Walton County approves $2.3 million land purchase for Grayton Beach public restroom

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News
A small tract on Hotz Avenue in Grayton Beach will be purchased by Walton County for installation of a public restroom and other amenities.

GRAYTON BEACH — Walton County commissioners have approved a $2.3 million expenditure of Walton County Tourist Development Council funds for a 0.16-acre tract in Grayton Beach to serve as the site of a public restroom and transit stop.

The hefty price tag spurred a second decision Tuesday by the commission to revamp the way it identifies tracts in which the county has an interest and how it goes about acquiring those tracts. 

The tract approved for purchase Tuesday, on the south side of Hotz Avenue west of DeFuniak Street, has been the subject of TDC interest for some time as a way to boost tourist amenities in the tiny beachside community off County Road 30A.

"I don't think anybody doesn't understand we need bathrooms in Grayton," said Commissioner Danny Glidewell. "That's obviously our prettiest and most-used beach."

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Glidewell went on to note that the small tract is ideally located for the county's purposes, inasmuch as it adjoins property already leased by the county from the state.

“There's not a whole lot of property left in Grayton Beach that we could even entertain buying," Glidewell said before the commission's vote to direct the county attorney and county administrators to start the purchase process.

Glidewell acknowledged the high price for the tract, but added that "we all know how (the price) of property is moving in this county right now. ... If we don't do this (purchase), we're missing the boat."

In other comments leading to the broader discussion of the county's approach to real estate purchases, Glidewell noted that the county had been talking about the Hotz Avenue tract for months, and had continually delayed making any deal with the property owner, whom Glidewell said had been exceedingly gracious throughout the process.

"This is crazy," Glidewell said, "We need to go ahead and move on it (the property purchase) today."

With regard to TDC purchases of property, which must be approved by the County Commission, the process has in recent history involved the TDC's executive director identifying properties that might be of use to the county and presenting those properties to the commission for possible action. From there, the commission typically asked for an appraisal to be done on any property that catches its interest before a decision is made.

A family poses for a photo at Grayton Beach State Park in 2018.

But on Tuesday, Commissioner Mike Barker, who has held a real estate license for more than 20 years, said there were things he wanted to know before moving to an appraisal, such as a property's zoning, whether there's a clear need for it, whether it contains wetlands and how the community would feel about a county acquisition.

"It wouldn't take very long to accomplish these things before it comes to us" for a decision on an appraisal, said Barker, who added that "we need a little bit straighter path" toward land acquisition.

Commissioners addressed those concerns in two separate actions Tuesday, first voting to have county staff members make some recommendations for changes to the current ordinances governing acquisition of property.

Beyond that, commissioners also decided to develop a request for qualifications from real estate agents who might be interested in joining the county staff to guide the government's property acquisition efforts. That request for qualifications will not be issued until a second commission vote authorizes that action.

Those moves were based on suggestions from Clay Adkinson, the county's interim counsel, who also suggested that the county government should take a broad look at properties all across the county and make a regularly updated list of tracts that might someday serve some purpose.

Adkinson also suggested that instead of making its interests known through regular forays into the community, the county should hold open solicitations once or twice a year, during which people interested in selling property to the county would disclose that interest, and basic terms of a deal could be put in place before any formal purchase.

That approach, Adkinson said, would keep the county out of scenarios in which its announced interest in a property could result in the price being run up.

Get connected:Pre-registration underway for Walton high-speed internet service

In other business Tuesday, commissioners:

  • Heard from Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg that the county is working to acquire doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, approved for use in younger people, so that vaccination of the county's 12-to-18-year-old population can begin.
  • Granted a delay to WildStar Networks in implementing the first two phases of wireless broadband service in the northern parts of the county. The start of service for the northernmost part of the county now is set for Oct. 1.

WildStar Networks has a $3.5 million contract to bring wireless broadband service to the county, starting in the northern end and working southward.

A WildStar Networks representatives told commissioners that the delay is a result of equipment manufacturers falling behind in production because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Heard a resident's request for installation of a traffic light at the intersection of Walton County Roads 283 and 30A. The county has been looking at the possibility of replacing the four-way-stop at the intersection with a light, but according to information from Tuesday's meeting, it will be at least the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, before anything could begin to be done at the intersection.

As part of the discussion, Glidewell urged a broader look at major intersections along the 30A corridor.

"There needs to be a light at every one of those intersections, and we need to start talking about it," he said.