'A size 10 foot in a size 9 shoe': Inlet Beach development proposal to eliminate 2 townhomes

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

FREEPORT — A residential development planned for U.S. Highway 98 at Inlet Beach will lose two of the 15 townhomes proposed for a 1.9-acre lot on the south side of the highway a short distance east of South Orange Street.

"Here's my first glance: There are too many units on this site," Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter told representatives of the Dad's Inlet project proposal at a recent meeting of the county's Technical Review Committee (TRC).

The TRC, chaired by Carpenter, is a group of representatives of various county government departments who review the technical aspects of project proposals — stormwater control, emergency vehicle access, wetlands incursion and other issues — as a first step in the county's consideration of those proposals.

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"That was my first reaction (upon seeing the plan) ... too many units, on too small a piece of land," Carpenter said. "This one is going to need some redesign."

One representative of the project, suggesting that the project could accommodate 15 units under county regulations, nonetheless agreed with Carpenter, saying, "It qualifies for it (15 units), but you are correct, we are putting a size 10 foot into a size 9 shoe."

An aerial photograph shows the 1.9-acre tract off U.S. Highway 98 in Inlet Beach where the proposed Dad's Inlet townhome development is planned.

The engineering firm for the project will resubmit a proposal for the tract with 13 units instead of 15 units, and the project will be back in front of the TRC at its June 15 meeting.

And because Dad's Inlet is considered a minor development under county land development regulations, the TRC will be the only review that the proposal will receive, although if the development does move forward, it still will have to comply with county regulations for issuance of building permits and other processes.

In addition to meeting requirements for distance from adjoining properties — a major reason for the need to trim the project from 15 townhomes to 13 townhomes — Dad's Inlet also will have to comply with the neighborhood plan for Inlet Beach, a set of regulations devised by community residents to govern development, Carpenter reminded the project representatives at the May 18 TRC meeting.

Other technical issues with the tract include the need for a 20-foot wide landscape buffer on its western and southern property lines, information on how the project will be lighted, and information on the width of the townhomes, according to county planning documents. 

Dad's Inlet is being developed by DRCAP-FL Capital Investments, a Panama City Beach-based corporation with a metropolitan Atlanta mailing address. The corporation owns both of the lots assembled for the 1.9 acre project.

In other action at its May 18 meeting, the TRC voted to continue its consideration of The Canopies — a proposed residential development comprising 30 single-family homes and 50 townhomes planned for 20 acres between J.D. Miller Road and Old Blue Mountain Road, a short distance south of Chat Holley Road north of U.S. 98 — until June 15.

Prior to that meeting, county planners will have a meeting with the development team to address a number of issues, including the adequacy of stormwater control at the site, whether there is enough parking, and access to and from Old Blue Mountain Road.

As a major development, The Canopies will move to the Walton County Planning Commission once it clears the TRC, and from the Planning Commission it will go to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners for a final decision on the issuance of a development order.

Also at last week's TRC meeting, the committee voted to move two proposals for apartment developments forward to the Planning Commission, pending the respective development teams successfully addressing comments in initial county reviews of the projects.

One of those projects, from Atlanta-based VCP Santa Rosa LLC, calls for the development of 260 multifamily residential units in seven buildings on 29 acres on the west side of U.S. Highway 331 a mile north of U.S. 98.

In order to qualify for that density, the developer has included a system of trails and benches that will be open to the public, and has also included additional buffering from surrounding tracts and enhanced stormwater control, according to information presented to the TRC. 

The second project set to head to the Planning Commission pending the developer successfully addressing some TRC concerns is the Encore at 331 project from Graycliff Capital Partners, a real estate investment firm with projects across the eastern United States, including The Tyde Apartments in Panama City.

The project, on nearly 23 acres on Ramsey Branch Road off U.S. Highway 331 south of Freeport, will comprise 258 apartments. Twenty percent of the units will be "income restricted" affordable housing under a conditional use approval previously granted to the project by the county's Zoning Board of Adjustments.

According to state calculations used to set affordable-housing rental rates, rents to qualified persons at Encore at 331 could range from $842 monthly to $2,021 monthly, depending on a qualifying residents' income.

"Our comprehensive plan and our local housing assistance plan both encourage expediting affordable housing applications, and this meets that requirement," Carpenter explained at the TRC meeting.