Driftwood Estates easement dispute
Attorney suppresses Driftwood access discussion at county meeting
By Gabriel Tynes
With litigation pending, the Walton Board of County Commissioners refused to hear testimony from members of the Greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners’ Association regarding an 18-year-old easement dispute at Tuesday’s BCC meeting. County Attorney David Hallman advised the board the issue should not be discussed in a board meeting, but rather at a roundtable discussion between Driftwood, the Sandestin Homeowners’ Association and the county.
While the issue was buried halfway through the BCC agenda Nov. 14, Hallman addressed the audience at the beginning of the meeting and said that due to the ongoing court case, it may not be discussed at all. However, a crowd of Driftwood homeowners that spilled into the lobby of the South Walton Courthouse Annex remained until GDEHA Chairman Alan Osborne was allowed to speak.
Osborne, who filed an alternative writ of mandamus against the county on behalf of the GDEHA last month, said he feared other Driftwood homeowners would not be able to participate in roundtable discussions, and the Sandestin Homeowners’ Association had previously expressed an unwillingness to cooperate with any non-judicial negotiations.
At issue is whether Driftwood homeowners were underrepresented in a 1988 public hearing regarding the abandonment of an easement providing access through Sandestin. The county’s abandonment of the access left hundreds of homeowners with only a single entrance or exit to their neighborhood, a circumstance that Osborne complained is a nuisance and a safety risk.
According to the writ of mandamus, the homeowners believe the county and Sandestin disregarded a state statute that provides for the manner in which a previously recorded plat can be vacated or annulled.
But Osborne’s primary concern at the meeting was to discuss past board minutes and more recent appeals, a subject Hallman advised not to discuss because it is discussed in the writ of mandamus.
District Five County Commissioner Cindy Meadows said since there was no new information on the case, Tuesday’s meeting was neither the time or the place for further debate.
“Discussions tonight will just not be fruitful,” Meadows said. “We should let this issue work its way through the court.”
Osborne suggested that using Hallman’s logic, since the entire Sandestin DRI is intertwined with the case, all new development should be halted.
Earlier in the meeting, the BCC approved to advertise for proposals to solve a separate Driftwood issue – poor drainage. According to neighborhood residents, elevated construction in the interior of the neighborhood often leads rainfall to accumulate around the perimeter.
Former Public Works Director Allen Brown said “Phase A” of drainage improvements could cost around $600,000, but the proposals would give the county good, sound numbers. Once the figures are available, new drainage pipes could be installed as early as January. There was no discussion of a price for the total project, but previous estimates have placed it around $1.6 million.
In October 2005, North Tip Development LLC, the original developers of Driftwood Estates, paid the county $60,000 as a contribution to improvements to drainage and roadways in Driftwood. In an agreement signed by former BCC Chariman Kenneth Pridgen, the payment lifted a development moratorium against North Tip and supposedly resolved all disputes and claims between the county and the developer.
Last month, commissioner Meadows said while the board has made no decisions on funding as of yet, “we do recognize the drainage a serious issue and we’re not going to let it go.”