DUNE ALLEN BEACH — Walton County is willing to pay James Richard, the owner of 30A’s popular Stinky’s Fish Camp, $2.2 million for property adjacent to his business that it wants to turn into a parking lot Richard will be able to use.
When the restaurant was re-built after a fire, ownership reconstructed its parking lot and put in the minimum number of spaces it could while still meeting county permit requirements, according to Walton County Planning Director Matt Carpenter. These days the overflow spills out onto the county's right of way.
“The parking they have is adequate for a mediocre restaurant,” Carpenter told people at a recent workshop. “If they weren’t such a good restaurant, they’d have adequate parking.”
But Richard wants more than just the additional parking the county is willing to pay for. He has told county officials he won’t close the land purchase deal unless they agree to abandon a portion of Woodward Drive, a primarily residential road that runs across his property and connects the Serenity of Dune Allen neighborhood to County Road 30A.
Stinky’s neighbors say the deal doesn’t pass the smell test.
“Most people in this room seem willing to turn their head, hold their nose and say OK to the parking lot for Stinky’s as long as they don’t change the road,” one man said at the workshop held to discuss the so-called Dune Allen parking project.
If the county votes to accept Richard’s proposal, it will have to reconstruct Woodward Drive by building a “bridge road” north of the portion of road it will have agreed to abandon. The bridge road will run from Woodward west to Hilltop Drive, which connects to 30A.
Serenity of Dune Allen residents don’t like Richard’s idea because it removes their straight shot to and from 30A. Residents in the Beach Highlands community off of Hilltop Drive oppose the idea, too. They say rerouting Woodward Drive will undoubtedly increase traffic in their neighborhood.
“For the people on Woodward, instead of going straight to 30A, they’ll have to make a 90-degree turn onto an east-west road that dumps onto Hilltop Drive,” Beach Highlands resident Celeste Cobena said. “It’s going to be a total complete mess.”
Cobena wants a study to be conducted before closing a public road.
A May 15 workshop to discuss the Dune Allen parking project was the second hosted by Tourist Development Council Executive Director Jay Tusa.
Tusa said it is evident from comments at both workshops that “the big sticking point” for the community is the bridge road and not the county’s desire to create more parking along congested 30A.
He said when he goes before the County Commission June 10 he intends to present the parking proposal as a stand-alone item and separately address Richard’s demand that the county vacate the Woodward Drive easement.
“I would suspect for there to be a good healthy turnout at the BCC meeting to discuss this,” Tusa said. “I’m not sure at this point where this is going to go. We’ll have to see if the commissioners want more negotiation.”
Richard did not return phone calls to Stinky’s Fish Camp seeking comment. But Tusa said the restaurant owner genuinely believes closing off Woodward Drive's access to 30A is the best thing for not only his business but also the neighborhoods behind it.
Tusa said Richard has offered to renovate areas around Stinky’s Fish Camp and Stinky’s Bait Shack next door to better accommodate commercial traffic.
If the county finalizes the parking issue, plans call for construction of about 30 new parking spaces in a lot across Woodward Drive to the immediate west of Stinky’s Fish Camp.
Carpenter told residents at the May 15 workshop that the additional parking not only would benefit restaurant customers, but also visitors to the area.
The county intends to charge for parking at the new lot, Carpenter said.
“If we weren’t going to meter the parking lot, it sure looks like we’re providing parking for a private business,” he said. “That is not the county’s intention, I can tell you.”