Walton County officials are ready to take a second stab at conducting the public hearing required to announce their intent to seek a judge’s declaration that would open the county’s private beaches to the public.
The Walton County Customary Use Hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at South Walton High School at 645 Greenway Trail in Santa Rosa Beach, a meeting notice said. Doors to the school will open at 8 a.m.
A previous effort to conduct the hearing drew an estimated 800 people but had to be aborted when it was determined 13 homeowners potentially impacted by the proposed declaration had not been contacted ahead of the Sept. 8 event.
This time, County Attorney Sidney Noyes expressed confidence that all of the necessary I’s have been dotted and T’s have been crossed.
“Our position is that proper notice has been provided,” she said in an email.
The public hearing, over which the five-member commission will preside, is prescribed in HB 631 as a first step toward reestablishing the Walton County Customary Use Ordinance wiped out July 1 as a result of the bill’s passage.
Under the law, Walton County was required to provide notice “to the owner of each parcel of property subject to the notice of intent,” the law states. “Such notice must be provided by certified mail with return receipt requested.”
Noyes’ office sent out 4,198 letters of intent prior to the Sept. 8 meeting. She said 4,720 were mailed out in advance of the upcoming meeting.
Two requests have been made to continue the Nov. 3 meeting, but John Carlin, president of the Homeowners Association for the Shipwatch subdivision, said Friday he has withdrawn an objection to the way the meeting notice was provided.
“The county has met its responsibility,” he said.
A second objection states Hurricane Michael prevented some homeowners from receiving meeting notice in a timely fashion.
Any decisions regarding postponing the Saturday meeting will be made prior to its convening by the County Commission, Noyes said.
The Sept. 8 hearing agenda called for a presentation by Noyes, the county’s special land use attorney and James Miller, a registered professional archeologist who has been researching beaches in Florida for 50 years with a focus on the Gulf Coast.
Time had also been set aside at the Sept. 8 meeting for commissioners to hear from the public, and some of that was accomplished before the first meeting was adjourned.
The Saturday meeting will likely culminate in a vote by the commission on whether to formalize its notice of intent “to affirm the existence of a recreational customary use on private property.”
Once the declaration of intent is adopted, the county will have 60 days, under the law, to file a Complaint for Declaration of Recreational Customary Use with the Circuit Court. The owners of each parcel of property subject to the complaint will again have to be formally notified.
The county requested in its meeting notification that those attending arrive no later than 8:15 a.m. and park in the student parking lot behind South Walton High School. Deputies will be on site to provide security and special needs seating will be available.
A live stream of the meeting will be available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC22sjauBXa_GnLZgr1ElZfQ