After discussion, Walton County Planning Commissioners passed a new planned development proposed for the west end of 30A at its Nov. 9 meeting.
Ashwood Holdings Florida LLC requested approval to subdivide a parcel known as Cypress Lakes, sell residential lots, and lease commercial space on 22.36 acres with a future land use of neighborhood infill.
The property is located .6 mile from the intersection of U.S. Highway 98 and County Road 30A west and south of CR 30A.
The project will have 85 single-family lots and will be built out at six units per acre for 178 units.
There will also be 53,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space housed in four-story buildings. Pizza restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and boutiques are envisioned, along with a green-space park and pool.
Pedestrian pathways will weave through the project that abuts state park land.
Local attorney Dana Matthews represents the applicant, who he described as no stranger to Walton County.
"They developed Cypress Lake Phase I and II, as well as developments at Cape San Blas and in Atlanta, where they have maintained property ownership," said Matthews. "They vacation here with their families and have never been sued. They are solid developers."
Matthews said the proposed project is compatible with Phase I and II, as well as with Emerald Walk, located across the street.
"This was designed with a lot of input from the county," said Matthews.
Developers met with the neighboring community and state park people prior to submitting.
The project will feature an enhanced landscape plan, a pond in back for fishing, and underground utilities. There will be turn lanes, four entrances and center widening on 30A to accommodate the turn lanes.
Developers have looked at mass transit and designed a tram stop for owners and renters as the property is about a mile from the beach.
"We wanted a walkable community and this one is almost exactly the same as Phases I and II, including lot sizes. Trails were an important part of the project," said Engineer Cliff Knauer.
Developers met with the Department of Environmental Protection and eliminated street lighting and adjusted lighting around the project to 4 feet. There will be no street lights in the residential area.
Knauer said they don't expect Cypress Lake to be a big rental community due to its distance from the beach, but the owners have not restricted that component.
"My problem is 30A and what is there today and you throw in July traffic ... I have a hard time understanding how it is going to be possible," said Planning Commission Chair Teddy Stewart. "That is an awful lot of traffic just looking at what is there today."
Planning Commissioner Danny Glidewell questioned the 1,100 students at the elementary school located a stone's throw away, and Elmo's restaurant both being nearby.
"It's a zoo," he said.
Ashwood's Cole Forsyth said he does not have a solution to traffic concerns but he will address.
"We are hoping some students will walk to school, and most restaurants do not meet minimum requirements for parking," said Knauer. "If you had them meet code it would be different."
Mistakes of the past can't be helped, said Glidewell, and he questioned the residential parking.
Three bedroom houses in the community will get two parking spaces. The largest house will have 3,000 square feet.
"We followed the letter of the law on code," said Knauer.
However, he is requesting 5-foot setbacks.
At least half of residents who attended the meeting agreed with Matthews that the project is high quality.
Emory Gaultney, who lives on Cypress Drive, noted that he knows something is going to go in there and it might as well be nice.
"I endorse it." he said.
Bill Parks, who lives on White Heron Drive, also enthusiastically recommends it.
"It will be a first-class facility for the community," said Parks. "I have had my house here for 15 years. Even in the summer we have no trouble going in or out until you get to Stinky's. This is small retail space compared to what DR Horton was going to build."
However, Celeste Cobena, who lives a mile away, disagreed.
"This is a ridiculously dense project that will cause an enormous amount of traffic," she said. "A lot of projects claim to be well planned but they are not. There is not going to be enough infrastructure. I would like the density to be decreased."
And to that, local resident Bill Muldowney said, "Bless her heart."
"I was the first homeowner here," he said. "Cypress Dunes turned out to be the most wonderful thing. It's progress. We are so lucky that Ashwood is developing that property. I have seen horrendous things proposed with 70-foot lights that would have lit up this building. These guys do a great job. I am not Cole's father, I am not related to him, I have no stock in the company."
Local resident Lisa Boushy expressed concerns of the houses likely becoming beach rentals with people riding bikes and driving golf carts.
"This end of 30A is very much single-family residential and extraordinarily quiet. Businesses on this end do not have late hours," she said.
Native South Waltoner Stacy Froeshner, a resident of Beachview Heights, said she was shocked to hear about the development on the small amount of land.
"We should set our sights higher. This is a precious piece of land that butts up to Topsail. Where will water drainage and run off go? This is too much for this property. Can we just take it down some?" she asked.
Fred Tricker said his main concern is density with Cypress Lake having twice as much as in neighboring communities.
"If we're asking for 5-foot setbacks everywhere what is the justification? We have standards. If we're not going to follow them why have them?" he asked.
"This is cramming in of an awful lot of homes in a small area," added Donna Johns. "They do a nice product if they could just spread it out more. And there is not a lot of parking. I can't imagine that there will be enough for restaurants, etc. Way too dense. And, isn't the school already at capacity? If people who move in there bring kids, they will want to go to school there," she said.
Emerald Walk resident Amanda Schute said her major concern is raising 22 acres 3 to 5 feet.
"It is overbuilt … and the stormwater issues. There is no reason to have 5-foot setbacks. The homes will not drain based on density. Why raise the elevation of the whole property?" she asked.
Ken Metcalf, director of planning for Sterns Metcalf in Tallahassee suggested the county could provide incentives to existing neighborhoods to clean up their accesses as the key is turn lanes.
"That's the best you can do on a two-lane road. This is a small amount of commercial and the traffic study says there will be four cars a minute coming in and going out," he said
Stewart asked if the owners would consider banning short term rentals, but Matthews said that his clients cannot make any commitments at this point.
Glidewell said his concern is the requested setbacks, no matter how it is dressed up (enhanced landscape).
"It does not meet the Land Development Code and I don't like the deviation on the road. I am against putting anything in the right of way," said Glidewell in closing.
"Traffic will always be a problem on 30A. Four lanes would not alleviate it. This developer has done everything they can do and their stormwater is beyond what is required," said Stewart.
The proposed development passed with Glidewell casting the only no vote. It will now go before the Board of County Commissioners for a final ruling.