Developer buys protected wetlands in Midway, divides it into lots
A home-building company has purchased protected wetlands in the Soundside Drive area of Midway and has drawn lot lines with the apparent attempt to develop them, even though the area is protected under a conservation easement.
The plot of land, almost all of which is protected wetlands located off Ocean Breeze Drive, was purchased in April by Breland Homes LLC and subsequently divided into eight lots, the smallest being about 0.7 acres and the largest more than 4 acres.
However, the lots are under a conservation easement in perpetuity that was established in 2009, which means they can never be built upon since the area is protected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Liz Pavelick, a Soundside Drive resident who monitors the area for development, first noticed the new lots this past weekend and sent emails to county officials inquiring about the development. She told the News Journal on Tuesday she was confused as to why Breland Homes would purchase and subdivide the land if they aren’t allowed to build on it.
“Why do that?” Pavelick said. “Why would a developer buy it unless he was planning on developing it, and why go through the hassle of hiring a surveyor and subdividing the eight smaller parcels?”
Breland Homes did not return the News Journal’s request for comment for this story.
The lots have not been cleared.
Any land can be recorded as a lot by the clerk of court, according to Santa Rosa County Planning and Zoning Director Shawn Ward. But just because it’s a registered lot doesn’t mean it can be developed.
“In Santa Rosa County, basically, you can take any 1-foot-by-1-foot square piece of property, go the clerk of court’s office, file it, and you can create this square piece of property,” Ward said. “That doesn’t mean it meets the land development code requirements.”
To that end, it’s unclear why exactly Breland Homes purchased the properties and divided them into lots if they can’t be developed. The company is also developing Nature’s Cove, an 89-lot subdivision of single-family homes, on the land directly adjacent to the conservation easement.
“There are limited uplands to the west of the property that are not encumbered by the conservation easement,” said District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard in an email to Pavelick and other county officials regarding the property. “It looks like someone bought what they think is the buildable upland portion of the property along with the wetlands. Whether or not it is buildable, I don’t know. I will ask our county attorney and planning and zoning department to look into this.”
The conservation easement runs with the land in perpetuity, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed to Pavelick in an email.
“Impacts to this easement, including clearing of trees, is expressly prohibited,” wrote Elizabeth Orr, interim director of the Northwest District Office of the FDEP, in an email to Pavelick. “Please contact me if you observe any activity in the easement.”
Pavelick, who is already worried about the impact that heavy development will have on the area, said she's concerned a developer might clear the property anyway and face a fine.
Annie Blanks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8632.