Slippery slope? Santa Rosa Beach residents concerned about impacts of denser development

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

FREEPORT — The owner of a 20-acre tract on Nellie Drive must meet with residents of the surrounding neighborhood along and near Chat Holley Road in Santa Rosa Beach before taking his request for a significant increase in allowable residential density to the Walton County Planning Commission for consideration.

That was the condition upon which the county's Technical Review Committee (TRC) approved forwarding the request from Philip Krupp for a proposed zoning change that would boost the density allowed on the tract from one residential unit per 2.5 acres to two residential units per acre.

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At that density, according to information from Wednesday's TRC meeting, the homes would have to be clustered on the acreage in order not to compromise wetland areas. A site plan for the tract shows just that, with 39 building lots arranged around its 9 acres of wetlands. 

Wednesday's meeting in Freeport was the second time the requested rezoning had been in front of the TRC. Following the earlier appearance, the request went to the Planning Commission, where commissioners opted not to recommend the proposed change to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which makes the final decision on zoning issues.

After that Planning Commission meeting, where the proposed rezoning request faced considerable public opposition, Krupp and his representatives opted to pull the request rather than risk a denial by county commissioners, and started a new process at Wednesday's TRC meeting. That new rezoning request is the same as the previous request, a county planning department staff member said Wednesday.

Stephen Tatum, the attorney with local law firm Matthews & Jones representing Krupp, told TRC members before their Wednesday vote that this time there would indeed be a neighborhood meeting.

A site plan shows how 39 residential lots could be arranged on a 20-acre parcel in southern Walton County to avoid wetland areas. The tract's owner is seeking a rezoning change that would allow that density of residential development.

Saying that Krupp and his representatives had been "kind of blindsided" by public opposition at the Planning Commission meeting, Tatum added that "I have every intent of having some sort of meeting" with the neighborhood.

Additionally, Tatum said he had business cards to hand out to opponents of the rezoning request who showed up for the TRC session.

Tatum said there had been some exploration of alternate approaches to the 20-acre tract in a fast-developing area of the county north of U.S. Highway 98, but no better options could be found. He pointed out that there are areas near the Krupp tract with higher density allowances, including some areas allowing four units per acre, some allowing eight units and some allowing 12 units.

"We're not asking for something out of the ordinary for the area," Tatum told TRC members.

As is the case with all TRC meetings, public comment at Wednesday's session was limited to issues relating to the technical sufficiency of the request. In responding to a question from a nearby East Nursery Road resident, county Planning Director Mac Carpenter said that it was "perfectly legal, perfectly normal and above board" for a property owner to resubmit a previously rejected rezoning request without making any changes to that request.

"At this stage, we are not evaluating a subdivision," Carpenter reminded those at the meeting.

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Margaret Landry of Joy Lane near Nellie Drive wondered whether allowing a zoning change to boost density was advisable, given that property owners know what a tract is zoned when they buy it.

"It just doesn't seem that allowing density is a legitimate reason for a zoning change," Landry said. One reason, she added, is the potential for a domino effect with surrounding tracts for which people might want increased density as a tool to market their properties to developers.

"All the good parcels (in southern Walton County) have been developed, so now some of the less desirable" parcels are moving in that direction, said Landry, who added, "When this property changes, the next property is going to want to change and the next property is going to want to change."

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And with the area only recently drying out from rain spurred by Hurricane Ida, Landry worried that additional development would bring stormwater runoff issues. 

 "At some point, we have to take a look at the land and the (land) use and the wildlife and lots of things," she said.

No date was announced Wednesday for the neighborhood meeting.