By DOTTY NIST
Walton County, FL – A list of properties along a wide range of the Walton County coastline has now been offered for purchase by the county for beach access and beachgoer parking. At the Sept. 27 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the Walton County Courthouse, Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Executive Director Jay Tusa presented preliminary information on 19 available parcels. Most are beachfront, with locations ranging from Miramar Beach to the Eastern Lake area.
Soon after coming on board with the TDC in April, Tusa had been tasked by the BCC with seeking available properties for purchase as beach access and beachgoer parking areas, the intent being for these to be purchased with TDC bed tax funds.
The recent property offers come in the wake of two successful property purchases by Walton County over the past couple of months, one a beachfront parcel at the Eastern Lake outfall area and one a nonbeachfront property on the east side of CR-283 South. The latter is known as the “Grayton Grand” parcel based on approval of a hotel there that was never constructed.
Walton County BCC Chair Sara Comander conveyed thanks to Tusa and to property owners who had been willing to work with the county to provide opportunities for public beachfront property “that will last the years.”
After examining the information provided by Tusa, the commissioners directed that staff proceed with “due diligence” review of the properties to examine land use classifications, their feasibility for purposes envisioned, location with regard to other public beach accesses, and other pertinent factors, with beachfront parcels to be prioritized over nonbeachfront ones.
Mark Davis, county attorney, enthusiastically agreed with the due diligence investigations in advance of any potential contracts being entered into on the properties. He agreed to have the information available to be presented to the BCC at its Nov. 22 regular meeting.
District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones anticipated that more offers to sell property for public use might come forward. Tusa suggested that he serve as the point of contact for offers of property available for county purchase.
At Tusa’s recommendation, the BCC opted not to proceed with obtaining some property under recent consideration for purchase for beachgoer parking and possibly other public use. The parcel is located adjacent to the Old Florida Village subdivision on the north side of CR-30A.
Tusa reported that discussions with the Office of the County Attorney had determined that the property would not be a “good fit” for the purpose due to covenants and restrictions applying to it.
Davis explained that those restricted the use of the property to commercial, although the term was not well defined in the covenants and restrictions.
At a number of points during the meeting, citizens brought up two locations where the TDC had recently proposed construction of beach accesses that had not proceeded. One of these was a potential neighborhood beach access at Headland Avenue in Seagrove across property TDC staff reported to have been dedicated to the public on the subdivision plat. The other, a potential regional beach access, had been proposed for construction on the county-owned Walton Dunes property on Beachfront Trail in the Eastern Lake area.
Construction of facilities at both locations had encountered opposition from neighbors, and the BCC votes had not been there to proceed.
Attendee Richard Butela thanked the BCC for their efforts to obtain new property for beach access and also encouraged them to move ahead with the Walton Dunes and Headland Avenue beach accesses. He reported that the Headland Avenue neighborhood beach access would be the only one between Sea Highlands and Seaside wide enough for a shower and bike rack.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows brought up private vegetation that had been installed on Headland Avenue across “the 30-foot access” to the beach where there is an existing path although no improved beach access. “It is heavily landscaped,” she said.
Meadows asked Walton County Public Works to take a look at the location to see what needed to be done to ensure that adjacent property owners did not “move in” on public property. Buddy Wright of public works agreed to look into the matter.
Attendee Alice Butela expressed thanks for these efforts and for those toward obtaining additional beachfront parcels for public use. She also took the opportunity to voice support for construction of beach accesses at Walton Dunes and Headland Avenue.
Seagrove resident Grace Marse echoed those sentiments and said in reference to the Walton Dunes property, “please bring this back for a vote.”
In other discussion, Jason Cutshaw, TDC direction of administration, reported success with the TDC-funded program through which free parking is provided for beachgoers at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park during the summer season. Participation in the program had increased from 614 vehicles for summer 2015, the first year of the program, to 822 vehicles for summer 2016, he reported.
Cutshaw also reported 123 vehicles having taken advantage of one-day free parking funded by the TDC at Grayton Beach State Park for this year’s Coastal Dune Lake Day event. He said expanding the parking program at Grayton Beach State Park was under discussion.
Comander expressed enthusiasm about these reports, calling such programs “a no-brainer” for Grayton Beach State Park and also for Deer Lake State Park.