New proposal for 30A development on Draper Lake by D.R. Horton still sees opposition
FREEPORT — A dramatically scaled-down proposal for a residential and commercial development from Texas-based developer D.R. Horton, Inc., planned for Walton County Road 30A, has gotten a largely positive reception from area residents and property owners.
Nonetheless, representatives of the 16 homeowners' groups that have worked for more than a year in opposition to what originally was a plan for 180-unit triplex development (residential units arranged three together in a single building) on the 35.19-acre site on the edge of Draper Lake at Retreat Drive, still have some concerns about the plan.
And because county planning officials also have some questions about D.R. Horton's latest proposal for the site, now called Bluewater Landing, the developer will have to come back in front of the county's Technical Review Committee (TRC) next month in connection with what is now a proposal for 31 single-family homes.
The Bluewater Landing proposal also includes a 1.77-acre space for future commercial development. That's larger than the half-acre proposed for commercial development in the original proposal for the Draper Lake site, and was a focus of concern at last week's TRC meeting.
Beyond those concerns, area residents and property owners who spoke up at the March 3 meeting were worried about additional traffic that Bluewater Landing, where homes could be offered as vacation-rental housing, would bring to 30A.
Area property owners and residents also wanted tough control over a conservation easement included in the Bluewater Landing plans to protect Draper Lake, which is one of the few freshwater coastal dune lakes in the world. During periods of high water, coastal dune lakes open to nearby ocean waters, causing fresh and salt water to mix.
But those owners and residents also were appreciative of efforts by D.R. Horton Inc., through its local engineering firm, Miramar Beach-based Innerlight Engineering Corporation, to work with neighborhood concerns about the initial size of the proposed development.
Among the owners and residents who spoke at last week's meeting was Barbara Morano of the South Walton Community Council.
Morano acknowledged that there has been "a lot of give and take" between people in the area and Innerlight and D.R. Horton, "and we like where we are" although issues like ensuring the ongoing enforcement of the conservation easement remain as ongoing concerns.
John Harrison, a resident of The Retreat, a 30A residential development near Bluewater Landing, acknowledged the willingness of D.R. Horton and Innerlight Engineering to hear area residents' and property owners' concerns.
"We don't always agree with them, but they have listened to us," Harrison told TRC members at last week's meeting. Harrison asked that the conservation easement, which would be granted to the county government, be turned over to a third party with environmental expertise for ongoing oversight.
"This conservation easement is a very, very big deal to the community," Harrison said.
David Smith, the Innerlight engineer who attended the TRC meeting, would not commit during the meeting to third-party oversight of the easement, saying that he simply didn't know how such an arrangement would work.
Also of concern to people who spoke at last week's session were the eventual occupants of the commercial space proposed for the development. That space, Smith said, is going to be turned over to a third party for development, and D.R. Horton could not say what businesses, within the scope of applicable county regulations, might eventually come into that area.
Of particular concern to the people who spoke during the session was the possibility that part of the commercial area might become an outdoor wedding venue or similar business, where music and other festivities might disturb nearby residents with noise and other nuisances.
Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter, who presides over TRC meetings, echoed that concern to Smith, as part of a broader suggestion that D.R. Horton develop a list of commercial uses it would allow. That list then could become part of a binding development order for the site, Carpenter noted.
“We’ve had an issue with wedding venues located on 30A without maybe adequately addressing the compatibility with the adjacent neighborhoods," Carpenter told Smith, adding that he would like to have a list of allowed commercial uses proposed for Bluewater Landing sooner rather than later.
“I’d rather have that fight right now,” Carpenter said, after telling Smith, "I think it's important that we have some parameters included in the development order that clarify what can be proposed there, if we’re (a reference to D.R. Horton) not proposing any specific elements on that site at this time.”
Also of concern for area residents and property owners at the TRC meeting were traffic issues, in particular the location of the entrance to Bluewater Landing, located in a curve of 30A. Smith, though, countered that the proposed location, directly across the road from another residential area's entrance and exit, made the most sense.
As last week's TRC meeting wound down, committee members learned that the South Walton Fire District, one of the county government entities required to weigh in on the potential impact of development proposals, had not yet submitted its evaluation.
As a result of that, and of other questions raised by reviewing departments, along with concerns about the future of the commercial part of Bluewater Landing, TRC members decided unanimously to have D.R. Horton and Innerlight come back in front of them at their April 7 meeting for a potential recommendation to the county planning commission, the next step in the approval process.
If an approval is forthcoming at the April 7 meeting, the proposal would go to the planning commission on May 13, and could be in front of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners on May 28 for a final decision on issuance of a development order for Bluewater Landing.
“We have really tried to work with the neighborhood and the community here," Smith had said earlier in the meeting. "We understand it’s a very important piece of property for Walton County. It's a very important piece of property for us, and it’s a very important piece of property for the neighborhood.”