By DOTTY NIST
A May 11 ruling in Walton County Circuit Court has put a 90-day hold on a Walton County Code Compliance magistrate’s order for the stage and bar at Horse Power Pavilion to be removed or a county permit obtained for the structures. Constructed from metal shipping containers and in place within a pole barn, the structures are used for performances and food and beverage service on the property. It is located on 30+ acres on SR-20 west of Freeport and features a coffee shop, bistro, and accommodations together with event hosting.
There has been conflict between the county and the venue for a number of years since landowners Kate and Fred Holland began operations in 2019, including a federal lawsuit filed in 2022 by Hollands.
The recent court ruling provides for operations to continue in the current manner during the 90-day period.
Walton County Circuit Court Judge David Green issued the May 11 ruling, after the property owners and their company, Florida Teepee, L.L.C., challenged the magistrate’s February 2023 order in circuit court.
On Feb. 15, Walton County Code Compliance Magistrate Hayward Dykes had found the property in violation of its development order, and his earlier order issued in December 2021, due to the property owners having failed to remove or obtain a permit for the stage and bar construction. Walton County Code Compliance officers had testified that the stage and bar had not been part of the plans approved for the development order for the property and that their construction had not been authorized.
Dykes had set an April 3 deadline for proper permitting or removal of the stage and bar structures, According to the magistrate’s order, failure to comply with the order by that date was to result in a $50,000 fine and additional fines of $500 per day for each day of noncompliance.
Judge Green noted that the plaintiffs (the Hollands and their company, Florida Teepee, L.L.C.) had asked the magistrate for a stay of his order pending their appeal of the decision “which the magistrate denied without providing any findings for the denial.”
Judge Green also observed that the plaintiffs had alleged that Walton County had approved a field change in June 2021 that had included steel containers being placed in the pole barn—and that the property owners had stated that the approved change had required the containers being “permanently affixed and attached through the cement foundation of the pole-barn.”
Judge Green noted that removing the permanently-fixed containers would cause “irreparable harm,” would be “unduly expensive,” and would likely damage the cement foundation of the pole barn.
He indicated, as well, that the plaintiffs had gone to the Walton County Building Department the week following the magistrate’s Feb. 15 order to request permitting of the steel containers and had been told that the containers did not require a building permit.
Judge Green referenced a March 1 notice of violation from Walton County Code Compliance charging the property owners with violation of the magistrate’s order and of the Walton County Outdoor Events Ordinance and directing that they immediately correct the violation and cease all event, rallies, and gathering not allowed in the development order/in violation of the ordinance. He noted that the property owners had alleged that the corrective action directed “impermissibly infringes” on their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly.
Judge Green’s ruling called for a stay/hold on the magistrate’s order and for a 90-day period of maintaining the “status quo” on the property, during which time the property owners were to be allowed to “continue to operate and use their real property.” It also put a stay on any additional citations, fines, or magistrate hearings by the county during the 90-day period.
“At the conclusion of the ninety (90) day stay, the parties shall schedule a Case Management Conference with this Court to determine if the stay should be lifted or remain in place,” Judge Green concluded.
Contacted on May 19, Kate Holland described the decision as a “90-day cease fire.” She envisioned the county then presenting a proposal for a resolution of the matter and the parties working together to achieve that end.
While welcoming that possibility, Holland complained, “It shouldn’t have taken 4 1/2 years.”