District 3 Walton County Commissioner Melanie Nipper revisited the issue of affordable housing at Tuesday’s Board meeting.
Nipper requested the Board’s permission to direct staff to draft a proposal for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) or similar mechanism to facilitate affordable housing on the county-owned property on Highway 90 near Mossy Head School.
“To help others be able to live in this county,” said Nipper.
Nipper told her fellow Commissioners that during the Military Fly-In Conference she recently attended, it was advised that over the next five years, approximately 2,000 military personnel and defense contractors would be assigned to Eglin Air Force Base in support of weapons testing.
“And they will need some place to live,” she said.
However, the request met opposition from fellow commissioners, as well as Mossy Head residents.
“I am a free-market guy,” said District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson. “Are you asking the county to sell this property?”
County Manager Larry Jones answered that the process had not progressed that far yet, but if commissioners wanted to proceed, using county-owned land for this would simply involve a transfer of property.
South Walton resident Bonnie McQuiston reminded commissioners that the property belongs to the public.
“Anytime you replace the free market with county there are questions,” she said. “Affordable housing to you may not be affordable to me. Define it. Will the county be in some time of partnership? You’re talking about a controlled market. What does that mean for income level? What is the income level to qualify for that and what about property taxes? If they decide to sell, what does that mean? There are a whole lot of questions. Is this really the highest and best use for this? The cost to run it has to be built in. I can’t imagine that any developer would go into this.”
Mossy Head resident Donny Richardson told commissioners that his community has more pressing needs.
“There is plenty of cheap property for sale in Mossy Head,” he said. “We have to be careful not to use county property. We may need county property in Mossy Head. … If we bring in too low of income it will kill our schools. They will become ‘F’ schools and it will kill everything out there. Infrastructure in our area is a disaster. Let me suggest you look at these things. I would prefer you not get into the housing business. You have enough to do.”
Jill Graham spoke as a representative of a development company that owns 1,200 acres on the opposite side of the school, and has 4 acres of ingress and egress that is not owned by the school.
“You need schools to be able to make a town,” she said. “You need to take this property for school expansion. If you put in low-income housing right on Highway 90 and right by a school, those are red flags. Where would you put a middle school, or a high school when it’s needed? … You can’t have growth without a school system. When you start with low-income housing that’s where the community will stay. It should be added later.”
However, young Mossy Head resident Cory Mays spoke in support of the idea.
“I think that low-income housing should be there,” he said. “We are the point where we are at a standstill. I live with my parents. If you drive out there right now you would smell meth cooking. There is room for development out there.”
Amber Jones also spoke in support.
“People want to see change come. We came from Texas where there was affordable housing,” she said.
But 30-year Mossy Head resident Terry Crosby spoke against.
“We have no infrastructure. I can’t get cable TV. There is plenty of land around other than that parcel. It can be better used for other things,” he said.
Freeport resident Bill Fletcher agreed.
“I know it is desperately needed in this county, but I don’t know if this is the best spot,” he said. “Other spots need to be looked at.”
Donna Crosby agreed with Fletcher.
“I have been a resident of Mossy Head for 33 years. Low-income housing should not be put between a golf course and a school. The traffic is already horrible. Something should be done before you bring in more development. Low-income housing brings in low-income people. There are crack heads and meth all over. Mossy Head gets all the trash,” she said.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander suggested trying again to have a public hearing about the subject.
District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones said everyone is frustrated because all are feeling the County’s growing pains.
“I would like to see a committee formed and them make recommendations. We are just looking at Mossy Head. If we bring people in they must have a place to live. Nipper’s heart is in the right place, but sometimes we are grasping,” she said.
Anderson added, “I think we all know we need workforce housing and we have talked about it a good bit. I am concerned that this is not the right place. We need answers before we move forward.”
Anderson agreed that there is a need for affordable housing, and it will be built in time.
Planning director Mac Carpenter told commissioners that he would work with Nipper to come up with a plan to present. He also said the Planning Department is advising a housing element for the Comp Plan.
Nipper agreed to meet and talk about cleaning up District 3.
“I can see where growth is going and I am trying to get ahead of it,” she said. “It’s still such a remote area, but growth is coming.”