Walton commissioners approve Grayton Beach Motor Lodge project
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners have approved the first phase of a 76-room "retro motor lodge" planned for Grayton Beach by longtime local developer and attorney Lloyd Blue.
The County Commission's approval Thursday — coming after the county's Technical Review Committee OK'd the proposal in August, and the Walton County Planning Commission recommended in a 5-0 September vote that county commissioners approve the first phase of the project, covering the actual guest quarters — means that development of the planned two-story Grayton Beach Motor Lodge can proceed.
A second phase of the project will cover the pool, recreational facilities and offices in the mixed-use project, Blue said Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, he said infrastructure work on the property could begin within a matter of weeks, as soon as a county development order is signed.
The motor lodge, to be built on almost 6 acres on Arbor Lane, will be reminiscent of the motor hotels of the 1950s and 1960s, with room doors opening out into the parking area. Current plans call for the motor lodge to be open to guests by the summer of 2022.
Arbor Lane residents, property owners and others had expressed concerns that the motor lodge will attract many highly transient guests and could see rooms crowded with young people during spring break. But Blue repeated Thursday that the aim of the project is “to fit in with Grayton, and also be very upscale.”
As he had at previous county meetings, Blue said the motor lodge is designed for couples, or couples with a couple of young children, rather than large groups of people.
Additionally, Blue said Thursday, the motor lodge will be geared toward longer stays, with a three- to four-night minimum stay required. He also noted that it will require in-person check-in, at which time guests will be given an old-style physical room key.
The motor lodge will be owned and operated locally by his family, Blue added.
Those points were echoed by Dana Matthews, an attorney who represented Blue at Thursday's commission meeting. The Grayton Beach Motor Lodge, he told commissioners, is “designed to be a destination-type boutique hotel, not a Motel 6."
Blue said Thursday that room rates, while not yet decided, will be in line with the other upscale accommodations along County Road 30A. After getting Thursday's approval, Blue said conversations began with a hotel consulting group to cover issues such as specific room rates.
The project, opposed for months by a number of Grayton Beach residents and property owners who have expressed concern about its impact on environmental, traffic and quality-of-life issues, was approved in a unanimous 4-0 commission vote. Commissioner Melanie Nipper was not in attendance.
The vote came after commissioners were told that an extensive review by the county's planning staff had determined that the project met the county's land development code and comprehensive plan requirements.
Under terms of the commission's vote, there are a number of minor conditions that must be met by Blue's Grayton Forest LLC, the project development company, for the first phase of the project. Those conditions include providing a stormwater pollution prevention plan as well as copies of all state and federal wetlands development permits; addressing turning radius issues at intersections within the development; and ensuring that all access roads are accessible to firefighting apparatus.
In light of the recent heavy rains from Hurricane Sally, Commission Chairman Bill Chapman had some detailed questions for Blue and the technical experts involved in the review process.
Blue presented photographs from the site during Hurricane Sally that purported to show that rainwater dissipated into surrounding woodland.
“We feel confident the design system that we have will prevent any flooding from occurring on anybody,” he told Chapman.
Public comment at Thursday's meeting came from just two people, although two other people tried to offer comment via teleconference after Commission Chairman Bill Chapman had closed the public comment period.
Amy Hughes, whose family has owned a home in Grayton Beach for 35 years, told commissioners simply, "We do not feel like this is in keeping with Grayton Beach."
Hughes said she was particularly concerned about the nighttime foot traffic she believed the motel would bring to Arbor Lane, noting that "everybody can walk to and from the bars (and the motor lodge) at 2 a.m.”
She also expressed concerns about beach overcrowding, which Blue said would be addressed by the hotel providing shuttle service and otherwise directing guests to the beaches at nearby Grayton Beach State Park and Topsaill Hill Preserve State Park.
But Hughes countered that people visiting Grayton Beach are "not coming to go to the state park, they’re coming to ... Grayton.”
Hughes also disputed the contention that the Grayton Beach Motor Lodge would be an upscale motel, suggesting that WaterColor Inn and other lodging along nearby County Road 30A, a popular tourist destination, "are upscale boutique hotels.”
Also opposing the development was Arbor Lane homeowner Missy Herrington, who suggested that there was no way to hold Blue accountable to his assurances about the project and its targeted clientele.
Suggesting that the project had been "fast-tracked through the system,” and that “once a motel is built, there is no way to undo it,” Herrington added that “a motel is not what Grayton or the 30A corridor need.”