Everyone from planners to home owners to restaurant owners agree that finding a parking spot in South Walton can be quite the challenge.
Walton County Planning Commissioners heard from the public Tuesday afternoon at its first workshop on the parking issue and the department's proposed ordinance.
The proposed ordinance would drastically change parking requirements for restaurants, all businesses, offices, and even homes. The number of spaces required would be determined by the number of square feet the building has.
The workshop was divided with between residential and commercial parking issues. In the next two weeks, The Sun will tackle each aspect.
The residential divide
Previously, a detached single-family home with up to three bedrooms was required to have two parking spaces.
Under the new ordinance, which uses square footage as the determining factor, a residence with up to 1,500 square feet could get by with two parking spaces. But a 1,501 to 2,000-square-foot home would be required to supply three parking spaces.
A 2,001 to 2,500-square-foot home would be required to have four parking spaces; for 2,501 to 3,000-square feet, five spaces; 3,001 to 3,500, six spaces; 3,501 to 4,000, seven spaces; 4,001 to 4,500, eight spaces. For a more than 4,500-square-foot dwelling, two additional parking spaces would be required for each 500 feet.
Commissioners said they came up with this formula by following the model used in Point Washington.
While everyone in attendance seemed to agree that a solution needs to be found to the parking issue, most did not think this was it.
Speaking first was Attorney Gary Shipman, who is representing the newly-formed Walton County Small Business Association, which was formed in reaction to this ordinance. Shipman presented commissioners with a petition of around 1,200 registered voters who have signed and are against implementing the new rules.
Shipman's first stated concern is that the commission plans to make this a county-wide ordinance when admittedly, the only parking problems are in South Walton. Shipman said he owns a 90-acre farm in north Walton that he would have to build a parking lot for if this ordinance is passed.
"This makes no sense," said Shipman. "It would have a significant impact on subdivisions and make it impossible to build a home larger than 2,000-square feet. My 3,700-square-foot home in South Walton would be required to have seven parking spaces. This would stifle growth and building."
Shipman noted that while existing houses would be grandfathered in, there is no guarantee with that because replacing part or all of a house or selling it would take away the grandfathering. Hence, all would be vulnerable due to the amount of tropical tempests this area sees.
The only areas that would be exempt would be those developments under a DRI, such as Seaside, WaterColor, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach, and Sandestin.
"I am concerned this has come about too rapidly," said Shipman. "The county needs to look at overall traffic and parking, then develop public transportation for tourist season.”
Urban designer Mark Schnell also spoke at the meeting.
Schnell said South Walton has a seasonal parking problem. But he feels the biggest problem is the attitude that one size fits all. Schnell said what is proposed in the ordinance is far more significant than he has seen in large urban areas.
"A lot of places are dropping parking amenities all together in favor of encouraging walking," he said. "We need to look at parking solutions that do not include large parking lots. When you require every house or business to do this, you get us to looking more like Destin and Panama City. Grayton would not look like it does if it had a parking lot."
Schnell pointed out that while some might not want cars to park in front of their house, the county does own the right of way.
"The last thing we want is parking lot after parking lot. We have a parking problem because we are so desirable. We need to keep this area special and unique," said Schnell.
Mary Nielson said she believes there needs to be a separation in thought process and separate rental houses and vacation rentals from residents who live here, but she believes using square footage as a determining factor is the only way to do it. She said she has seen individual bedrooms that would sleep six people, thanks to bunks, and when a home will sleep more, more cars come with them.
"I would love for everything to be walkable, but that's not reality," she said.
If short-term rentals are the problem, Shipman suggested identifying which ones those are.
Commissioner Wayne Dyess said they are not allowed to treat rental properties differently.
Debra Stone of the Frangista community in Miramar Beach is begging the commission to do something.
"We have large, huge homes that take up a whole lot and there is no place to park," she said. "The area was designed in the 1950s when there was no planning and development. We have no sidewalk and huge groups of families come down and fill up these houses and walk the streets. Now the Villas of Frangista are being built behind us, which was originally planned for 72 homes, but now is well over 100. My concern is for safety. There are big cement trucks and trucks of all kinds coming down the road. We can't get out of our driveways. Maybe this ordinance should not be countywide, but in the tourist areas."
Realtor David Kramer questioned how the square footage is defined and suggested including a map of the problem areas and zoning them.
30A resident Sandy Luchtefeld thanked the commission for taking on the parking issue and said she would like to see county employees continue to protect our area. She said the problems Frangista is experiencing are a litmus test.
"Problems generally start there and move our direction," she said.
WANT TO GO?
The Planning Commission will hold a second workshop to hear community input on the proposed ordinance Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. at the County Annex off 331S.