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30A Alliance survey provides snapshot of popular resident and tourist corridor

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

ROSEMARY BEACH — A survey of homeowners along County Road 30A in South Walton County will be used to provide local officials and others with some detailed insight into the community, according to a member of the 30A Alliance, the group which conducted the survey.

But the alliance, a group of residents serving as advocates for the corridor, won't get bogged down in local politics.

Instead, the group's aim is simply to "try to influence ... planning the future," according to Mary Zahner, who with her husband has owned property in Rosemary Beach for 20 years and has lived in the community for the last dozen years.

"We're just trying to keep communication flowing," Zahner said. "We are not political. We would not endorse any political candidate."

The 30A Alliance has been in existence for 18 months, and members have met with county planning staff and with Walton County Commissioner Tony Anderson, whose district includes the corridor. The alliance is linked with the Seaside Institute, headquartered in the iconic "new urbanist" 30A community of Seaside. The institute, according to its website, promotes "the building of sustainable places through education and design." 

A woman bikes on one Seaside's back streets.  The 30A Alliance recently conducted a survey of homeowners along Walton County Road 30A.

According to Zahner, the survey is an outgrowth of the 30A Alliance's consideration of what the group's mission should be in the community.

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"We're just trying to stay in touch with what's going on in the area," Zahner said, "and a question that kept coming up is 'Who lives here?'"

The survey got 1,004 responses, with the highest percentage of responses from specifically identified communities coming from Seacrest, at 21.4%. Other communities specifically identified by respondents include Rosemary Beach (17.03%), Seagrove (8.96%), Seaside (8.37%), Watercolor (7.27%), Draper Lake (4.78%), Watersound (3.49%), Alys Beach (0.40%) and The Retreat (0.10%).

"Other" was identified as the residence for the plurality of survey respondents, at 28.19%.

And while it's not clear what percentage, or segments, of the total number of homeowners along 30A are represented, the survey nonetheless does present some interesting data.

Among the respondents, for instance, roughly one-third (34.33%) are part-time residents who spend less than half of the year at their 30A residence. Roughly another third, (33.53%), primarily use their residence as a rental property, spending less than a quarter of the year on the 30A corridor.

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Just under 20% of survey respondents are permanent Florida residents.

The final category of the survey, being a permanent Florida resident with a second home elsewhere, applied to 12.51% of respondents.

In terms of the impact of 30A homeowners on visitors to the county, 75.24% of the people who said they don't rent out their homes do allow family and friends to use the residences.

On other residence-related questions, 38.44% of survey respondents said they plan to remain part-time residents, but do anticipate spending more time in the 30A area, as 21.6% of respondents said they plan eventually to become full-time area residents.

"One thing that struck me is how many people are thinking of moving down here permanently," Zahner said. Insofar as the survey results show residency trends, Zahner said, she's starting to wonder when 30A could reach a tipping point of having more permanent residents than temporary residents.

"There's got to be some sort of balance," Zahner said, as a means of addressing the interests of visitors as well as permanent residents of the corridor. "How does everybody get a good quality of life — the visitors, the residents, and people who come here to work?"

The survey also asked respondents to weigh in on a number of specific issues, ranging from the environment, to health care, to digital connectivity, to the arts and public amenities.

In terms of the importance of those issues, 95.8% of respondents indicated that the area's clean beaches and intact natural and scenic qualities are most important to them, with 68.21% identifying quality healthcare as most important, 52.05% mentioning digital connectivity, 55.82% noting thriving arts and culture, and 26.62% noting public amenities such as pools and libraries. Also referenced were good K-12 education (18.21%) and adult education (14.12%).

Among the more interesting survey results were responses to the question of what other issues were important for the 30A corridor, which included a number of pleas for more planned and controlled development in the area.

"Housing density is a serious emerging issue," wrote one respondent, as another suggested a need for "(p)lanned development so we aren’t populated beyond capacity," and another urged "(t)ight control of new development."

People enjoy the calm and quiet of Seaside's back streets as they bike the town.

"It’s important to remain as 'uncommercialized' as possible,'" one respondent wrote. "No chain stores, restaurants or high-rise developments. If massive tall condos start going in that’s when I stop coming."

And, not surprisingly, the issue of "customary use" of beaches, which has pitted beachfront property owners who want their stretches of beach to remain private property against advocates — including the county government — of the historic recreational public use of all beaches, made its way into survey responses.

"The most important thing to me is that private beaches stay private," wrote one respondent, while others urged "(f)ree access to all beaches," or "public beach access" or "CU (customary use) for beaches."

Among the initial actions of the 30A Alliance in the wake of the survey, Zahner said, is a focus on health care and wellness concerns expressed by survey respondents.

Earlier this week, Zahner said, a number of alliance members participated in a phone call with HealthFirst of Florida, which has been promoting the concept of "wellness villages." Wellness villages are real estate developments that combine storefronts for physicians, spas, gyms, health food vendors and other health-related enterprises.

Wellness has emerged as an issue in the county because it has just two hospitals, a limited number of intensive care beds, and can be an expensive location for physicians to set up practice, Zahner said Tuesday.

While the recent 30A Alliance survey was the group's first effort along that line, "it's probably not going to be the last," Zahner said, with any future surveys likely exploring a different range of topics.