 mile east of the CR-395/CR-30A intersection.
Representatives for the subdivision stated that over 50 percent of the lots had currently been developed per the covenants, restrictions, and architectural code, which are laid out as a site plan with a building footprint for each lot. The building footprints are used in place of traditional setbacks.
The site plan is incorporated with the covenants, restrictions and architectural code and was provided as part of the information presented at the meeting.
The representatives explained that structures must be constructed within the building footprint but that a building footprint may be shifted within the lot. However, the latter must be with approval of architectural review board for the subdivision, they said.
The request was approved with all aye votes on the condition that approval was based on the site plan and other documents presented at the meeting, with the understanding that a change in any building footprint for a lot would require a separate variance request.
The other meeting agenda item, the Walton Apartment Appeal, was continued to the next ZBA meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec. 14 at the South Walton Annex.