Walton County Commissioners approved construction of a Hilton Garden Inn on scenic Old Highway 98 at their March 13 meeting.
The hotel will consist of 111 units on 2.5 acres and will be built across from Edgewater Beach and adjacent to the CVS Pharmacy complex.
Only one person objected to the construction at the meeting, with several nearby residents speaking in favor of it, but due to heavy traffic in the area, there was much concern about where the Hilton's traffic would empty onto Old 98.
Several nearby residents, two lawyers, and three traffic experts spoke and gave varying opinions, but in the end, the board voted unanimously to go with the recommendation of their own engineer to line the driveway up with the one across the road, which is what the County's Land Development Code dictates as safest.
Destin Attorney Jennifer Sullivan represented Edgewater Beach Owners Association, located less than 300 feet from the development. Sullivan told commissioners that Edgewater is fine with the placement of the driveway located directly across from theirs, but they opposed an alternative proposal by Grand Dunes.
Edgewater Beach Property Manager Suzanne Harris told commissioners the Hilton will be a great project.
"We are happy to have a hotel across from us instead of a vacant lot and homeless people," she said. "I think the motel will be an asset."
However, she said a stop light would help alleviate danger.
Tallahassee Attorney Bruce Anderson represented Grand Dunes condominiums with 198 units located directly across from the development. Anderson noted that adding another 110 units across the street will create a traffic jam.
"It will be a fight for position and there are already traffic problems at that intersection year around," said Anderson.
However, Anderson said that Grand Dunes is not opposed to the developer getting his develop order, just where the driveway will come out.
Anderson requested at least a 110-foot offset for the driveway for his clients.
Anderson hired Debbie Denton, a former city of Tallahassee traffic engineer who has done traffic studies for the Florida Department of Transportation to give expert testimony. Denton said the safest option would be a 150-feet separation between driveways of the two projects.
However, when District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander asked to hear from Walton County's Traffic Engineer Chance Powell, he said that in his professional opinion, the driveways should be directly aligned for the best case scenario for the properties and traffic sake.
"I don't believe that 110 feet allows them to operate independently and more footage begins to encroach on other properties," said Powell.