Update: For a Better South Walton Community Meetings
May 27, 2015 by Jill Tanner
The grassroots organization “For a Better South Walton” is moving forward with community meetings with the goal of exploring South Walton's future and pursuing incorporation for a self-governing city. The second community meeting was held Thursday night in Seascape. Kelly Mossburg of Seagrove Beach led the meeting and described in detail many possible options that would better our beloved community of South Walton.
“If we stay on the current path we are on, we may wake up one day and realize this isn’t the special place we know and love anymore,” Kelly stated.
The recent Hampton Inn issue brought to light many things that are being overlooked or ignored by our local government. It took five months and a group of devoted local citizens to stop the development order of the proposed Hampton Inn in Seagrove Beach. These citizens had to privately raise $30,000 to pay for legal fees. Obviously, this will be impossible to do every time there is a new project on the books and right now there are over 200 proposed developments in South Walton. That number will continue to grow. South Walton welcomed three million visitors over the last year and every Tom, Dick and Harry wants a piece of the action.
Here are some facts that every citizen of South Walton should know:
1) 68% of South Walton tax dollars are spent outside of South Walton. We are considered a “donor community”.
2) 87% of property taxes from all of Walton County come from South Walton.
3) South Walton has only one County Commissioner
Here is a question to consider: Who is looking out for us? Some may think the TDC. The TDC has one mission: To attract as many visitors as possible to South Walton and they are doing that job very well. It is very good for our economy and we have become a notable tourist destination. However, if we don’t do something to prepare for the onslaught of even more visitors, we could be in trouble.
Others may think our county commissioners are looking out for us. Of the five Walton county commissioners, only one, Cindy Meadows, is here in South Walton, which makes it difficult for citizens to have a voice and express concerns.
Here is another critical thing to consider. South Walton is home to 15 rare coastal dune lakes. These precious ecosystems only exist in six places in the world. Our lakes are considered to be threatened by development. Many people may not know this, but Panama City Beach used to have coastal dune lakes until they vanished because they weren’t properly protected.
Kelly went on to explain all of the options that would better South Walton.
1) Vote in new county commissioners who have our community's best interest at heart. The problem with this is that the north part of the county has more registered voters and a better turnout on election day.
2) Master Plan overlays. Examples of master planned communities are Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach and Gulf Place. In theory, an overlay could be laid out over the towns that are not designed that way and this would help protect that community from large developments. The problem with this is that the whole community has to be on board, it would have to be voted on by commissioners and supported by the planning department.
3) Amend the Comprehensive Plan. Our current comprehensive plan has been amended, watered down and unenforced for years. We could possibly amend it to make it stronger, but we are still underrepresented and it would be difficult to get the necessary support.
4) Code enforcement and land use code limitations. Right now codes are not being enforced until there is a complaint, which pits neighbor against neighbor. While development orders are required, some people will just go in and illegally clear the land. After it’s done there’s no way to restore it.
5) Incorporate South Walton. In this option we would have home rule via self-government. We would control our future, use our taxes locally, build a community centered government and have our own code enforcement to ensure that rogue projects don’t slip through. The “cons” would be another layer of government and a possibility of more taxes. A 1 Mil increase would cost the average homeowner $350 a year. Not too bad, right?
The proposed area of incorporation would extend from the Bay County line to the Okaloosa County line and from beach to bay. The process could take about 18 months to two years. For a Better South Walton is fighting the good fight for the community and they are on a fast track. They must have the feasibility study and draft of charter to the state by September 1.
The total cost of the initial plan will cost around $100,000, which has to be privately raised. Here is the breakdown:
1) Feasibility study - $23,000
2) Drafting of charter - $10,000
3) Legislative outreach - $12,000
4) Citizen awareness - $25,000
5) Legal Services - $25,000
The hopeful timeline is that this will go to a vote here by fall of 2016. It first has to be approved by the state first and then it comes to the citizens.
The closing remark by Kelly at the meeting was, “What kind of legacy to you want to leave your children and grandchildren?” What a great question.
Here are some things you can do to assist:
1) Sign up for the newsletter to stay abreast (forabettersouthwalton.com)
2) Visit the website to learn more: forabettersouthwalton.com
3) Like the Facebook page: For a Better South Walton
4) Volunteer to host an informational meeting in your neighborhood
5) Contribute to the cause
6) Volunteer your time – legal, marketing, fundraising, research, event planning, social media and legislative outreach
Take a moment and think about how you want South Walton to look in five, 10 or 20 years and help For a Better South Walton fight the good fight if you wish to protect it.
The next For a Better South Walton meeting will be held at Bayou Arts Center on Sunday, May 31 at 4:00 p.m. The Bayou Arts Center is located off Hwy 393 1.7 miles north of US 98, on 105 Hogtown Bayou Ln, Santa Rosa Beach. It is on the West side of 393 just before the Cessna Landing Park. This meeting is open to the public. Come out and learn more about incorporation and share your ideas with the community.
Note from SoWal.com Staff: This story includes some useful facts for readers along with an overview of information provided by a recent For a Better South Walton community meeting. The information provided has not been verified by SoWal.com. We encourage residents and South Walton Beach lovers to get involved in this and other local issues. We would love to hear your thoughts and we thank you for joining the conversation at SoWal Community Forums. Your thoughtful opinions and contributions to local discussions are important. We all benefit and learn from one another through healthy engagement exploring every side of an issue - everyone's opinion matters. For a Better South Walton discussion thread includes meeting times and comments by forum members. Join the conversation now and keep it friendly please. Thanks to all our forum members for always providing thought provoking and informative posts.