As we approach the weekend, a time for relaxing, we note that there is a more pressing matter just around the corner. On Monday, April 20, 2015, beginning at 4:00 p.m. at the Emerald Coast Middle School the Walton County Board of County Commissioners will hold the continuation of the public hearing to approve or deny the development known as the Re-Design of Chateau 30A. You are likely more familiar with this development by it’s commercial name of Hampton Inn. The Commission has already heard testimony. The chair has said that they will hear the remaining public comment. The issues to be discussed at this meeting include compatibility; preservation; planning procedures concerning lot splits, platting, and development orders; and of course driveway cuts along 30A. These are only a few of the concerns being raised by residents, property owners, and visitors. You can attend this public hearing. You can have your say concerning this development. You have a right to be heard. Feel free to review information about this project by going to http://lovemy30a.com.
For the date, time, and location of the Walton County Commissioners meeting concerning the Hampton Inn proposal, please check out Walton County’s website here: http://tinyurl.com/l85wahp.
The project is called the Re-Design of Chateau 30A and is an application proposing to construct a Hampton Inn on 30A.
Please mark your calendars. This hearing is important. We appreciate your support.
The public hearing begins at 4:00 p.m. and is the county commission’s opportunity to hear the concerns of the community, the testimony of county planning staff, and the experts and witnesses for and against the proposal. The commission will vote to either approve, approve with conditions, or deny this project based upon the submission of competent evidence and testimony.
While people often refer to the use assigned to a piece of property as zoning, Walton County does not have zoning. The county uses land use categories. Those land use categories, found in Walton County’s Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code, describe where the land uses can be located, what is permitted in those land use categories, and the prescribed intensity / density for each category. Among the many land use categories in Walton County is Village Mixed Use (VMU).
As the name suggests, Village Mixed Use is a category that anticipates large “village” sized parcels of land with a mixture of uses developed to create a community or village effect within the area in which it is located. Some of you may be familiar with Gulf Place at Santa Rosa Beach, a very good example of VMU development where the commercial and residential uses are intermingled to create a lovely ‘community’ feel to the development.
Walton County currently allows VMU on parcels adjacent to Highway 331 and Highway 98. There are already existing parcels on C.R. 30A that have this designation, although the Walton County Comprehensive Plan does not allow new VMU designations on 30A.
It is important, however, to study how Walton County has developed over the last 20 years. Not all VMU designated parcels are large parcels. Not all parcels designated VMU have room for a mixture of uses. So, what is a developer / property owner to do with a parcel that has a land use designation requiring a mixture of uses?
For parcels that are less than three (3) acres, pre-dating the adoption of the land development code, the requirement for a mixture of uses is waived. In the event a property owns a parcel that has been less than three (3) acres since November of 1996, they can develop a singular use on their property with approval from the planning department. However, if the parcel is over three (3) acres or has been split (in any fashion) after November of 1996, the parcel is still required to include a mixture of uses in their development proposal. If the property owner does not want a mixture of uses or it is not feasible, a small scale amendment should be considered as an appropriate solution for the property. This would allow a more sensible and compatible land use designation for the site.
Development should be smart and fit into the needs of the community. Good development is profitable for the property owner and a pleasure to the surrounding residences and businesses. While that may sound idealistic, it is the intent of the Walton County Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code to encourage just that kind of smart development.
Walton County is going to have a workshop on the Village Mixed Use land use category language on January 29, 2015. The planning department staff have copies of the proposed language for public review. The current language does not differentiate between the types of development allowed on Highways 98 and 331 and those allowed on 30A. Now is the time for the community to get involved in the language that is being developed for these VMU parcels. Now is the time to understand what the neighboring property owners with VMU land use designation could potentially develop. The community that desires change should get involved in the writing of the language that brings about desired change.
Have ideas about what needs to be changed? Reply below and let us know your thoughts about the proposed VMU language.
There is clear concern the community along County Road 30A has with respect to the re-design of Chateau 30A. Below are some of the issues the community, the Planning Commission, the Board of County Commissioners, and the Walton County planning department staff should consider.
This lot was part of a development plan approved in 2004. The environmental assessments for that project showed that almost the entire parcel was sand pine scrub, a community that requires 50% preservation. Because of errors by county staff, the development was approved without the appropriate preservation.
This development, as part of that larger development, should be required to meet the county’s preservation requirements. That would mean preserving more than two acres of this threatened vegetative community. The county should not allow developers to split lots in order to avoid mixed use requirements or preservation requirements. To do so undermines the county’s code.
Even as submitted, the plan does not meet the preservation requirements of the code. The Land Development Code does not allow preservation buy-out on County Road 30A. This provision is intended to promote the scenic nature of 30A by maintaining the native vegetation on 30A. At a minimum, this project should preserve 1.25 acres of native vegetation.
Even if the code does allow preservation buy-out, it is at the discretion of the county commission. The commissioners should refuse to allow the developer to buy out the preservation for this lot, both to preserve the vegetation along the scenic corridor and to redeem the errors made on the prior project that was allowed to develop without any preservation.
In addition, the Walton County Land Development Code encourages preservation in the Coastal Dune Lake drainage basins. This property is less than a quarter of a mile from Eastern Lake and drains toward the lake. This is a further reason to require the full amount of preservation on the site.
Mixed Use Development/Compatibility
Per the Walton County Comprehensive Plan, a Village Mixed Use Center “is intended to provide opportunities for small scale mixed use development designed to serve a series of neighborhoods.” “This category is designed to allow a mixture of uses . . . which will assist in creating sustainable villages with commercial uses within walking or bicycling distance for residents.” “The commercial uses shall be in scale and character with the village concept.” “The VMU areas are mixed use centers which encourage and promote transitioning development from lower intensity along the perimeters to higher intensity core areas to ensure compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods.”
Village Mixed Use requires a mix of uses. A hotel with 660 square feet of retail is not a mix of uses. The other parcel on the property holds storage units and thus is also a commercial development. A group of commercial developments is not a mixed use community.
This Village Mixed Use area is surrounded by single family homes. A hotel is not compatible with the surrounding development; it is much higher intensity. There are no transitioning uses – the uses go directly from single family residential to high intensity commercial. Per the Comprehensive Plan, “The scale and uses at the edge shall be compatible with abutting neighborhood uses.” That is clearly not the case here.
The only other commercial development in the area is small, low-impact business that serves the neighborhood. This development is not low impact, does not serve the neighborhood, and will not integrate into the overall scheme of development in the area. It does not fit in with the concept of a Village Mixed Use development.
30A does not have the capacity to absorb this much additional traffic. Regardless of any proportionate fair share payment, there are no improvements that can be made on 30A to mitigate the impacts of this development.
The Tourist Development Council held a public meeting to share their parking study information. This study’s scope of concern was public parking areas, with a focus on Scenic Gulf Drive and County Road 30A. In attendance were county commissioners and county administration as well as members of the public. There were suggestions in the report of areas and ways that the County could increase public parking. If you are interested in seeing the report look to the county’s website at www.co.walton.fl.us. There were many areas along County Road 30A where the study recognized the need for public parking improvements to be made by Walton County. What are your thoughts? Did you go or review the presentation? How is the parking in your neighborhood and do you have ideas on how the County can help alleviate those issues (if any)?