Walton County is still negotiating the package price on Eastern Lake Beach

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SANTA ROSA BEACH – Walton County officials will meet with the owner of a 3-acre stretch of beach near County Road 30A to try to buy the land the county wants for public beach access and to maintain a rare and environmentally endangered coastal dune lake.

The county has two estimates on hand, averaging an average valuation of $ 6 million for the property. But on the other side of a potential deal, property owner Peter Russell and his 187 San Roy Beach Holdings LLC have a $ 18 million valuation on the property.

The property, which includes 300 feet of beach, is located between the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Lake, approximately two miles east of Seagrove Beach.

Eastern Lake is one of 15 coastal dune lakes in Walton County that are rare in the world. The majority of the coastal dune lakes in the district have suffered some degradation due to the development along CR 30A.

The county’s interest in the property is also influenced by the lack of a public beach. Only some of the county’s 42 km of beachfront properties are available to the public, either at the county’s beach access points or in state parks along the Gulf of Mexico.

Gary Shipman, the local attorney representing Russell on the stretch of beach, told commissioners directly at their meeting Tuesday that his client would not sell the property for $ 6 million. Additionally, Russell has urged the county to close a deal on the tract by December 31st.

“He’s not going to sell for $ 6 million,” Shipman said, noting that there were other offers on the property. “I mean, honestly, from what I know of some of the other offers out there, he’d be stupid to do that.”

However, using the property can be problematic in that it serves as a drain for Eastern Lake, meaning that when the lake is full, excess water flows over the beach into the gulf, and salt water from the gulf can also flow into the lake.

That is the reason for the ecological rarity of the lake and its surroundings.

The county, meanwhile, is bound by its property purchase policy by the estimated $ 6 million property value unless an “overwhelming majority” of the commission – four of its five members – agree to purchase at a higher price .

“We’re going to be paying $ 6 million today and that only takes three votes and the other (required majority vote) requires four,” Commissioner Danny Glidewell told Shipman ahead of the Commission’s decision to go further on buying the wing.

Walton County officials are continuing potential purchase negotiations with the owner of 3 acre beachfront property on Eastern Lake near Walton County Road 30A.  The county is keen to preserve the dune lake and get additional public beach access along the Gulf of Mexico.

Following the unanimous vote of the commission on Tuesday, County Administrator Larry Jones along with newly appointed commission chairman Mike Barker and provisional county counsel Clay Adkinson will meet with Shipman and Russell in the coming days to decide whether an agreement can be reached.

You will report to the Commission sometime before the informal 31 December deadline. If an agreement is reached and the $ 6 million limit is exceeded, approval requires the approval of four of the five commissioners.

The Commission’s decision to pursue further discussions with Russell came after Shipman had strongly suggested that his client “want to speak to someone” about a possible purchase of the property in the county.

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Public comment on the proposed property purchase at Tuesday’s meeting focused in part on the possibility that the county may use “eminent domain” to preserve the property.

Government agencies can use a significant domain to acquire property, provided that it can be demonstrated that the property is being used for public purposes. In this scenario, the county would have to pay 130% of the average of two appraisals of the property, with either party being able to challenge the other appraisals first.

Assuming neither appraisal is contested, the purchase price on the two existing appraisals of the property would be $ 15.6 million.

Shipman virtually turned down a significant domain as a way forward, telling commissioners on Tuesday that “at the end of the day, I think it would be better to just buy the property at a negotiated number.”

Glidewell also spoke out against the county, which has a significant domain for the package.

“I don’t care about major domains,” he said. “That is the seizure of people’s property by heavily arming them.”

The outflow of Eastern Lake in South Walton County is pictured here in an aerial view looking south towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Two people speaking at Tuesday’s meeting suggested that Russell “heavily armed” the county for a quick deal on the tract. One of them was the local real estate expert Nina Horn, but she also told the commissioners that her assessment was too low.

“I don’t really agree that $ 6 million would be enough,” said Horn, who called the property “priceless in that it has a good environmental impact for this county in bringing the beach back to the people.”

“… (Y) you just have to discuss the price with Mr. Russell,” continued Horn, adding that Russell is “arming you heavily to close by the end of the year”.

Horn also suggested that the county should develop its own strong armament with Russell.

“You tell him when you are going to close and for what amount you want to close because this district really needs this beach,” she said.

“Would you like to see a 13,000 square meter house out there that blocks the view,” asked Horn, “or do you want to see the beauty of this (water) river, this bay that moves back and forth?”

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