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.