Following six hours of testimony Tuesday, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners finally gave Azzurro Condominiums final approval to begin construction.
The quasi-judicial meeting was continued from the BCC meeting the week before when time ran out.
The condos are a major development consisting of 12 condos located half a mile south of Lakewood Drive in the Eastern Lake community between Sugar Sands and Beachside Villas, which has 120 units.
Several residents of the community expressed their feelings that the construction is not compatible with the existing neighborhood, that it would disturb the endangered beach mouse's habitat, and construction would disturb the calm, mostly non-rental community.
However, those arguments were shot down by the developer’s attorney, Dana Matthews, and opinions offered by several experts from various fields.
"Has anyone done an actual beach mouse study?" asked Matthews. "Has anyone ever seen a beach mouse?"
The project is described as high end with 26 parking spaces under the building and 12 golf-cart spaces.
Following the meeting, Eastern Lake resident and Fire Commissioner Tom McGee told The Sun he is disappointed.
Local historian and Eastern Lake resident Brenda Rees said the vote to approve was "a shame."
"Eastern Lake is one of the most historic communities in Walton County," said Rees. "This condo is not compatible with surrounding long-time single-family homes. The condos at the beach were snuck in before the comprehensive plan years ago. It wasn't OK decades ago and it isn't OK now."
Former Planning Commissioner Nina Horn is another Eastern Lake resident who sat through several hours of testimony at three meetings and heard all sides.
"I stand amazed that our commissioners voted to pass the five-story Azzurro Condominiums on the Gulf," she said. "Our South Walton Annex was packed with concerned tax-paying neighborhood owners who gave testimony to why they should not build condominiums on this parcel.
This means heavy commercial equipment on our Eastern Lake neighborhood streets where families with children ride their bikes and walk to the beach," Horn added. "This means developers will tear down one of our highest 33-foot-tall dunes does not take priority, but the building of a concrete building with parking underneath on a dead-end street is what commissioners think would be best for our neighborhood and its preservation. They did not listen to Judge McGee, who spoke of his concerns for fire safety on a one-way street. They only listened to Planning Director Mac Carpenter and the developers."
While McGee did speak to commissioners of his concerns for fire safety, Walton County Fire District Fire Marshall Sammy Sanchez had already visited the site and logged no problem with the construction except for the need to add another hydrant.
Florida Fish and Wildlife had two representatives at the meeting, with one saying she was not on either side, but she expressed concern that the county should act more proactively instead of reactive to environmental concerns at such sites.
Debbie Heard, who is president of the Coastal Dune Lake Advisory, said the parcel is in a flood zone and everything around it is in high risk and the project is not healthy for the lake.
The developer accepted a proposal to set the project back an additional 10 feet from the beach and to have Public Works identify the condition of the road prior to construction.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson made the motion to accept the project, and District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman seconded. It passed with a 3-1 vote. District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander was the only dissenting vote.