If there is support for the Draper Lake development, it didn’t show up in Freeport on Wednesday to stand with David Smith, the representative from Innerlight Engineering Corporation charged with defending the planned development before a room full of detractors.

BLUE MOUNTAIN BEACH — The people who live off Walton County’s Scenic Highway 30A hold dear the few undeveloped parcels of land in their community.


Particularly those that provide access to the shoreline of one of the county’s rare and fragile coastal dune lakes.


That’s why people like Jason Lansing, who resides in a quaint, older neighborhood on Triggerfish Street, were shocked to see a sign announcing possible future development on a wooded lot north of Draper Lake.


“This is kind of the last frontier for 30A,” Lansing said. “If you go east of here it’s developed all the way down to Lake Powell” on the Bay County border.


The sign, advertising a March 4 meeting before the county’s Technical Review Committee to consider the development, had been posted about 10 days ahead of the meeting date, said Heather Trempe who, like Lansing, is a resident of Blue Mountain Beach.


“We honestly thought this was protected,” Trempe said as she stood on a bike path in front of the property. “Nobody wants this.”


Nobody indeed.


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If there is support for the Draper Lake development, it didn’t show up in Freeport on Wednesday to stand with David Smith, the representative from Innerlight Engineering Corporation charged with defending the planned development before a room full of detractors.


Technical Review Committee Chairman Mac Carpenter told the packed house he had not received any correspondence in support of the project and one woman clicked off the names of 16 subdivisions she said had rallied to fight against it.


“The numbers you see here are just the tip of the iceberg of people who oppose this project,” Barbara Morano said. “You could fill the South Walton High School gym.”


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Consideration of the proposal was ultimately postponed until April 1. The Walton County Planning Department staff presented a three-page list of items the engineering firm must correct, amend or clarify before its initial submission will be considered for Technical Review Committee approval.


“We are nowhere near approval for this particular applicant,” said TRC Chairman Mac Carpenter.


Smith’s engineering group had been hired by developer D.R. Horton, which has asked the county to allow it to build what is known as a Planned Unit Development consisting of residential multi-family triplexes.


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That means rental units, anywhere between 152 and 363 of them, — Innerlight Engineering proposes 186 — along with a 6,000-square-foot commercial structure, a swimming pool and parking for 372 residential parking spaces.


“There will be upward of 1,000 tourists in there ... It’s going to be just packed,” real estate broker and project opponent Steve Monihan told committee members. “They’re trying to put 10 pounds in a 1-pound sack.”



The proposal put forward Wednesday sought to crowd all of the development into approximately the front third of the 36-acre parcel.


This, Smith explained, was done in consideration of Draper Lake, one of 15 coastal dune lakes unique in Florida to Walton County and rare across the globe. Draper Lake washes against the entire southern border of the property.


“Our goal is to preserve as much of this property as we can and cluster these units as far away from Draper Lake as we can,” he told those in attendance.


Smith’s assertion was not universally accepted as sincere.


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A lot of Walton County residents have grown savvy when it comes to zoning regulations, and were aware Innerlight Engineering had squeezed as much residential development as it could onto a portion of the land in what is known as a Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zone.


“They didn’t cluster up there because they had a choice,” said project opponent Alan Osborne.


Walton County has in recent years tightened its controls over development in the areas around its prized dune lakes


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Those rules state that no more than 40% of a lot can be “impervious permitted development.” That limits the amount of impenetrable material like asphalt and concrete used in construction.


Regulations also forbid the amount of vegetation that can be cleared within a Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zone to 50%.


Walton County ordinances for Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zones also restrict and regulate septic tanks, storm water management, erosion control, shoreline stabilization, hazardous waste, seawall construction and pollution.


They also require consideration for open spaces, outfalls and endangered species.


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While the danger to Draper Lake was a primary topic of discussion for the project opponents. Local residents lined up to also talk about the dangers of adding traffic to an already constricted two lane road.


“When you’ve got infrastructure that’s fixed and already constricted, adding 800-some more people to it creates a situation in which only bad things can happen,” said resident Matthew Kaufler.


Others stood to express worries that development would harm wildlife that shelters within the 36-acre tract. Trempe said she’d seen bald eagles and other protected birds, bear, deer, fox, coyotes and even skunks on the property.


Janet Foltz testified that blue lupine grows on the Draper Lake Parcel. It is a plant found in only a few places in Florida, and the one for which the Blue Mountain Beach community got its name.


Smith told the Technical Review Committee the development envisioned by his company would resemble Prominence North, another D.R. Horton property in Walton County.


That only gave those objecting to construction ammunition with which to tee off on D.R. Horton.


“As a design professional,” said architect David Bailey. “My assessment of the frontage of that development along 30A would best be described as regrettable.”


If the Draper Lake project wins approval from the Technical Review Committee, it will then be passed on to the Walton County Planning Commission for its assessment. The Board of County Commission would have the final say on whether the PUD is ultimately constructed.


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