Walton County takes small next steps on public amphitheater proposal
FREEPORT — A developing Walton County government proposal to put an amphitheater, passive recreational facilities and other public projects on 220 acres between Chat Holley Road and U.S. 98, east of County Road 393 and west of U.S. Highway 331, took another step toward possible eventual reality on Wednesday.
The county's Technical Review Committee (TRC), one of the entities in the county's planning and zoning apparatus, voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend, with minor conditions, that the county planning commission recommend approval of zoning and land use map changes needed for the project to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.
The county commission makes the final decisions on zoning and land use issues.
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With its Wednesday decision, the TRC signaled its acceptance of proposed changes to the current residential and conservation zoning and land use classifications of the property to an institutional classification. According to a county planning department staff presentation to the TRC, the institutional classification covers all of the currently proposed uses for the acreage. In addition to the amphitheater and passive recreational opportunities, the site is also proposed as a location for a stormwater treatment facility, and will include a wetlands protection component.
A county purchase of the acreage, an assemblage of 11 tracts, was set in motion by the county commission in February. At that time, commissioners gave Walton County Commission Chairman Trey Nick the authority to combine $2 million in county reserve funds with $6.9 million in Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) funds to cover the nearly $9 million cost of the acreage. The TDC funds come from a 5% accommodations tax charged to visitors.
The previous owner of the tracts had reportedly been pursuing residential development options for the acreage. At the February commission meeting, Commissioner Danny Glidewell, a fervent supporter of the purchase, said then that acquiring the tract for public purposes would at least partially curb residential and commercial development now moving at a breakneck pace in the south end of the county.
The proposed amphitheater, currently — and very preliminarily — planned as a 10,000-set venue, also would provide an additional attraction for visitors to the area, Glidewell said in February.
The TDC's Wednesday vote sends the proposal forward to the Walton County Planning Commission, but only after an analysis of how the proposed land use and zoning map changes, and the property uses proposed by the county, will affect traffic in the area.
Walton's Landing project under way
In other business Wednesday — on the opposite side of the road, both literally and figuratively, from the planned public uses for the 220-acre Chat Holley Road tract — the TRC voted unanimously to recommend that, once some needed comments from a surveyor are received, the county commission approve a final plat (a mapped-out plan) for Walton's Landing, a residential development on the northwest corner of Chat Holly Road and Nellie Drive.
A development order has already been issued for the nearly 40-acre property, and land is already being cleared for the planned 73 single-family home lots and 98 townhomes comprising the development.
As the TRC moved the issue forward to the county commission, Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter issued a gentle advisory to the public, noting that when the county commission takes up the issue, they won't hear public comment on the development itself — which has already gotten county approval — but only on the issuing of accepting the final plat, which ensures that the development will be pursued under the terms of the already-issued development order.
"This is the very minor final step” for development of Walton's Landing, Carpenter explained.
Carpenter, who chairs the TRC, did take one question on Walton's Landing from a member of the public concerned about the clearing of land at Walton's Landing.
“The clearing that has occurred is consistent with their development order," Carpenter replied.
30A commercial project slowed
Also on Wednesday, the TRC voted to delay action on a request for a minor development order — which the committee itself can issue — for a 6,233-square-foot commercial building on a little more than three-quarters of an acre on the south side of Walton County Road 30A between Tanglewood Drive and Cypress Crossing.
Stephen Barber, one of two attorneys who spoke on behalf of nearby residents at Wednesday's meeting, told TRC members that “the goal here is not to stymie this development as a whole, but really to just make it more compatible .. with the neighborhood."
The committee opted to continue consideration of the request at its May 19 meeting. In the meantime, Carpenter suggested, the project's developer, contractor and engineer could meet with nearby residents to discuss concerns expressed by some of those residents on Wednesday about an access point to the project on a neighborhood street, and about vegetative screening of the business structure from its residential neighbors.
Riley Palmer, owner of the construction company contracted for the project, told TRC members Wednesday that a number of meetings had already been held with neighborhood residents.
"Continuing it is something we don’t want to do," Palmer said. "We’ve been waiting a long time, we’re ready to get started. My preference is that we go ahead and take action on it today."
Carpenter acknowledged that “there’s been quite a lot of commercial activity in that corner of that neighborhood for a long, long time," — in particular, he noted the long-standing Elmo's restaurant — "but we’re proposing to put additional commercial there.”
Carpenter went on to note that the county's interest is "to make sure that whatever goes there ... is compatible with the existing residential use and the existing neighborhood commercial use."