South Walton coalition toasts DR Horton decision to withdraw Draper Lake PUD request

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

BLUE MOUNTAIN BEACH — A community coalition formed to oppose the development of multi-family triplexes on County Road 30A close to fragile Draper Lake was celebrating Thursday its role in pushing project planners to withdraw the proposal.

"At a time when people seem to be so apart on many issues, we found that neighbors, businesses and environmentalists from across the community quickly joined forces to protect 30A and Draper Lake," coalition member Matthew Kaufler said in a news release sent out by the group.

Residents of Blue Mountain Beach are concerned about a large development proposed on this wooded lot north of Draper Lake on County Highway 30A in south Walton County.

DR Horton, the nation's largest homebuilder, officially ended its effort to construct a 138-unit residential development, known as the Draper Lake Planned Unit Development, when it asked this week that its application be stricken from the Walton County Planning Commission's Oct. 8 agenda. 

More:30A residents try to hold onto ‘last frontier’ in proposed South Walton development

"The applicant is changing their project completely," Planning Director Mac Carpenter said. "Once they submit their new plan, they will go back to the Technical Review Committee and we will start this (planning approval) process all over again."

The fight against the PUD began in March when residents who live close to a 36-acre tract, one of the last undeveloped parcels on congested 30A, noticed a sign announcing a public hearing to discuss development.

They showed up in force at a Technical Review Committee meeting to denounce the project. They argued that not only was the land a crucial habitat for wildlife that included bears, bald eagles, foxes, deer and skunks, but also that the development would threaten Draper Lake, one of very few coastal dune lakes on the planet.

More:Neighbors push back against Draper Lake proposed project in South Walton

"Everybody united, primarily homeowners up and down 30A, but also 16 Homeowners' Associations, business people and environmentalists," coalition spokesman John Harrison said. "Everybody was united in the fact that the project was not compatible with the neighborhood."

Along with rental units that could house an estimated 1,000 visitors, the now defunct plan also called for development of a 6,000-square-foot commercial structure, a swimming pool and parking for 372 vehicles.

The coalition raised issues of adding more traffic along 30A and of hazards the new development could create on that stretch of road. 

More:LETTER: A ’DUD of a PUD’ in Walton County

The group has also been vocal since the beginning in its criticism of DR Horton itself. The company has a "terrible record" when it comes to environmental stewardship, Harrison and other members of the coalition said. 

Coalition members also questioned DR Horton's requests for numerous variances to the county's land development code.

Michelle Bono, another coalition member, called the good vibe created by DR Horton withdrawing its original plan "a cautious hurrah." The company has already held a Zoom meeting with neighborhood leaders at which it floated the idea of a 77- or 78-home single family development on the parcel.

More:PHOTOS: Aerials of proposed Draper Lake development

"We like single family over triplexes, but the development footprint is still the same and the number of bedrooms didn't change much," said Harrison, who attended the Zoom meeting. "Our overriding message to them was that this is still not acceptable. It's slightly better, but we're far from being comfortable with it, and it if it's not substantially better than the first plan we're going to continue to oppose it."

David Smith of Innerlight Engineering Corporation, which represented DR Horton in front of the Technical Review Committee and an initial meeting with the Planning Committee, did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.