South Walton couple sues county over weddings

Discussion in 'Local Government and Groups' started by Kurt Lischka, Jun 18, 2011.

  1. Kurt Lischka

    Kurt Lischka Admin Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Messages:
    12,457,705
    Likes Received:
    1,214,794
    Location:
    SoWal
    http://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/nwfdailynews-41134-bennett-property.html
     
  2. Franny

    Franny Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2005
    Messages:
    4,048
    Likes Received:
    205
    Location:
    Pt. Washington
    The best to you Rep and Karen!
     
  3. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2007
    Messages:
    4,403
    Likes Received:
    1,659
    Location:
    Blue Mountain Beach
    If we in this county cannot say what our land use codes are, then be prepared to look just like Destin does and all of you know what I mean. Sustainable growth is growth controlled and their lawyer is right. It is about much more than weddings.
    It is my fervent hope the judge in this case realizes community leaders have, not only the right, but also the responsibility to decide how an area will develop. There is no Constitutional issue here other than one in the lawyer's head. It is too bad the Bennett's see fit to ignore the laws and ordinances that the rest of us must live by. I hope they get what they deserve.
     
  4. Beach Runner

    Beach Runner beats on hood

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2005
    Messages:
    15,300
    Likes Received:
    804
    Location:
    Near the ATL and in SoWal as often as possible
    I really don't know how I feel about this.

    I enjoy seeing weddings on the beach. It makes me smile. As long as the guests don't park on the neighbors' property and don't violate the noise ordinance, it seems okay.

    On the other hand, there have been private parties in our neighborhood where the guests blocked the parking area for our home. I have seen other parties in SoWal where guests have parked on top of nicely-landscaped areas. Guests just want to park, and many don't seem to care what they damage. That's why for our daughter's wedding reception at our home in Georgia last June 19, we hired two police officers to control traffic and hired drivers for rented vans to transfer people from a school parking lot three houses away to our house. I would hope that the Bennetts are requiring similar supervision so as not to inconvenience any of their neighbors.
     
  5. Franny

    Franny Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2005
    Messages:
    4,048
    Likes Received:
    205
    Location:
    Pt. Washington
    Andy, I don't believe you have ever attended the Bennetts' wedding parties. Just to educate you the Bennetts' hire off duty sheriff officiers to maintain complete control of their events, including noise, parking issues, etc.
     
  6. Douglas the Intrepid

    Douglas the Intrepid Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2009
    Messages:
    1,335
    Likes Received:
    365
    Location:
    On the shores of paradise, Seagrove Beach
    I am sure they are nice people Franny, but the bottom line is their property is not being used as it was zoned and many locals don't appreciate living next to a continious wedding party. I am pleased to see that the county has been enforcing the law and agree completely with Andy.
     
  7. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    3,123
    Likes Received:
    796
    That don't sound to much like the basic tenets of the Tea Party.
     
  8. Gidget

    Gidget Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 27, 2009
    Messages:
    2,470
    Likes Received:
    623
    Location:
    Blue Mtn Beach!!
    IDK enough about this - I truly haven't followed it. But I do believe in following rules as Andy and DTI said. In particular, neighborhood zoning laws, picking up after our pets, not littering, not burning, not leaving tents and tarps on the beach overnight, all the things that make ours a truly civilized society where people can live in peace and quiet and orderliness. I personally would NOT want to live next to a place having weddings all summer.
    I like an atmosphere as quiet as undiscovered tomb [​IMG]
     
  9. beachFool

    beachFool Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 6, 2007
    Messages:
    938
    Likes Received:
    442
    I agree with everything except the last sentence my friend Andy wrote. For Andy and me, that's pretty good.

    In south Georgia I am not allowed to drill another 12 inch irrigation well and put the land into crop production.

    My farm is too close to the Flint River so I guess we are zoned "no more irrigation wells".

    Scientists feel increased drilling in South Georgia will impact the Flint/Chattahoochee drainage basin.

    Owning real estate carries zoning risk via land-use regulation.

    You mitigate risk by diversification. Some real estate investments have virtually no zoning risks.
     
  10. 30A Skunkape

    30A Skunkape Mr. Small Box

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2006
    Messages:
    10,115
    Likes Received:
    1,904
    Location:
    Backatown Seagrove
    Interesting letter to the editor in this week's Defuniak Herald on this topic. Maybe someone can link to it. In a nutshell, some old time Walton 'mafia' members have a stake in the lucrative beach wedding bidness, but don't have much in the way of interference.
     
  11. Kurt Lischka

    Kurt Lischka Admin Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2004
    Messages:
    12,457,705
    Likes Received:
    1,214,794
    Location:
    SoWal
    It usually takes about a week to get their stuff online. I don't think letters are published though.
     
  12. Bob Hudson

    Bob Hudson Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,066
    Likes Received:
    545
    Location:
    Santa Rosa Beach
    From the DeFuniak Herald

    Editor:

    Who's really running Walton County?

    For years, the wedding and event industry and a small
    group of homeowners, have been fighting it out, to see who
    would win territory on the beaches of South Walton. During
    these many years of confrontation, mud-slinging, namecalling,
    lawsuits, restraining orders and screaming at the
    county commissioners, there has never been one person, or
    group of people, that questions could be directed.

    From weddings and events being shut down, and bridal
    parties being hauled off to jail, to homeowners being fined
    an unbelievable amount of money, the issue has been read
    and seen around the nation, thrusting Walton County into
    the spotlight.

    On May 26 at LaBotana Restaurant in south Walton,
    numerous business owners, rental property owners, members
    of the press, and concerned citizens, met in a private
    meeting. They discussed all the problems that the county
    is facing, including the reason why Walton County is in a
    $4 million shortfall, and why in the last three years, three
    commercial wedding venues were opened up, all by former
    county officials.

    The questions also arose why the county is not concerned
    with the possibility of losing millions in wedding and event
    revenue, and are relying on just a handful, hand selected
    group of people to make the decisions, shut down events,
    and cause the county to lose out in millions.

    Many wanted to know if the county commissioners and a
    select few have their own plans that might come with redistricting
    the county? Others say the county sees every other
    source of income from this county, sliding down the tubes,
    and know that since the wedding industry brings in millions,
    they want to capitalize on that industry's success?

    But to many of those attending, the meeting turned into
    an investigation; more than just a time of question and answers,
    and all were asking just who is running the government
    in Walton County?

    Throughout the discussion of those attending, the latest
    code enforcement action taken against rental property owners,
    Karen and Rep Bennett, was the main topic. A topic
    which developed into what the code enforcement board really
    does, who serves on the board, and what authority they
    have in issuing citations and placing fines on homeowners,
    businesses and individuals?

    After the Walton County Board of Commissioners washed
    their hands of making any decisions on coming up with an
    ordinance concerning land use and weddings/events, they
    handed it over to a code enforcement board that was given
    the authority to meet, discuss and decide what would happen,
    when it would happen, for how much and to whom.
    A job, countless of business owners, tax payers and citizens
    have asked, should be that of those we elected, and not a
    group of volunteers.
    Some very interesting points were made and after thorough
    investigation uncovered various answers, many of
    the pieces of the puzzle, began to fall into place. A puzzle
    that for all the wedding and event industry, seemed to have
    more than a few pieces missing, began to develop into what
    many considered, a group of "mob bosses."

    Once the discussion of the code enforcement board, the
    current redistricting that the commissioners are trying to
    make, and the involvement of the South Walton Community
    Council, light bulbs seemed to go off over the heads
    of all those business owners, rental property owners and
    concerned citizens. From that point on, the real discussion
    began, and so did the plans to layout what could be the biggest
    development in Walton County politics history.

    It all begins with an organization that for the most part,
    was formed to help protect the environment and insure
    preservation along the beaches of Walton County. But,
    have been known to, and are currently, have agendas to
    shut down the largest and most profitable business in Walton
    County, and not just on the southend.

    It has been a widely known Walton County "folk lore,"
    that the South Walton Community Council often questions
    the legitimacy of land sales transactions, land development
    use are an to create a "sea doubt" in attempts to make it appear
    that a property developer has done something unethical or
    illegal before the developer can even start their property
    development planning and approval process with Walton
    County.

    As noted on the SWCC website at www.southwaltoncc.
    org., Anita Page, is the Executive Director of this organization.
    Recently it was discovered, through the use of a
    Google Search, that the SWCC had published a ''Draft" of
    a "Wedding Event Permit Ordinance Suggestion" entitled
    "short-term rental ordinance 10-15-10".

    This document is dated prior to the first BCC meeting in
    which the ordinance was discussed. What the question for
    many is, why is a local environmental group involved with
    the "crafting" of a rental property regulation ordinance that
    could affect the events industry?

    Alan Newsome, a "member" of the county Code Enforcement
    Board, was president of the SWCC in 2007. Newsome
    has twice voted "yes" to charge and fine the Bennett's with
    county Land Development Code violations pertaining to
    "non-residential use" of thier property that was used by its
    short term property renters to have a wedding reception.

    The term "non-residential use" is not actually defined
    anywhere in the Walton County Land Development Code
    or the Comprehensive plan. The attorney representing
    some local residents who filed the complaint against the
    Bennett's is former Walton County Attorney Gary Vorbeck.
    Walton County records indicate that former county attorney
    Vorbeck has a long working relationship with SWCC
    Director Page.

    As reported in the DeFuniak Herald in the Jan. 25,
    2005 edition, former Walton County Attorney Vorbeck was
    the county attorney from 2001-2005 and was intimately
    involved in setting up "quasi-judiciaf' boards in Walton
    County government.

    Vorbeck resigned his position with Walton County government
    as reported by the DeFuniak Herald in the Jan.
    27, 2005 edition. Vorbeck's tenure as County Attorney was
    not without controversy as he presided over the project
    hearings for the Grayton Grand and the South Walton Athletic
    Facility.

    The county Code Enforcement Board considers itself as a
    "quasi-judicial" board. The question is, did Vorbeck set that
    up before his resignation?

    During a Code Enforcement Board hearing on May 20,
    2010, Vorbeck stated in his testimony before the Code Enforcement
    Board, "You don't need a definition for a nonresidential
    use." The Board took that bait, hook, line and
    sinker by voting in the same hearing to establish an order
    that the Bennett's "Cease and desist operations of nonresidential
    activity."

    What that translated to, was that any decision the code
    enforcement makes, without having to have the approval
    of the planning commission, or the board of county commissioners,
    who approve their appointment, is law. Numerous
    industry leaders, business owners, and members of the
    press, agreed that the source of the problem and the root
    of the solution, lied within the decisions and recommendations
    of the South Walton Community Council and the Code
    Enforcement Board, and they were the groups making up
    the true government in Walton County.

    It is the outcome of their recommendations and decisions,
    that has got the county, not just the wedding and
    event industry, irate and wanting answers from the people
    we elected, not those who volunteered.

    For those residents of Walton County that might think
    that they are immune to a council or code enforcement
    board's decision to shut them down, fine them, or take their
    home, or business away from them, the wedding and event
    industry warns that it won't be long before their compass
    starts pointing north across the bay.


    Chuck Hinson and John Stark
    DeFuniak Springs
     
  13. 30ashopper

    30ashopper SoWal Insider

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2008
    Messages:
    6,851
    Likes Received:
    1,734
    Location:
    Right here!
    I hope the Bennet's win. It is amazing to me that a county with high unemployment and incredibly limited business possibilities would allow code enforcement to come down on anyone thinking outside of the box, especially when the codes they enforce are as merky as these are. (If the Bennet's wedding are causing a problem for their neighbors, they neighbors can sue.) I would suggest the county get off the backs of people trying to bring new business to the area - this is incredibly short sighted.
     
  14. Bob Hudson

    Bob Hudson Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,066
    Likes Received:
    545
    Location:
    Santa Rosa Beach
    From The Walton Sun

    YOUR VIEW
    Rights for all, not just wedding, catering Inc.
    By Ed Davis

    Speaking out


    This is in response to the June 4, letters to the editor, by Paradise Cuisine, and Dine by Design Catering. It seems they do not think South Walton citizens should have any rights.

    They seem to think because they are businesses it’s OK to go into a taxpaying citizen’s neighborhood to disrupt and make their lives miserable. I have no problem with them trying to earn a living in their respective businesses. But all citizens of South Walton have rights.

    We have a right to live in a peaceful neighborhood, free of large groups, of noisy, disrespectful strangers and without the congestion of vehicles parked on the sides of our streets and in our yards. Not all of us who live in South Walton are retired, but both retirees and working citizens have rights too.

    I find it ironic that the CEO of Paradise Cuisine’s article is titled with the first three words of the preamble contained in it. These words are used repeatedly in his article as though he is a victim of a constitutional rights violation.

    Perhaps he should actually read the preamble. It does not say “We the People” can do whatever we want and to hell with everyone else. It goes like this; “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.

    Notice the phrase “domestic tranquility”; do you know what tranquility means? Yeah, I’m using the phrase out of context of its original meaning, just like he uses “we the people” in his article. I checked the Bill of Rights, nope, nothing in there about the right to make people miserable and be tortured by sleep deprivation in their own homes.

    He suggests that if other citizens don’t like what he is promoting, we should move to a property in the country. Well guess what? I don’t want to move to the country, and for all of us who live here, our rights are just as important as yours! There are lots of us who have lived here long before the wedding industry became “big business.”

    In both articles they boast about how much tax revenue they produce.

    Since when did people who allegedly pay more taxes get more rights?

    Regarding the comments of the person from Dine by Design Catering, the complaints and concerns regarding this issue are not just from an “unreasonable handful of retirees”.

    Even if you were correct in your rude misguided statement, the rights of the retirees are just as important as yours. Large commercial events should not be held in residential neighborhoods, period!

    There are other venues available, use them! For the people who own the houses being used for these events, try being good neighbors and have some usage restrictions that your renters must abide. If you can’t afford a second home without the necessity of perpetual short-term rentals, you can’t afford it. Have you ever heard of the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”

    I’ll bet all of you would be upset if this was happening to you where you live.

    I don’t think anyone objects to the wedding and catering businesses in our area. The companies themselves are not generally causing the problems. It’s their clients who create the havoc. Our country in general has become full of intolerant, uncivil, disrespectful people. There is an old saying that a man’s home is his castle. It is supposed to be the one place you can go to enjoy some privacy, peace, and tranquility in your life.

    Out of a controlled environment with supervision, rules, and regulations, the wedding gatherings generally don’t last just a few hours.

    They turn into parties that last into the early morning hours. The parties usually aren’t quiet ones. They’re filled with noisy, drunken, and disrespectful individuals, who think it’s OK to do anything they want.

    It’s not OK for full-time residents of this area to have to endure this in their homes. And, it’s not OK for a few businesses to try and dictate our rights and quality of life, or in this case, lack of quality of life. Though our opinions may differ, we all have rights.

    Ed Davis is a Santa Rosa Beach resident.
     
  15. Bob Hudson

    Bob Hudson Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,066
    Likes Received:
    545
    Location:
    Santa Rosa Beach
    Have you read this:

    http://law.onecle.com/florida/county-organization-and-intergovernmental-relations/chapter162.html
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2011
  16. Douglas the Intrepid

    Douglas the Intrepid Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2009
    Messages:
    1,335
    Likes Received:
    365
    Location:
    On the shores of paradise, Seagrove Beach
    Ignoring zoning codes to the detriment of ones neighbors to make a quick buck is not only short sighted but deplorable. All I can say is I am glad that those who don't see a problem with this aren't my neighbors.
     
  17. BeachArkie

    BeachArkie Beach Lover

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2008
    Messages:
    156
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    Seagrove
    I have a question - if these wedding houses were actually located on commercial property and properly operated as event venues, how much more money would they have to pay in taxes and fees?

    Seems like they just want to profit by breaking the rules and being bad neighbors.
     
  18. Bob Hudson

    Bob Hudson Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    May 10, 2008
    Messages:
    1,066
    Likes Received:
    545
    Location:
    Santa Rosa Beach
    They would pay the same sales tax and the same bed tax that they currently pay. The houses are not homesteaded so it would mean they would most likely pay the same property taxes and tangible taxes.
     
  19. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2007
    Messages:
    4,403
    Likes Received:
    1,659
    Location:
    Blue Mountain Beach
    You and I agree on about 95% of the issues mentioned here on SoWal so it is with deep regret that I tell you in this case you are dead wrong! There are many reasons for land use codes and zoning but the primary ones are to assure proper, controlled and reasonable growth. One of the others is to assure citizens are not only secure in their homes, but are also offered the peace and quiet they thought they were getting when they bought their property. If an area is zoned "residential" that means just that. Commercial use is not allowed and there are areas regulated or zoned for such use. Also, application can be made to change a land use code or zoning by any property owner. It is either accepted or rejected.
    In the present case, to me, it would appear that the Bennett's are attempting in every way possible to circumvent existing ordinances and regulations. I am for businesses succeeding. Would someone please explain why this obvious commercial enterprise cannot be conducted in a venue that is zoned commercial?
     
  20. 30ashopper

    30ashopper SoWal Insider

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2008
    Messages:
    6,851
    Likes Received:
    1,734
    Location:
    Right here!
    Well, we have a major business sector here - short term rentals of homes. These rentals are usually in homes that are in areas zoned residential. But short term renting is definitely commercial use. Is this a violation of the code as well? It sounds to me like there's a risk here of "mission creep".. first it's the short term renters who rent primarily to people having weddings, next it's the short term renters in general.
     

Share This Page