Dara Hartigan

Gulf Breeze News – August 6, 2020

The first public workshop on the changes to the Santa Rosa County Land Development Code (LDC) was held July 30 in Milton and lasted almost three hours. There was a 30-minute presentation from the county’s Planning and Zoning Department. The rest of the time was spent hearing from 11 members of the public with questions and suggestions for changes that included everything from tree protections to the need for more sidewalks to clear cutting by developers, among other issues.

Shawn Ward, director of planning and zoning, gave some background on how the process of reviewing and rewriting sections of the LDC began, saying, “Last year, in February 2019, I reluctantly went to the county commission and asked to update the Land Development Code. It was something we had never done. We had added parts here and there, but never updated all of it.”

He explained that the LDC was originally adopted in Santa Rosa County in August 1991. The requirements for the LDC come from the Florida statutes. “That original LDC was created from the zoning ordinances and subdivision ordinance between 1986 and 1991,” Ward explained. He said 95 percent of the original LDC is included in this update.

A county Comprehensive Plan is mandated by the state, also, and must be updated every seven years with the last update being in 2017. The Comp Plan mandates an LDC for the county, also.

“The difference between the Comprehensive Plan and the LDC is that the Comp Plan looks ahead 10-20 years and involves general land use for activities like where to have residential, commercial and industrial land use. The Land Development Code gets into the weeds more, and sets specific standards like lot sizes, buffers, conditional uses allowed, permitting.”

Ward said to do this update the staff looked at zoning board cases, as to how many variance cases have been filed and approved. He said if variances on one issue had been approved over and over the staff realized that area of the LDC should be changed. Then they looked at Code Enforcement cases, saying, “If it is something we have to go out and look at over and over then it is something that probably should not be in the LDC as a violation.”

He said they started their work in February 2019 and held two public workshops in August 2019, with one in Pace and one at Tiger Point in Gulf Breeze. They did give the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) an update in July 2-019 of the plan and what they had found so far. More updates to the BOCC came in October and in November 2019, with a discussion meeting with the commissioners in December 2019 concerning land clearing and signs.

A draft of the proposed changes so far was presented February 26 to the county commission and the public. It was also placed on the county website. Then, after this public workshop in July, there will be a public workshop in Milton at 9 a.m. Aug. 26,at the county complex.

Ward said, “At that workshop we will talk about the items discussed here tonight and if there is something specific we could not come top an agreement about or negotiate, we will take it to the commissioners.”

Then, in November, the draft of the LDC changes will be presented to the zoning board, and Ward said “hopefully” in December 2020 the BOCC will adopt the final draft.

He outlined several “stakeholders” he and his staff had talked with during this update process, which included Chambers of Commerce, Homeowners Assn.s, County Departments, State and Federal agencies, County Commissioners, Individuals, as well as researching other county and municipalities’ codes.

One section of the published draft includes public comments received so far.

Ward went through the 11 Chapters of the LDC pointing out any changes made. Some changes involved more minor issues like consolidating all the definitions into one spot near the front of the documents and adding some definitions, while others involved issues that would directly impact builders and developers. Some changes addressed set backs and buffers.

“We put in some new definitions to meet the changing times, like ‘tiny house’ and ‘medical marijuana’ – things we get calls and asked about daily in our office,” Ward said.

The tree ordinance was discussed, explaining that the original protected Heritage Tree in the original LDC was to be 60 inches around, but as he explained, “Some people wanted the new heritage Tree protection to go to trees at least 36 inches in diameter and some wanted it to be 24 inches. Since the original was 60 inches, we took the measurement in the middle of 36 inches to use for the update.”

Ward said they “added major land clearing language” and clarified signage language using requirements from the state model.

“We added sidewalk requirements for commercial development, also,” Ward said. “We saw that now in the State of Florida Streetscape program that wherever they widen a road, they work into the design sidewalks and bike lanes. We thought this was important for Santa Rosa County from all the input we had received on sidewalks.”

They also changed fence heights from only allowing six foot privacy fences without a variance to eight foot privacy fences.

“Now you can go to Home Depot any weekend and grab an eight foot privacy fence picket and go home and build your fence,” Ward said. “And that is consistent with our neighboring counties, also.”

Pool set backs were lowered, and dock heights addressed.

“Concurrency is something we hear a lot about in Santa Rosa County, both traffic concurrency and school concurrency. The State of Florida currently does not include traffic concurrency or school concurrency in its Comp Plan,”Ward said. “Our county commissioners had removed concurrency, so we had outdated language in our LDC. However if impact fees come back or traffic concurrency enacted we can add that back in at any time.”

One important piece that was deleted for the Navarre area was the section addressing the “Heart of Navarre,” requiring certain architectural standards.

“The Heart of Navarre Overlay was great at the time, then kind of piece-mealed over time and then not used. So we took that out.” They also took out the Heart of Navarre architectural review committee.”

One of the last and biggest changes was in the last chapter of the LDC addressing applications, review and decision making procedures, saying that if anyone was turned down for a variance by the county commissioners they had to wait 12 months before re-applying.

“People made it very clear they were not happy when applications for a variance that had been turned down came back for another review two months after being turned down,” Ward said.

When opening the Public Forum in the meeting, Ward said, “We are here tonight to listen. This is where we started this process – looking for input. We want to hear anything in this draft that you like, your dislikes, your suggestions for proposed changes.”

The staff took notes and listened for the following two hours, with two speakers taking an hour of that time – Save Our Soundside president Dara Lynn Hartigan and developer/builder Ed Henry.

Hartigan was the first speaker er and told the staff, “We put together a one-page list of suggestions for the LDC and you all have a copy. These came after Save Our Soundside received a lot of phone calls and emails with complaints, suggestions, input, and questions from the public.”

The first thing she addressed was the tree ordinance. She said few trees in the south end get 36 inches around because of the sandy soil, and with subdivision developers currently clear cutting all the properties they are developing. The 36-inch ordinance for Heritage Trees would not help the south end.

She requested that for the south end that be changed to 24 inch trees.

She also said, “I don’t see any prohibition on clear cutting in here, Shawn. It still looks like developers will be able to clear cut complete parcels where homes are being built.

“We have lost the unique qualities of our existing neighborhood there on Soundside. It used to be known for its beautiful trees and now they are pretty much all gone.” She said they also requested that 25 percent of any subdivision development be left natural and include natural buffers and perimeters.

“To completely destroy these forests changes the flood plain and everything around it,” she said.

Ed Henry received the most back and forth questioning and feedback from the staff panel when he addressed the several areas involving builder regulations, saying “With what you have here now it will take $22,000 just to build a new home in Santa Rosa County.”


View online at https:// www.santarosa.fl.gov/740/ Land-Development-Code- Rewrite-and-Update