Variance OKed to allow for new fire station sign, appeal approved to allow house on parcel


Liberty Fire District will be getting an upgraded sign, and a home will be allowed on a Seagrove beachfront parcel due to recent decisions of the Walton County Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA).
The county board met on Sept. 22 at the South Walton Annex
Electronic sign for Liberty Fire District:
Chief Tony Roy and Gary Hamilton of the Liberty Fire District appeared before the ZBA members at the meeting to ask for a variance to allow for an upgrade to an electronic sign in front of the fire district station at 3278 U.S. 90 West.
Roy explained that the station had been built a number of years ago with stimulus grant funds that had provided for construction of 134 fire stations nationwide. At the time, there had not been sufficient funds for a nice fire station sign, he said.
Roy noted that the volunteer fire district has now received additional grant funds to assist with recruiting, training, and equipping volunteer firefighters.
“It’s primary purpose is recruitment of new firefighters,” he said of the proposed sign.
Roy said other uses of the sign would include providing information on training meetings, county commission meetings, public safety messages, time and temperature, and weather alerts when necessary. This type of sign displays digital messages that can be changed out quickly and easily.
The sign would be professionally installed and would be placed above the existing sign at the station, he continued. In response to a question, he said the sign size would be equivalent to a 4 x 8-foot piece of plywood.
Tim Brown, Walton County senior planner, explained that the location of the sign does not require a variance, even though the sign is proposed within the 100-foot right-of-way protection zone for the highway. As a nonpermanent structure, it would be allowable within the zone, he said.
However, Brown said the proposed sign was classified as electronic message center—and that this type of sign is not provided for in the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC). This was the reason for requirement for the fire district to apply for a variance.
Electronic billboards, considered a different type of sign from electronic message centers, are included in the code, Brown noted.
There was discussion that signs similar to the one proposed do exist in various places in the county but that they have not been approved by the county, and that some may represent code violations.
“The code really hasn’t caught up with the digital era that we’re in now,” Brown said.
After some discussion, ZBA member Tony Vallee moved for approval of the variance based on the unique circumstances involved. He commented that the sign is needed in order to provide the public with important alerts and information—and that the ability to change sign messages quickly is needed as would be possible with the electronic sign.
His motion was approved with all aye votes.
Lennard lot of record appeal:
The other case heard by the board members was more complex, with Atlanta residents and Walton County property owners Houston and Celeste Lennard contesting a determination by Wayne Dyess, county planning and development services director.
Rendered on Aug. 8, the determination was that a parcel owned by Celeste Lennard was not a lot of record due to a lack of evidence of the planning department granting an official lot split when the previous owner of the parent parcel split the lot by deed.
Tallahassee attorney Linda Shelley represented the Lennards at the hearing.
The properties in question are in an unrecorded subdivision that has not been accepted by the county.
The Lennards testified that they had they had purchased a non-beachfront lot in 1998, building a house there—and that Celeste had purchased in her name the adjacent beachfront lot in 2001 with proceeds from some other property that she had sold since the couple bought the first property.
No home has yet been built on the southern lot, the Lennards told the board members.
Shelley noted that the Lennards had been paying taxes on the two lots separately for a long time, 18 years for the northern lot and 15 years for the beachfront lot.
She maintained that Walton County had treated the lots as two lots until recently, when a potential buyer for the beachfront lot had tried to pull a permit to build a home.
Houston Lennard testified that when they had closed on the northern property in 1998, they learned that that property had been split from a parent parcel that had also encompassed the beachfront portion.
He said he had hired highly-recommended real estate professionals and had believed that a lot split had been officially recorded. However, he said he had recently searched for the lot split and had been unable to find it in the county records.
Walton County Comprehensive Plan (CP) Policy L-1.5.7 states, “Single lots of record which were established before November 7, 1996, are entitled to have constructed thereon at least one (1) single-family dwelling unit.”
Nov. 7, 1996 is the effective date for the CP.
The CP defines a lot of record as: “an individual parcel of property created on or before November 7, 1996, owned, under contract for deed…or documented by a subdivision plat, deed, agreement, map, survey or other drawing in the official public records of Walton County.”
In his letter of determination, Dyess had stated, “We can find no evidence the lot split occurred prior to November 7, 1996…thus it is not a lot of record.”
“I am of the opinion that there is not substantial evidence that the lot in question was the subject of a legal lot split and therefore has no density rights,” he concluded, referring to the southern lot.
Kerry Parsons, an attorney representing county staff, emphasized that Dyess had found that there was only one lot, not two.
ZBA Chair Joe Johnson asked if it would be possible to do a lot split now.
Parsons responded that it would require a land use change, since lot splits are not allowed within Residential Preservation land use areas, as the property is classified.
Shelley argued that two lots could be documented in Walton County records by a 1994 Notice of Commencement for two single-family homes on the property in question, one of the documents that was presented as evidence.
She asked the board members, out of fairness, to recognize that there are two lots and that a home is allowed to be built on each.
Mac Carpenter, county planning manager, told the board members that covenants and restrictions for the unrecorded subdivision may have allowed two homes on the one lot but that those covenants and restrictions have since been extinguished.
ZBA member Bill Fletcher moved to grant the Lennards’ appeal, and his motion was seconded.
Vallee commented on documents submitted by the Lennards as evidence, including the Notice of Commencement and a site plan provided to the Walton County Building Department showing lines for separate lots. Documents (such as those documenting lot splits) do get lost, and the Lennards have been paying taxes on the two lots over time, showing an acknowledgement of two lots, he added.
Fletcher’s motion in favor of the appeal carried with all aye votes.
The other case on the agenda, the Sanctuary at Frangista Beach Appeal, was not heard due to the application for the appeal having been withdrawn.