Moving people in Walton County: Public hearing set on solving South Walton traffic issues
FREEPORT — A proposed mobility plan that would move the focus of local transportation planning from moving cars along roads to moving people in a variety of ways will be the subject of a Tuesday afternoon public hearing in front of the Walton County Planning Commission.
"There's one way to move a car," Jonathan Paul of NUE Urban Concepts, the Gainesville, Florida-based mobility planning firm working with county officials to develop the plan, said during one of the numerous previous public sessions on the proposal. "There are a lot of ways to move people — bicycles, trolley service, walking. ... The ultimate goal is: How do we enhance mobility in Walton County, both today and into the future?"
The hearing is set to start at 4 p.m. in the Walton County Board of County Commissioners Boardroom in Freeport Commons, 842 State Road 20 East, Suite 118, in Freeport. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, seating at the hearing will be limited, but the public can participate via the Zoom teleconferencing tool online at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88508729468.
Those who want to participate in the Zoom teleconference by phone can dial any one of the following numbers: +1-312-626-6799, +1-929-205-6099, +1-301-715-8592 or +1-346-248-7799, +1-669-900-6833 or +1-253-215-8782.
The webinar ID is 885 0872 9468.
The mobility plan is available for review on the county government website at https://www.co.walton.fl.us/1268/Walton-County-Mobility-Plan---Proposed.
If eventually adopted by the county, the plan would chart a course for transportation infrastructure development in the county for the next 20 years in four zones — north, roughly from Paxton southward to DeFuniak Springs; north central, in the DeFuniak Springs area; central, in the Freeport area, and south, from Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The three cities would, if the plan is adopted, have an opportunity to opt into its provisions.
Broadly, transportation projects in the zones beyond the southern end of the county would focus on roads, with some accommodations for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit vehicles.
In the southern edge of the county, the proposed plan calls for significant public transit options and reconfiguring of local roadways — in particular Walton County Road 30A — to better accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, golf carts and other alternatives to private vehicles. The plan also would encourage a "park once" approach to get people out of their cars and onto shuttle buses and other options to reduce road congestion.
In addition to changing the focus of local transportation infrastructure development, the plan would change the way that transportation projects are funded.
Currently, local transportation improvements are funded by developers who pay fees for road improvements needed near their developments, based on traffic studies done by those developers.
The mobility plan would move the county to a mobility fee approach, a one-time fee paid in connection with new development and redevelopment to mitigate the effects on transportation infrastructure. Mobility fees, based on the zone in which development or redevelopment is occurring, could be spent outside of the immediate area of that development or redevelopment. Mobility fees also could be used in conjunction with other local, state or federal funding on transportation projects across the county.
As one example of the proposed structure for mobility fees, residential development fees would be calculated on a square-foot basis, at $1.25 in the south zone, $1.00 in the central zone, and 50 cents in the north central and north zones.
Mobility fees for new development or redevelopment of lodging, including bed-and-breakfast operations, inns, motels, hotels, resorts and vacation rentals, would be calculated on a per-room basis, at $1,907 in the south zone, $1,526 in the central zone, and $763 in the north central and north zones. Kitchens and bathrooms would not be included in the per-room calculations.
With regard to commercial development or redevelopment, local non-chain, non-franchise businesses, including entertainment, restaurant and service enterprises, would be assessed $1.36 per square foot under roof in the south zone, $1.08 in the central zone, and 54 cents in the north and north central zones.
New development or redevelopment of fast-food restaurants with drive-through facilities would face significant mobility fees. In addition to the retail fees charged — $2.71 per covered square foot in the south zone, $2.07 in the central zone, and $1.08 in the north central and north zones — those restaurants would pay $18,210 per drive-through lane in the south zone, $14,568 per lane in the central zone and $7,284 in the north central and north zones.
Whatever recommendations on the plan come out of Tuesday's planning commission meeting will go to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which will consider and could vote on the plan in April.
If the commission eventually adopts the plan, collection of the mobility fee could begin 90 days after that approval. Once adopted, the plan would be reviewed annually by the County Commission for potential changes.
Outside of the plan as currently proposed, the planning commission is scheduled to hear Tuesday from local digital application developer Charles Galloway, who was placed on the agenda by new Planning Commissioner Dan Cosson.
Galloway, who recently developed a private digital app for tourists visiting southern Walton County, plans to propose that, as part of its mobility plan, the county establish an app aimed at getting low-speed vehicles off of county roads.
Calling his proposal "an Uber for golf carts," Galloway contends that his proposed app would eliminate the need for vacation rental-property owners to provide low-speed vehicles to renters for getting around the county's beachside and nearby communities.
As a result, Galloway contended in a Monday interview, the number of low-speed vehicles on county roads — a source of frustration for residents and visitors alike, particularly along and near Walton County Road 30A — would be reduced.
"I think it could make a serious difference really fast," Galloway said. "It truly could solve a lot of the traffic congestion."