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To Anyone Who Loves the Eastern Lake Inlet

Discussion in 'Local Government and Groups' started by Garrett Horn, Jun 5, 2018.

  1. Garrett Horn

    Garrett Horn Beach Lover

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    To Anyone Who Loves the Eastern Lake Inlet:


    Although many of you are somewhat aware of the situation pertaining to the parcel of land at the western end of San Roy Road, this letter is intended to get everybody that loves Eastern Lake and the Inlet, informed about the looming possibility of major development adjacent to the Inlet. The owner of that parcel, Peter Russell, DBA 87 San Roy Holdings LLC, made an application for a variance to reduce his 20’ front setback from the county right of way requirement to a zero front setback requirement on March 1st of this year. His intent is to build a 12,000-14,000 square foot mega-house, which would dramatically change the historical flood plain of the Inlet, negatively impact the Lake, destroy the primary dune systems, as well as severely impede the use of San Roy Road for emergency vehicles and pedestrian access to the beach.

    At the May 24th meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustments, this variance was granted by a 4-2 vote, after strong public opposition and dubious claims were made by the applicant, of a “hardship” he would have to endure if not given this variance. We feel this decision by the ZBA, was not made in accordance with Walton County’s Land Development Code, and we are proceeding with filing an immediate appeal to have this decision overturned. We are currently seeking to obtain the best attorney we can find to fight this on behalf of everybody who loves this last beautiful piece of natural beach.

    This is where all of you that care about saving our Coastal Dune Lakes can contribute to this cause. If this appeal fails, then the momentum will be on the developer’s side, and there will be a lengthy campaign of hearings to try to stop this atrocity. This moment in time is where we need to stop this. A Go Fund Me account has been set up to raise money specifically for attorney’s fees to launch this appeal. You can access this site by going to:

    https://www.gofundme.com/help-preserve-eastern-lake039s-beauty


    I know many of you do not have the time nor inclination to attend all the laborious meetings and hearings, and speak out against this problem, but you still help the cause financially. I can’t tell you how important this is, and how grateful we all would be for any financial help you can offer.

    Thank You,

    The Friends of Eastern Lake
     
  2. James Bentwood

    James Bentwood Beach Fanatic

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    So much property near the Gulf should never have been made private. If only one of our good friends today were alive way back then to stand up against it. I suppose their was no one near who cared. Those in charge were too busy cutting down the old growth Oaks and Cypress.

    The precedent and current environment of greed will doom anything outside of public lands. And even those we must unite to defend.

    If we can't hold on to our dunes and coastal dune lakes we will be without heart and soul.
     
  3. Garrett Horn

    Garrett Horn Beach Lover

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    James, everything you said is honest and true, but it's time to talk back to the powers that be. And that takes money. I'm so tired of this scenario: Developers slip an important hearing in close to a holiday, so that everybody is distracted. The few people who really care scramble to mount a defense and get a lawyer who shows up five minutes before the meeting, and gets his head handed to him by the developer's lawyers, who have been scheming for months. This time we are going to gather the money to have a properly armed attorney, and get the Truth out. Money talks, and any little bit you can donate will help us have a Strong Voice in this issue.

    Click here to support Help Preserve Eastern Lake's beauty organized by Gordon Davis
     
  4. Truman

    Truman Beach Fanatic

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    SWCC used to be able to hold its own against bad development. The developers got tired of it and have turned the tide by owning the BCC. Time for a new force comprised of people who love nature and have money and energy. And excellent lawyers that won't break the bank.
     
  5. EZ4144

    EZ4144 Beach Lover

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    Is this it?

    eeasternlake.jpg
     
  6. Lake View Too

    Lake View Too SoWal Insider

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    Yes, picture a house 90’ Long, 50’ high, sitting right on the edge of SanRoy Road (zero setback)with the extended road reaching to within 18’ of the “bayou” of the lake, with that road extension running downhill. Can anyone say enviormental catastrophe?
     
  7. Jimmy T

    Jimmy T Beach Fanatic

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    I don't see how you could build anything there. It's a shame that land isn't county or state owned.
     
  8. Teresa

    Teresa SoWal Guide Staff Member

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    thanks for sharing this Garrett. what a damn shame. we can't stop growth and development and we shouldn't. but this is harmful and it's just not good sense. Where is our leadership? Where is our "city"? For now, our voices are all we have so we need to use them.
     
  9. Lake View Too

    Lake View Too SoWal Insider

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    Well, my point is that money is the the only way to talk back to the County. This effort, which has originated from Eastern Lake is an ongoing fund to find and retain good lawyers to defeat the bad. The time for heart-felt speeches and rhetorical pitchforks is over. We are asking people to contribute to this fund to start A Stronger Voice.
     
  10. justhavinfun

    justhavinfun Beach Fanatic

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  11. Teresa

    Teresa SoWal Guide Staff Member

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    Thanks for sharing that link!
     
  12. Garrett Horn

    Garrett Horn Beach Lover

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  13. Jim Tucker

    Jim Tucker Beach Fanatic

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    The very dunes in question are topped with irony at the moment.

    180608-seagrove-500-800.jpg
     
  14. Lake View Too

    Lake View Too SoWal Insider

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    Please stay off the dunes except when building a 12,000 square foot atrocity.
     
  15. Garrett Horn

    Garrett Horn Beach Lover

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    I want to thank Bobby Johnson for donating the money to put us over the $10,000 mark. Unfortunately, lawyers cost more than you could ever imagine. We are only halfway to our goal of having enough to win this battle, and hopefully have some left over to help your cause. Look, Kurt let us borrow this photo, so the least you can do is donated five bucks for the pleasure of looking at it.

    Eastern Lake 2018 (2).jpg


    Click here to support Help Preserve Eastern Lake's beauty organized by Gordon Davis

    Every little bit makes us more thankful than ever.
     
  16. EZ4144

    EZ4144 Beach Lover

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    Folks living in the vicinity of Walton County’s San Roy Road refer to Peter Russell’s vision as the “megahouse,” and almost universally oppose his plans to build it atop a Gulf front sand dune near the outfall of a rare and imperiled coastal dune lake.

    Controversy has followed the proposal to construct the 12,000-square-foot dwelling since Russell requested a hardship variance he needed before seeking permits to build on 2.13 acres of beach at the tail of a dead end road where Eastern Lake meets the sea.

    “It would be 30 percent larger than anything else in the area,” said Destin attorney Dan O’Rourke, who represents Russell’s next door neighbor. “It could sleep somewhere in the vicinity of 28 to 30 people, which seems a little excessive if that’s a single family residence.”

    The desired variance would allow Russell to ignore a 20-foot setback typically required and build on the edge of the 33-foot county right-of-way set aside for county utilities and access. The variance would also allow for parking at Russell’s home that extends into the right-of-way easement, according to county Planning Director Mac Carpenter.

    Walton County’s Zoning Board of Adjustment was asked on May 24 to consider Russell’s request for a variance because the Planning Department had rejected it.

    “They asked the Zoning Board of Adjustment to do what I as the director could not and would not do,” Carpenter said.

    Russell, a Texas resident, and his attorney, Gary Shipman, found four sympathetic ears on the Board of Adjustment though, and the variance passed by a 4-2 vote.

    Soon after, talk arose of the county wanting to buy the megahouse parcel.

    Bill Fletcher, one of the zoning board members who opposed Russell’s request, said last week he was leery from the onset of the variance being granted, and his questions about the action taken by his cohorts only grew when he got word Russell’s property was suddenly on the market.

    “This thing really bothers me. That was not only a ridiculous variance to grant, but now I’m hearing he’s offering to sell it to the county and the county’s offering to buy it,” Fletcher said. “I just don’t like the sound of this.”

    Fletcher, who has qualified to run for Sara Comander’s Walton County Commission seat, said he had only heard rumors that a sale of Russell’s lot to the county was being discussed. He was unaware sitting Commissioner Cecilia Jones had actually requested prior to the board’s June 12 meeting that purchasing the San Roy Road plot be placed on the agenda for discussion.

    “It has come to my attention that there are plans to develop property located at the Eastern Lake Outfall,” said Jones’ request, which was pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting. “I am asking the Board to consider purchasing this property so that it can be used for public beach access and to ensure that it can be kept in its current pristine condition.”

    Jones said last week her request had nothing to do with the variance being granted or Russell seeking a sale of the property.

    “Absolutely not,” she said. “We were negotiating with him before and that kind of disappeared. Then when the variance happened my reaction was ‘oh wow, we’re going to have another house there.’ ”

    Jones said the Russell property adjoins U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ property and a parcel the county already owns. She envisions a beautiful public area where visitors can appreciate the uniqueness of a coastal dune lake ecosystem.

    But Jones also said she knows the Russell plot won’t come cheap. She acknowledged his asking price “might have been the reason negotiations went amiss.”

    The purchase issue was pulled from the agenda, Jones said, so county staff could investigate it further.

    O’Rourke confirmed he’d been approached by Sidney Noyes, the county attorney, at the May Board of Zoning Adjustment meeting and asked if his client might be interested in helping to purchase the Russell property.

    “I speculate they think my client would be willing to kick in some money to help the county purchase the property. Obviously, the county would not pay everything,” O’Rourke said. “We’ll monitor it.”

    Asked if he’d discussed the option of selling the land at 187 San Roy Road with Russell, Shipman turned defensive. He said he would not reveal the nature of protected attorney-client conversations.

    O’Rourke said he suspected Russell’s insistence on a megahouse could be part of a “multi-faceted approach to maximize the profit on the property.”
     
  17. EZ4144

    EZ4144 Beach Lover

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    Zoning history

    Russell, whose primary residence is in the same gated Dallas area community former President George W. Bush calls home, originally purchased the lot he now wants to build upon on Aug. 13, 2013 through 187 San Roy Beach Holdings LLC. The property was in foreclosure at the time of the purchase and the limited liability corporation bought it for $900,100, Walton Property Appraiser records show.

    On Oct. 31, 2016, having built a home on the lot and made what O’Rourke estimated to be more than $1 million in improvements to the property, 187 San Roy Beach Holdings sold a section of the original lot to Patco Energy LTD for $6.5 million.

    O’Rourke’s client, Patricia Stephens, is a principle in Patco Energy, which, like San Roy Beach Holdings, is based in Dallas.

    “He netted probably $4.1 million (on the sale of part of the original lot) and now he wants to build a 12,000-square-foot home,” O’Rourke said of Russell.

    The lot Russell maintains today is bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, on the west by the Eastern Lake outfall and to the north by the 33-foot county right of way.

    Because it exists in a coastal protection zone, the Department of Environmental Protection must approve any building permits, Shipman told the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the only area approved for construction is in the northeast corner of the lot abutting the 33 foot right-of-way.

    Shipman, who is adamant that receiving the variance is only the first step in what will be a long process toward actually building on the lot owned by Russell, argued before the Zoning Board of Adjustment that the county had historically made exceptions to allow for construction inside set backs.

    It had, in fact, approved previous construction on the Russell lot based on the Planning Department interpretation of county development code that Carpenter now maintains is flawed.

    The home built on the lot Russell sold was built in the right-of-way setback in the pre-Carpenter era. Carpenter argued before the Board of Zoning Adjustment that the flaws in the concept are clear from photos of the home.

    “That home was sited within the public right-of-way and if you look at pictures you can see a number of cars parked in the right-of-way,” Carpenter told the Board of Zoning Adjustment. “That we don’t do any more.”

    Russell’s company had not encountered trouble obtaining county letters approving a setback variance until 2017, when a new letter of consistency was requested from the Walton County Planning Department to present to DEP.

    The letter was needed due to modifications made at the home site plan to accommodate parking. Carpenter told them no.

    Previous letters of consistency, he told the Board of Zoning Adjustment, “were issued in error.”

    Zoning Board of Adjustment

    Joe Johnson, the chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, made it clear from the beginning and maintained throughout the May 24 meeting that he believed Russell is entitled to develop his San Roy Road property.

    Though another member did, Johnson never questioned the size of the home the property owner sought to squeeze onto a universally acknowledged limited buildable footprint.

    “To me it’s real simple,” Johnson said.

    O’Rourke, however, pointed out that previous allowances for construction on the parcel Russell, and prior owners, had sought to develop were provided for a lot that was basically twice the size of the one for which 187 San Roy Holdings was seeking its variance.

    Russell chopped the parcel approximately in half before selling land to Patco Energy in 2016, O’Rourke said.

    O’Rourke objected to the contention that a variance should be issued based on the fact variances had been issued before, or that the Russell parcel had been deemed suitable for development in the past.

    Johnson waved off O’Rourke’s contention that, given the profit he’s already made on the San Roy Road parcel, Russell’s argument of hardship lacked substance.

    In sustaining a Shipman objection, Johnson didn’t allow O’Rourke to present evidence the attorney said would make it clear the type of environmental harm that could be done by building a 12,000-square-foot house on top of a primary sand dune next to the outfall of a coastal dune lake.

    “If this variance is granted you will be facilitating environmental damage that is irremediable,” he told the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

    O’Rourke said following the vote to grant the variance that he will appeal the board’s decision.

    “What seemed to underlie everything the county did was based on ‘he’s entitled to build something,’ ” he said. “A, that’s not in their purview and B, I don’t think it’s established.”

    O’Rourke said Friday he’d learned the order granting the variance had been submitted a week earlier without anyone informing him of the action. The move would not impact his ability to submit the appeal in a timely fashion, he said.

    The vote

    The public was allowed to speak to the Board of Zoning Adjustment following O’Rourke’s presentation. Most called for rejection of the request for variance.

    It was resident Clifford White who might have coined the term “megahouse” in referring to Russell’s construction plans. He told the board that he, as a coastal dune lake property owner, had learned to abide by Walton County’s strict rules for development around the unique ecosystems.

    He called upon Russell to do the same.

    “The rules are in place to preserve these natural resources. Coastal dune lakes are one of the most special places in the county and in the world,” White said. “We live by the rules, but what we’re hearing, effectively, is ‘we don’t want to live by the rules, do something special for us so we can build this megahouse.’ ”

    During discussion that followed the debate, board member Daryl Burgis commented on the extent of the hardship Russell must endure building within a coastal protection zone with water on two sides of his property. Board member Phil Anderson warned him “don’t confuse hardships with constraints.”

    After the debate was over, a motion to deny the variance narrowly failed. The vote to approve then passed, with Fletcher and Anderson voting against.

    O’Rourke’s appeal of the decision will go to the Walton County Commission for consideration. The variance granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment will be submitted to DEP with a request to amend parking provisions at the Russell property.
     
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  18. Danny Glidewell

    Danny Glidewell Beach Fanatic

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    Best of luck to the community in fighting this. Absolutely one of the worst things I have heard and when you are running for office you hear a lot of bad stuff. This lot should be left alone and the outfall should be allowed to function as nature intended. Lord forbid that Eastern Lake outfall succumbs to the fate that Dune Allen Lake outfall has, basically a ditch. Hopefully the appeal will be successful and the price will come down to a point where the county can buy it and preserve it.
     
  19. justhavinfun

    justhavinfun Beach Fanatic

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    GAME ON!!!
     
  20. gumby

    gumby Beach Lover

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    Didn`t Walton County just change the building codes for water run off from private property? I thought it is now written that all new residential construction has to retain their own run off in retention ponds on said property. If this is the case, how can this development with such a large footprint possibly retain all the runoff on the property? With basically zero setbacks, there will be no ponds. How is this happening?
     

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