Proposals for large apartment projects in south Walton County in Freeport, a Sugar Drive subdivision, and a Goldsby Road townhome project have all been moved forward from the Walton County Planning Commission with recommendations for approval.
The decisions took place at the Aug. 10 planning commission meeting at Freeport Commons.
Sugar Dunes Estates Conceptual PUD
The Sugar Dunes Estates Conceptual Planned Unit Development (PUD) was the agenda item that generated the most discussion.
This is a conceptual PUD master plan and PUD overlay district consisting of 75 single-family lots and infrastructure on 22.41 acres on the east side and at the south end/dead end of Sugar Drive, west of Thompson Road in Santa Rosa Beach.
Sugar Drive, L.L.C., are the applicants, and the property is in Residential and Mixed Use future land use areas and Small Neighborhood and Neighborhood zoning districts.
Introducing the project, Stephen Schoen of Walton County Planning and Development Services highlighted a variance being requested with the application, that of being relieved from a requirement for commercial use on the site. Schoen said staff was of the opinion that this is not a location for commercial, due to the property being surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
He also commented that a tributary analysis had been furnished by the applicants, since the physical location of a dune lake tributary located off the site had initially been thought to encumber the property. However, according to the project staff report, the analysis had demonstrated that the development does not impact the tributary, therefore associated buffer requirements are not deemed to apply.
Schoen also noted that the applicants had provided dedication of right-of-way area to the public through the development property.
Speaking for the applicants, engineer Scott Jenkins noted that Sugar Drive dead ends into Peace Pond, which is located just behind the elementary school (Van R. Butler Elementary). Jenkins also said that, in response to public sentiment, there is no proposal for a connection to the south through an existing easement, although there are no plans to close the easement.
According to the project staff report, the applicants plan to impact 50 percent of the Sand Pine Scrub area on the site and are proposing to buy out 18.6 percent (0.665 acre) of the portion of the Sand Pine Scrub Preservation area that is available for buy-out. In addition, 1.12 acres are to remain in preservation.
Jenkins said the relief from the commercial requirement was the only variance being requested for the development. He explained that this variance request was the reason the project was being proposed as a PUD.
Jenkins explained that the plans included increasing the size of a borrow pit already on the site and turn that into a wet detention system to retain all stormwater from the site.
Jenkins said the road dedication across the site was something that Walton County Public Works had requested and that his understanding was that they were interested in connectivity from the site through to Thompson Road in the future. He noted that for the public this had been a concern, with some people in favor and some opposing.
Jenkins said there were no plans to impact any wetlands on the site.
In public comment concerns were voiced about the dune lake tributary and about flooding the area during rain events. Residents asked for a closer look at the tributary issue and suggested another study on the tributary.
Hilltop Drive resident Celeste Cobena said she had watched the “hydrological mess” that was created when the nearby Hidden Highlands development came in and isolated wetlands were filled in. She said she witnessed water being pumped from that development property onto the school property. Cobena told the board members that the proposed development would “just add to” the existing flooding issues in the area.
She also warned of traffic problems, with Sugar Drive residents already complaining that they cannot get in and out from their road. Cobena urged for denial of the project and going “back to the drawing board with this whole stormwater problem.”
In response to a public comment question, Jenkins said the applicants would not be building a road in the right-of-way dedication area but that it would be available should the county decide to extend the existing public roadway.
After some additional discussion, Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, assured the citizens that the planning department is concerned about the same things they are and that the department is not planning on allowing anything to aggravate flooding conditions or negatively impact Peace Pond or a dune lake tributary. He pledged that the issues brought up by the citizens would be “duly addressed” at the detailed plan stage should the proposal receive conceptual approval.
The planning commissioners approved a motion to recommend approval with the condition that before the plans go from the conceptual to the detailed stage, that an updated map be provided showing the latest version of coastal dune lake protection zone.
Peach Creek Mixed Use Development Conceptual PUD
Also presented at the Aug. 10 meeting was a large apartment/commercial PUD, Peach Creek Mixed Use Development Conceptual PUD. This is a proposal by Peach Creek Apartment Developer, L.L.C., for a conceptual PUD consisting of 510 multi-family units, and 138,000 square feet of commercial and health care facilities on 66.2 acres on the north side of U.S. 98, approximately 1.2 miles east of CR-395.
The property is in Residential and Mixed Use future land use areas and Village Mixed Use, Small Neighborhood, and Mixed Use zoning districts.
Introducing the project, Stephen Schoen pointed out that the applicants were applying the Institute of Traffic Engineers parking generation standards as allowed in the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC) and that proposed parking would fall between those lower numbers and those for code standards used for most projects. No deviations were proposed, Schoen noted, and staff had found that the proposal substantially complied with the LDC.
Attorney Dana Matthews made a lengthy presentation, noting that the applicants had negotiated a contract with the Barrett family, longtime owners of the property, for purchase of the 66.2 acres.
He highlighted that 6 1/2 acres on the eastern shore of Peach Creek on the property were planned to be set up as a conservation easement and public park. Another proposal was to create a multi-use path on the property for children to use to get to Emerald Coast Middle School to the west without having to get on U.S. 98.
Also to be included with the development was an independent living component for individuals 55 and older, Matthews detailed, for “aging in place.” In addition two buildings were proposed for assisted living and memory care.
“So the idea,” he said, “is to build a sense of community as you age, and…family members can be close to their parents and grandkids, etc.”
One of the conditions of approval, Matthews also noted, would be to complete a a traffic signal warrant analysis in an effort to get a traffic signal at the connection at U.S. 98 for the project. He also pledged that turn lane analysis studies would be furnished in the detailed phase of the project.
Also speaking for the applicants was Tina Ekblad, planning director for Stearns Weaver and Miller. She provided a revised copy of the project master plan displaying a 50-foot water body setback that had recently been added.
Ekblad spoke about the interconnectivity that would be provided with the development by use of multi-use paths extending from the entry at U.S. 98 to the north and south linking the multi-family and assisted living units—and also east and west via a Florida Power and Light easement, providing connectivity with the Peach Creek community and through the project site to the school site. She said project representatives were working with the school district on the latter.
Ekblad also spoke about plans for a non-motorized docking facility on Peach Creek that would allow people to paddleboard and kayak on the creek. She said plans were to provide some public parking “along our internal spine road” for use of members of the general public.
Asked why the project was being proposed as a PUD, Ekblad replied that this was in order to provide for the project configuration in view of the multiple land use categories and zoning districts for the property.
“For example,” she said, “our northern boundary is in Residential Preservation. We’ve obviously taken some of the commercial available within the Village Mixed Use and shifted it for the purposes of that senior housing. Memory care is considered a commercial use. So we would not be able to achieve that without the conceptual PUD.”
Attendee Margaret Landry asked about wetland impacts and how those would affect density. She also suggested that the applicants go through the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permitting process with the wetlands before applying for the PUD.
Ekblad responded that the property “can handle” 563 residential units but that just 510 were being requested, with the gap between those the “direct result of the wetland impacts.” She said applying for a DEP permit would be the next step but that it would be necessary to “lock in” a site plan in order to do the engineering work needed to secure that permit.
Matthews was in agreement on the latter, saying that there are about 27.65 acres of wetlands on the property and that 1.2 acres of wetlands scattered throughout the property would potentially be impacted.
“There’s a lot of permitting that has to take place between now and before you see any dirt being moved out there,” he told the board members.
Due to the project not meeting traffic concurrency requirements, a proportionate fair share payment amount of $1.2+ million is to be required, according to the project staff report. Matthews anticipated that some of that amount would be offset by improvements that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) would likely ask the applicants to make on completion of the traffic signal warrant analysis and turn lane analysis.
The planning commissioners voted to recommend approval of the conceptual PUD.
EMF Freeport
EMF Freeport is a request on behalf of Encore Multi-Family, L.L.C., for 300 multi-family units on 82.19 acres at the southwest corner of the U.S. 331/CR-3280 intersection, south of Freeport. Of the units, 20 percent are being proposed as income restricted (affordable) units.
The property had previously been proposed for a conceptual planned unit development (PUD) but the current proposal is for a development order application.
The property consists of Commercial and Rural Residential land use area portions and is in General Commercial and Rural Village zoning districts.
Planning Commissioner Kyla Jacobsen asked about several requests for conditions of use by Walton County Public Works and the planning department. Stephen Schoen, who introduced the project, replied that those conditions had been added to the project.
Speaking for the applicants were attorney Robert Kauffman and Melissa Ward, certified planner.
Kauffman’s remarks included that there are 4.23 acres on the north side of the property that were not part of the request for the evening. He said this property would be “broken into two parcels” for future development.
“The area that is proposed for development,” he said, “is exclusively within the General Commercial zone, so this is a use as of right.”
Kauffman explained that, while 515 units would be allowable per code, 300 units were being proposed. He said the project is well designed and aimed at meeting “housing needs that we’re all aware of in Walton County.”
Ward noted that 6.77 acres on the north side of the property would be designated for commercial uses such as retail stores. The part designated for residential, she explained is 23.55 acres, with 29.19 acres to be left as an open space conservation easement. She said the development area would consist of 30.32 acres.
After additional presentation and board discussion, Planning Commissioner Dean Burgis complimented the applicants on their site planning and staying out of the wetlands. He moved to recommend approval, and his motion carried.
Hidden Pines Townhomes
Also receiving a planning commission vote to recommend approval was Hidden Pines Townhomes. This is a proposal by Luke Williams for 42 townhomes and infrastructure on 5.79 acres on the west side of Goldsby Road, north of U.S. 98, north of Commercial Parkway and south of Rivercrest Circle in Santa Rosa Beach.
The property is in a Residential future land use area and a Neighborhood Infill zoning district. The site is currently vacant and partially wooded.
Introducing the project, Tim Brown of Walton County Planning and Development services explained that access was proposed from Goldsby Road via two private easements only 33 feet wide. With that situation and wetlands on site, he said, space for a sidewalk is lacking. Brown said that instead the applicants were proposing to put in a multi-use path along Goldsby Road, both north and south of the development property.
In response to a question, Brown said there would be sidewalks within the development, just not along one side of the access easements, with the multi-use path along the west side of Goldsby Road to be provided instead.
He also clarified that the access easements would be on two different parcels, one on the forestry property to the south and one along the property to the east, which contains a communications tower.
Speaking for the applicants, engineer Curtis Smith described the project density as :”middle ground in this area,” at 7.3 units per acre. He noted that 25 to 30 percent of the property would be left in its natural state with wetland avoidance in the center of the property.
Smith said a development had been planned for the property that had not been built and that the current proposal is to disturb less of the property than with the previous approval.
Parking, Smith said, is proposed at three spaces per unit, with one of those being one garage parking spaces per unit, plus two additional pull-off parking spaces for guests at the mailbox kiosk.
Smith said stormwater had been designed to meet 100-year storm requirements, with stormwater ponds having been made a little larger than required for stormwater attenuation.
He indicated that the townhomes would be two-story and designed with the aim of remaining consistent with the character of the surrounding neighborhood and its one- and two-story homes.
In response to a question, Smith said it was anticipated that the units would be platted and sold rather than this being a rental community.
Carpenter noted that any of the units used for short-term rental would be required to register with the county, although the county is just at the beginning of setting up the registration program associated with the Short-Term Vacation Rental Ordinance.
Continued items, county approval process
Two agenda items were continued by advance request to the Sept. 14 planning commission meeting. These were the Flynn Developer’s Agreement and the Flynn Small Scale Amendment (SSA) with Rezoning.
Planning commission decisions on amendments and land use items are provided as recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), which has responsibility for final determinations on these items in public session.
August 16, 2023 Online Edition
Freeport City Council Aug. 8 meeting, Part Two Freeport City Council reconsiders Freeport Hotel Project
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