Walton Development Review: Final plan for new 30A residential development earns approval

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners have approved a final plan for what was initially a controversial residential development proposal for 35 environmentally sensitive acres at Draper Lake on Walton County Road 30A.

The initial plan for Bluewater Landing from D.R. Horton Homes called for construction of 186 triplex units. That level of development galvanized community opposition, which led to a series of meetings between representatives of D.R. Horton Homes, Innerlight Engineering, the local engineering firm working with D.R. Horton Homes, and residents.

After some months of give-and-take and governmental reviews, those discussions led to a massively scaled-back development that now comprises just 31 single-family homes, with future plans for some commercial development.

'We were heard': Massive changes to Walton residential proposal earn praise

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"There's been a tremendous public involvement in this particular project," Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter told the Walton County Board of County Commissioners prior to the commission's approval of the final plat for Bluewater Landing earlier this month. "It's a great example of collaborative planning both by the applicant and by the neighborhood that this is situated in."

Carpenter noted that the Bluewater Landing project has paid more than $1 million to the county in recreational plat fees and "proportionate fair share" payments to cover the cost of new road capacity needs.

According to Carpenter, D.R. Horton has paid nearly $730,000 to cover its proportionate fair share costs and nearly $280,000 in recreational plat fees, which are paid when a development does not include a recreational component. The money allows the county to fund recreational opportunities elsewhere in the community.

Townhome, RV project votes delayed

In other recent planning and development news:

• On March 8, the county commissioners approved a final development order for a 102-room Tru by Hilton hotel on 2.15 acres on the south side of U.S. Highway 98 between Goldsby Road and West Hewett Road.

• The county's Technical Review Committee (TRC), a group of representatives of various county government departments chaired by Carpenter, voted March 16 to continue consideration of a proposed six-townhome development on a 0.64-acre tract at White Cottage Road on County Road 393 South between U.S. 98 and County Road 30A.

The TRC will reconsider the proposal at its April 20 meeting, when the developer will be expected to have answered a number of questions about the project, including providing the TRC with architectural plans for the townhomes and identifying where parking will be located, among a long list of other concerns.

Because the project is classified by the county as a "minor development," TRC approval is all that is required for it to move forward, although it still will have to meet requirements for issuance of construction and other required permits.

• The TRC also voted March 16 to delay action on a proposed 30-pad recreational vehicle park on 3.5 acres at Windswept Drive and State Road 20 east of U.S. Highway 331 near Freeport until its April 20 meeting.

The delay will allow the property owners time to host a community meeting to address neighborhood concern and also to address a long list of county concerns about the plan.

Among the county concerns is the Walton County Planning Department noting that the plans currently do not include any buffer between the proposed RV park and the adjoining Nokuse Plantation nature preserve.

"The first thing I see is we've got RV pads backed right up to the property line against Nokuse Plantation," Carpenter said at the TRC meeting. "That we can't approve."

Neighboring property owners also spoke up about a lack of a buffer between their homes and the proposed RV park. One of those neighbors, Barbara Lizotte, asked that a security fence be required as part of the park's development.

This 2020 photo shows the wooded acreage on Draper Lake at Walton County Road 30A where a final plan for a scaled-down version of a once-controversial residential proposal was approved recently by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.

"We have a potential to get 30 neighbors," Lizotte said. "I don't want to have an issue with (people) coming and going, interacting with our children."

Lizotte's husband, Mark, wondered how long people would be allowed to stay in the RV park, if plans are approved. While the state allows stays in an RV park of as long as 12 months, a county regulation enacted prior to the state law limits stays to six months. 

Previously:'Something is going to get built here': Developer, residents to meet on 30A townhomes proposal

Addressing Lizotte's concern that the RV park could become de facto housing for residents, Carpenter said, "It is not the intent of the county to create any kind of pocket of poverty that would create that type of circumstance. It's our intent to create exactly the opposite."

The proposed RV park is classified by the county as a "minor development," which routinely would mean that TRC approval is all that is required for the project to move forward.

However, pursuing the project will also require a land use and zoning change, which must be reviewed by the Walton County Planning Commission and requires a final vote by county commissioners before the project can proceed.