Rosemary Beach – A History of Thoughtful Planning
The town of Rosemary Beach was established in 1995. However, it had years of thought ahead of its development and continues to grow carefully, taking pains to add to the community’s original concept, not diverge from it. The methodology used by Rosemary Beach’s developers is that of the planned community. While neighboring beach towns along the Scenic 30A corridor developed organically over time, Rosemary Beach started from the beginning with a planned end in mind.
Organic Growth of 30A’s First Towns
Early South Walton beach towns such as Freeport and Grayton Beach grew haphazardly out of the lumbering and turpentine industries and the migration of north Walton county residents annually to the coast to procure a supply of salt for the year. DeFuniak Springs residents would make a two-day journey trek to the gulf coast to cook out salt from the gulf’s waters.
The earliest coastal communities grew out from these industries as well as tourist excursions from northern cities such as Chicago to DeFuniak’s Chautauqua and onward to the coast. In 1939, the Choctawhatchee Bay Bridge was opened and the development of South Walton officially began. Lots sold for $50, and early visionaries started moving to what they foresaw would become their piece of paradise. The growth was organic and produced the quaintness still present today in some of South Walton’s older beach communities.
The Birth of “New Urbanism”
However, in the 1980’s, to counteract decades of developers rushing to build out the country’s coastlines with miles of high-rise concrete cookie-cutter condos, one community took a different approach. Seaside in South Walton became the precursor to a design philosophy called “new urbanism”. The town’s developers sought to create an old-fashioned beach town of cottages built in the Florida Panhandle tradition but using contemporary materials. The developers took it further than that. Seaside was carefully planned from its inception with the goal of creating a social atmosphere – a lifestyle – in mind. The Seaside environment was planned detail by detail.
Rosemary Beach: Planned to Create a Sense of Place
Rosemary followed this philosophy of planned communities. The town’s developers were quick to point out that the town would be just that—a real town and not just another subdivision. Richard Gibbs, Rosemary Beach’s town architect said, “Ours is the concept of a place that is more tightly knit together than your average suburban subdivision. This idea is nothing new—you see it in Europe, where lots of tiny villages are surrounded by countryside.” And, there started the core concept of Rosemary Beach.
As with Seaside, the planned community process allows the development to “balance architectural, environmental, economic, and other concerns while creating a sense of place where design itself creates opportunities”. Hailing back to tiny European villages, the homes of Rosemary Beach are built around a Town Center with cobblestone streets and small market shops. This village layout also benefits the natural ecosystems of Rosemary Beach and South Walton. Because the town’s planners set a perimeter of green space within and around the village, the surrounding land kept undeveloped is automatically preserved.
Rosemary Beach: Planned to Balance Architecture, Infrastructure and Nature
So, how did the designers achieve this? The vision began to take shape through an intense period of designing and planning that recruited the energy of an array of contributors: the developer, town planners, consultants, government officials, and members of the public. The result of this brainstorming was the Rosemary Beach Code Book, providing guidelines for the placement, design and construction of Rosemary’s paths, streets and buildings. Boardwalks and other pedestrian paths place humans over automobiles. Streets were planned to conform to the area’s natural contours, rather than traditional methods of cutting and leveling. The town’s streets are made of porous concrete allowing storm water to filter naturally through to the sand underneath. The entire street surface is permeable thus eliminating the need for drain lines and holding ponds.
Rosemary Beach created the defining element in its town center and Main Street that is within a five minute walk from any part of town. Most of the village’s shops, eateries and public buildings are clustered within the town center. At the heart of the center is the Town Hall with architecture reminiscent of the Dutch West Indies – white stucco walls and parapet roof. It provides townsfolk both an indoor and outdoor meeting space. Inside, a cypress decked ceiling soars twenty eight feet above hand-forged iron lighting sculptures. The building is the largest indoor venue along the Scenic 30A corridor. It provides several breakout rooms and other configurable space. Outside, a large courtyard offers a grassy area for meetings and wide walkways.
The layout of Rosemary Beach is in the concept of a wheel. The town center is the hub of the 107-acre community. A series of vehicular streets and pedestrian boardwalks and lanes meander out from the center, like spokes to a wheel’s hub, to provide strategic views and private community access to 2300 feet of beach. Spaced along these access ways are parks and “greens” ideal for relaxation or play, such as South Barrett Park, Playground Park, and the Western and Eastern Greens. A charming old-world knot garden is the featured amenity in East Long Green Park. St. Augustine Park presents an interactive children’s fountain and hosts outdoor concerts. East and West Long Green Parks provide lanes connecting to the Scenic Route 30A bicycle trail. Meandering through the village is the Rosemary Beach Walking Tour and Fitness Trail – over two miles of sand paths and boardwalks nestled amongst natural landscaping and periodic fitness activity stations.
Rosemary Beach: Protecting Natural Beauty
Indeed, the Town Center is the hub of the town’s social atmosphere and an amenity that has attracted sightseers from Panama City to Destin. The other featured amenity of Rosemary Beach is its untouched, 30-foot high, sugar-white dunes. To protect the integrity of the dunes surrounding Rosemary Beach, the town’s developers have created nine dune walkovers that have been designed to be unobtrusive, functional, and protective of the fragile dune system. Leveling out foot trails across the dunes would have weakened the dunes and expose them to erosion from storm washout. Moreover, with Rosemary Beach’s arrangement of walkovers, residents can walk along the beach without any sense that an entire town lay beyond the dunes.