County planning director critiques development in South Walton County
INLET BEACH — A 32-lot residential subdivision proposed for 4.11 acres on the north side of U.S. Highway 98 in Inlet Beach got a sharp critique from Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter at Wednesday's meeting of the county's Technical Review Committee (TRC).
And as things went, that critique gave way to broader comments from Carpenter about the state of residential development in the county.
Expressing concerns about both the number of lots proposed for the subdivision and issues with the tract's vegetation, Carpenter told Scott Rutherford of SCR & Associates, the Panama City-based engineering firm working with the project developer, VQ Development, that the county's job in terms of addressing development is "to make sure we’re screening out anything that is not of a good quality."
The TRC is the local panel charged with reviewing development plans before they go to the county's planning commission and ultimately to the county's board of commissioners for a final decision. After Carpenter's critique of the plan for Nautilus Pointe @ Inlet Beach, the TRC opted to have the engineering firm working for the project come back to the committee in two weeks.
In his comments on the proposal from VQ Development, which has offices in Panama City and apparent connections to Houston, Carpenter suggested that two lots be removed from the proposal.
“It just looks like we’ve got too many units on too small of a property,” Carpenter told Rutherford. “I think you have too many units here compared to what’s in the neighborhood."
Carpenter also noted Wednesday that giving responsibility for maintaining the required vegetative screening and the drainage swales needed to control stormwater runoff to a homeowners' association (HOA), as the current plans for Nautilus Pointe contemplate, becomes problematic as HOA membership changes and houses are sold to new owners. According to Carpenter, the county's code enforcement office is working through a half-dozen enforcement cases addressing those issues.
Additionally on Wednesday, Carpenter raised questions about whether the tract proposed for Nautilus Pointe included vegetation that might need to be preserved, despite a determination by the county's planning staff that it apparently does not contain such vegetation.
"Can we take another look at this?" Carpenter asked the planning staff. "It's my experience with Inlet Beach that there is stuff out there that needs to be preserved." And, Carpenter added, if there is some question about the tract's vegetation, "we need to fall on the side of the county."
Carpenter went as far as to suggest that the planning staff look beyond its ranks to have a third party look at the site's vegetation.
"We're running out of preservation sites ... and if this is a potential candidate, I want us to seriously consider it," he said, going on to note that any indication of a need for vegetative preservation "absolutely will impact the amount of development (that would be allowed in Nautilus Pointe), so this is something that we need to address before we move this project forward."
It was unclear Wednesday whether the homes proposed for Nautilus Pointe @ Inlet Beach could become vacation rental housing. According to Rutherford, VQ Development plans to sell the homes outright, but he added that "they may be available for vacation homes."
Carpenter also took time to make a larger point about the nature of the development pressures on the county, and the planning department's challenges with regard to that development.
"I'm just looking at what kind of product (in terms of residential development) we're producing in Walton County," Carpenter said.
A major problem, Carpenter said, is that “(w)e’ve got people moving to this county faster than they can come here and see what we have. They’re buying the stuff (homes and residential property) over the phone.”
"People want to move to Walton County," Carpenter continued, "and they want to move here faster than we can accommodate it right now.”
Within that dynamic, Carpenter said the county's planning apparatus "want(s) to make sure that the public is properly protected ... that the (residential development) products that we are producing are not going to be one of those things (about which people say), 'Dang, if I’d seen it before I bought it, I would have never bought it ... ."
Carpenter put some of the onus on the people purchasing residential property in Walton County sight unseen, saying, “Shame on somebody that buys something without seeing it. ... (M)ost people don’t buy a house without seeing it, but it happens here.”
Then, addressing Rutherford specifically with regard to the plan for Nautilus Pointe @ Inlet Beach, Carpenter said, "(We) certainly appreciate the interest in investing in Walton County, (but) let’s just get the best product we can.”