Residents concerned Draper Lake townhome development will be overbuilt, unsafe

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA  ROSA BEACH — A local real estate development company incorporated just four months ago will be given another chance next month to make its case for a nine-town home development with a swimming pool on a little more than three-quarters of an acre on Walton County Road 30A near Draper Lake just west of Blue Mountain Beach.

The proposed Draper Townhomes development faced stiff opposition at Wednesday's meeting of the county's Technical Review Committee (TRC) from residents of The Pines, an adjacent residential subdivision, and from Barbara Morano, representing the South Walton Community Council (SWCC), a nonprofit organization working on quality-of-life issues in the southern end of the county.

Elsewhere along Draper Lake: Massive changes to Walton residential proposal earn praise

You may find interesting:No parking zones: Walton County may limit vacation rentals with stricter parking regulations

The development company, Draper Townhomes LLC of Santa Rosa Beach, is pursuing the project as a mixed-use development, contending that an 8-foot-wide multiple use path, a designated physical fitness amenity comprising a pull-up bar and a bench, and the environmental preservation in place on part of the site, should qualify it as mixed-use.

But Morano questioned whether the plan met the standard for such amenities, suggesting to the TRC that "urban amenities really means parks, playgrounds, green spaces, et cetera."

An aerial map shows the proposed location for the nine-town home development on Walton County Road 30A near Blue Mountain Beach that is currently under review by planning officials.

The mixed-used designation allows the developer to proceed with the project at the requested high residential density, although Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter, who chairs the TRC, openly questioned whether Draper Townhomes should qualify as a mixed-use development.

"So we're suggesting that preservation is a use?" Carpenter asked Dean Burgess of Emerald Coast Associates, the local engineering firm working on the project. 

"I'm not sure we can count preservation as a use when we're talking about a mixed-use development," Carpenter said. "We have lots of developments that are single-use properties that are required to have preservation."

Burgess countered that preservation is "a development-limiting parameter," appearing to suggest that preservation should be considered a use in terms of mixed-use development.

Carpenter quickly disagreed, saying that preservation "is supposed to be a development-limiting factor."

Residents in the area of Draper Lake in South Walton County are concerned about development, including a proposed nine-town home project nearby off County Road 30A.

However, Carpenter stopped short of actually calling the Draper Townhomes proposal a single-use development, although he did concede that it could be seen in that way. That, presumably, will be one of the issues the developer will have addressed by Nov. 17, when the proposal, with questions raised Wednesday answered, is back in front of the committee. 

"I'm not convinced that we have a mixed-use project," Carpenter said prior to the TRC's unanimous vote to reconsider the proposal next month.

"This appears to be a single-use project, and as such, we have more (town home) units than ... (the county's land development code) would allow," Carpenter said.

Rounding down from calculating the number of units that could be placed on the tract as a single-use development, Carpenter indicated, would indicate that a maximum of six units could be placed on the 0.82-acre site.

Neighborhood residents were decidedly less circumspect than Carpenter in their comments at Wednesday's session.

An aerial view of  Draper Lake and the surrounding community located along County Highway 30A in south Walton County.

Also along 30A:specialty license plate could help fund Walton County beautification, safety projects

Travis Hamilton, a resident of The Pines, said he and his neighbors see the developer "using some vagaries — I don't want to say sleight-of-hand — ... to essentially overbuild on this lot."

"We want to be good neighbors," Hamilton told the TRC. "We're more than willing to work with them ... but I think it needs to be a collaborative effort between Walton County, the developer, the engineers and the community to do this."

In the meantime, other residents said they have concerns about the additional traffic and visitors the nine-town home development, which could become short-term vacation rental housing and add to the number of visitors in the already crowded area.

An aerial view of  Draper Lake and the surrounding community located along County Highway 30A in south Walton County.

Bruce Roberts, for instance, noted that with the limited parking proposed for the town homes, comprising just a couple of spaces, would prompt visitors to park along the right of way of heavily traveled CR 30A.

"It's going to be extremely dangerous," Roberts said.

A related concern, resident Tim Tricker said, is how people will get in and out of the development as currently planned.

Related:Hewett Road, Draper Lake developments stall amid friction with neighbors, county

"I'm not sure how you get people in and out of that property on an ongoing basis because there's going to be cars parked everywhere," Tricker said

That also would create some safety issues, Morano and others suggested, raising concerns regarding whether emergency vehicles could access the area if needed.

"The (nine-unit) density creates a life safety issue for a firetruck to enter," Morano said, adding that cars that likely will be parked on the street instead of in garages also would impede emergency access.

Morano, telling the TRC that the SWCC was asking that the development be limited to six units, went as far as to ask Carpenter what legal remedies the community might have in the event of a different decision from the TRC.

"It (further action, including possible legal action against the development) is not where we want to go," Morano quickly added. "We want to go for the six town homes in a nice development with no fire safety issues."

"We don't make our decisions based on whether on not we're going to get sued, or appealed," Carpenter responded. "... We make our decisions based on what we think is the right thing to do based on what the (county's land development) code is."