SWCC settles Topsail Hill development with Walton Commissioners

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SANTA ROSA BEACH — The South Walton Community Council (SWCC), a nonprofit organization that works on quality of life and environmental issues, is among parties that have settled a legal challenge to the council’s 2017 approval from Walton County Commissioners of a proposed mixed-use development on Walton County Highway 30A adjacent to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

The settlement of the lawsuit brought by the SWCC, the nonprofit Beach to Bay Connection and two landowners against the county and Ashwood Development, an Atlanta-based company pursuing the Cypress Lake project, has been approved by the commissioners for the end of last year with a unanimous vote. Lawyers for SWCC and the other plaintiffs, as well as Ashwood Development, also signed the settlement.

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Under the agreement, Ashwood Development – ​​the company behind Cypress Dunes, another residential development on Walton County’s Highway 30A – will be permitted to continue developing Cypress Lake. but with a new site plan and modified county development order that addresses most of the SWCC’s concerns.

This is the original plan for the Cypress Lake mixed-use project on Walton County Road 30A that was challenged in court by two local nonprofit groups and two county residents.  The plan included a mix of residential units, including condominiums, and 53,000 square feet of commercial space.

“We got most of what we were looking for in the lawsuit,” SWCC’s Fred Tricker said Friday. Noting that the issue has been in the court system for over four years, with all the expense that goes with it, “you get to the point where it’s not worth fighting for anymore,” Tricker added.

Cypress Lake was originally designed as a mixed-use development with 141 residential units – 85 single-family, 40 duplex and 16 condominium lots – and two four-story commercial buildings comprising 53,000 square feet on 22 acres at 850 meters south of the United States. Highway 98.

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Under the settlement agreement and amended development order under which construction can proceed, Ashwood Development has reconfigured the project to include 141 single-family lots rather than the originally planned residential mix, although the Developer retains the right to change lot sizes as long as all changed lots fit within the existing footprint of 141 lots.

This is the amended plan submitted by Atlanta-based Ashwood Development for a mixed-use project at the west end of Walton County Road 30A near U.S. Highway 98. The new plan, the result of an agreement settlement reached as part of a legal challenge to the project, significantly limits commercial space in the development and restricts residential development to single-family homes.

Additionally, Ashwood Development has significantly reduced the footprint of the planned commercial component of Cypress Lake. Under the agreement, it will now build just 6,750 square feet of retail space contained in two single-story structures – one comprising 3,750 square feet and the other comprising 3,000 square feet – rather than the two four-story structures originally planned with 53,000 square feet of retail space.

The settlement agreement also strengthens setback requirements for structures built on lots adjacent to the Cypress Dunes development and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, prohibits any vertical structures within the 20-foot setback of the Walton County Scenic Corridor Highway 30A, requires the project to include a transit stop, and also requires the developer to install a traffic calming signal light to protect a crosswalk on CR 30A.

SWCC, Beach to Bay Connection and Walton County residents Judah Imhof and Richard Bullard filed a lawsuit following the commission’s 2017 decision to issue a development order for the project. They claimed in a judge-only proceeding before Judge David Green that the county approved the development despite, among other things, violating the county’s own building setback policies and requirements.

Green, relying on a 2017 Florida case from Lee County that limited judicial reviews of development challenges, later ruled that plaintiffs could only raise issues related to intensity, density and land use in relation to the Cypress Lake project.

The plaintiffs appealed to the state’s First District Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel ruled in September last year that Green erred in relying on the court’s decision. of appeal in the Lee County case, and remanded the case to the Circuit Court. .

Some filings were filed in the Circuit Court following the appeals court ruling, but a letter filed with the court on January 25 of this year by Ashwood Development’s attorney informed Green that a settlement had been concluded between the parties and that on February 1 the hearing which had been fixed was no longer necessary.

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