Walton County Commission Approved Seagrove Beach Access Design

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SANTA ROSA BEACH — After a sometimes controversial exchange during which local residents were characterized as not necessarily recognizing the realities of life in a popular holiday setting, Walton County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the latest design plans for major work at the Walton Dunes Regional Beach Access at Seagrove Beach.

Public beach access on Beachfront Trail, about a mile south of Walton County Road 30A, now only includes a few roadside parking lots and clear access to the beach between the dunes. Improving access has been discussed in county government for at least 10 years.

Beach access improvement plans show public restrooms, a total of a dozen parking spaces along both sides of the Beachfront Pathway, a few handicapped parking spaces, nearly a dozen spaces for parking golf carts, bike racks and a footbridge over the dunes which will also provide a ramp for people with disabilities to get to the beach.

The works will be financed by income from the 5% tourist tax levied on tourist accommodation in the south of the county. The tax, paid by visitors, generates millions of dollars each year for the county’s Tourism Development Council (TDC). TDC expenditures must be approved by the County Commission.

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Seagrove Beach neighbors oppose plan

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Lisa Minshew, a Pensacola attorney representing the Beachfront Townhomes Owners Association, a group of nearby homeowners, raised a host of issues that homeowners consider problematic to continue construction of the access to the beach.

“It’s not wanted by the community,” Minshew said. “They think it’s going to be a really big deal.”

Specifically, Minshew argued that the property is under the control of a Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lease that will require Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) approval and that some parking spaces encroach on owners’ property.

She also said the project should be treated as a major development, which would require review by the county government’s planning apparatus before any final decision by the county commission.

“We think they (the BLM) are going to turn it down,” Minshew said, before a number of owners offered their own criticisms of the proposal.

Neighborhood resident Mark Hitchcox called the project “unsustainable” due to the increased traffic he expects it will bring to the neighborhood.

Another Beachfront Trail resident, Annette Crosby, argued that expanding beach access would present environmental issues for sea turtles, beach mice and other animals and plants.

Beachfront Trail full-time resident Tina Baran and Beachfront Townhomes property owner April Berman have also spoken out against expanding beach access.

“An awful design”

“The reason it hasn’t happened in the last 10 years is because it’s a horrible design and a bad idea,” Baran argued. For his part, Berman warned the commissioners that “there is a group of … owners who will continue to oppose this idea.”

Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for the TDC, vigorously disputed Minshew’s presentation. According to Kellenberger, the BLM deeded the beach access road to the county in 2013 on the condition that it be used for public projects.

“The BLM is in no way opposed to this,” Kellenberger told the commissioners. Likewise, he specifies that the FDEP is “in no way opposed to this project”. Kellenberger also noted that the planned dune crossing will be built over what he called a “gap” in the dunes created by neighborhood residents traveling to the beach.

“Not unique to Beachfront Trail”

Kellenberger said the project does not encroach on neighboring property owners, with all proposed improvements located within a 66-foot public right-of-way.

Additionally, Kellenberger told residents and commissioners that by improving beach access, the county is “not creating additional traffic” because a large number of bathers are already arriving in the area.

Noting that the beach access has undergone a number of design changes based on neighborhood feedback, Kellenberger said emphatically, “I think we’ve addressed all of the concerns except the one concern (among nearby residents and owners), that ‘I don’t want more people on the beach than I enjoy.'”

“And this problem is not unique to Beachfront Trail,” Kellenberger pointed out.

Following:Walton commissioners express interest in purchasing land for possible mobility plan

“This property belongs to the county,” Commissioner Danny Glidewell said ahead of the commission’s vote to approve the latest design proposal. “We’ve been discussing this project for over 10 years, and in the meantime we’ve spent probably $30 million to $40 million buying access. And at some point, I’m sure taxpayers are going to start asking, ” Why are we buying more waterfront, when we won’t even develop what we have? It’s time to move on.”

In a related development on Tuesday, commissioners approved a ‘legislative conclusion’ that paves the way for $2.3 million in bed tax revenue to be used to purchase a 0.16 acre lot on Hotz Avenue in Grayton Beach, a popular spot for local and visiting beachgoers. Public toilets and a transit stop are provided for the package.

In other matters, commissioners voted 4-1, with commissioner Tony Anderson casting the only dissenting vote, to back the county’s $3 million bid to purchase the former Mojo Sportswear building on the US Highway 90 just outside the western limit of DeFuniak Springs. . The property is of particular interest to the county because it is adjacent to the current county public works department, which county officials are looking to expand.

The vote came amid a counteroffer by the owner to sell the land, which includes a large building, for $3.375 million. Anderson, as well as some members of the public who spoke on Tuesday, said the process for acquiring the property goes against established county procedures for such purchases.

The county is currently working on changes to that process, but Clay Adkinson, the county’s acting attorney, said Tuesday that simply discussing a potential purchase price does not violate the county’s real estate buying process. .

Before the vote, Adkinson told commissioners that any eventual purchase of the property would require the commission to follow its established purchasing procedures. Tuesday’s action, he said, would simply put the county first among potential buyers of the leaflet.

Nonetheless, among the critics of the move was local realtor Jim Bagby, who suggested that the county’s $3 million offer would actually set the price for the land.

“Do you really think it won’t price (for $3 million) if you put an option (to call) on it for $3 million?” Bagby asked. “Option for $2 million and see what the property values.”

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