New Walton County grocery store/apartment development on U.S. 98 gets OK

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

FREEPORT — Walton County planning commissioners have moved a proposal for a mixed-use development on U.S. Highway 98 in Santa Rosa Beach one step closer to a final vote by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.

At its Thursday meeting, the Walton County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that county commissioners approve a final development order for Saltaire, proposed for a 24.5-acre site on U.S. 98 at Moll Drive. The development, which will have driveway access to U.S. 98, will comprise 256 apartment units and 34,200 square feet of commercial space.

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Most of the commercial space — 15,000 square feet — will be a grocery store, according to information from 30A Lofts LLC, which is developing Saltaire. Also according to information from the developer, 88 of the planned apartments will be single-bedroom units, with the remaining apartments containing two or more bedrooms.

This map shows the planned location of the Saltaire mixed-use development on U.S. Highway 98 at Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach. The Walton County Planning Commission has recommended that the Walton County Board of County Commissioners approve a final development order for the project.

The proposed development, which was forwarded to the planning commission after previous favorable reviews by the county's Technical Review Committee and Design Review Board, was passed with little comment by the planning commission and no public comment.

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The developer is looking into whether traffic volume in the area might warrant installation of a traffic signal at U.S. 98 and Moll Drive, but a light is required in connection with current plans for the site.

One of the members of the ownership team for Saltaire did speak briefly with planning commissioners, touting the benefits of a mixed-use development where residents have access to groceries and other shopping without having to leave the property.

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"The perfect traffic-calming and human-calming device is nature, and when we first looked at this site, we saw we had a state park on the west, we had a county park on the south, and we had two churches on each side," the team member told the planners. "Everything was perfect for a lifestyle that really makes it work.”

Among the amenities on the site will be a walking trail from U.S. 98 to Helen McCall Park, which will cover 4.8 acres of the development, planning commissioners learned Thursday.

In other business at Thursday's meeting, Planning Director Mac Carpenter told commissioners that he met recently with local cattle farmer David Herring. Herring has been asking that the county consider adding an "agricultural overlay" to its planning and zoning maps to protect agricultural land from development.

Herring first brought the idea to county commissioners during their recent consideration of a request from Gulf Power to build a solar electric power generation facility on more than 850 acres in the northern part of the county.

This drawing, with U.S. Highway 98 at the top, shows the planned layout for Saltaire, a mixed-use development proposed for U.S. Highway 98 at Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach.

Commissioners rejected that proposal, and in a separate action asked Carpenter and the county planning staff to meet with Herring to talk about an agricultural overlay.

Carpenter told planning commissioners Thursday that he had spoken with Herring for a couple hours and had begun reviewing agricultural overlays applied in other counties across the state. The Planning Commission could hold a workshop on agricultural overlays as soon its March meeting, according to information from Tuesday's session.

Also in the near future, the Planning Commission will hear a presentation on anaerobic septic tanks. In anaerobic septic systems, bacteria that don't require oxygen to live consume solid waste before the wastewater moves into the surrounding ground to become sanitized as it percolates through the soil.

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Planning Commissioner Danny Cosson, describing himself as a "hardcore environmentalist," asked his colleagues to hold the informational session as a prelude to possibly recommending that the county require the use of anaerobic septic tanks in areas where sewerage infrastructure is lacking.

"We seem to be falling into a pattern of (having) the infrastructure constantly playing catch-up with development,” Cosson said. Anaerobic septic systems, he added, are “supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread as far as filtering things out before it gets into the ground.”