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North By Northwest: State Rejects Palm Coast’s Sprawling Growth Horizon

| September 1, 2010

Christina's World sprawl sprawls andrew wyeth

Christina's sprawl (with apologies to Andrew Wyeth)

On Aug. 28, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which reviews local governments’ growth plans to ensure against runaway development, declared Palm Coast’s plan to open up the Bulow Creek area along Old Kings Road to high-density development in compliance with state objectives. Palm Coast can now proceed virtually unhampered—except by its own city council, which is unlikely—to permit a developer to build 2,500 homes on some 800 acres there, along with 2.5 million square feet of commercial and industrial development. That, for Palm Coast’s government, was the good news last Friday.

The bad news was that the Department of Community Affairs also rejected another critical amendment to Palm Coast’s  long-term growth plan that’s essential to the city’s development in its northwest and west, where it is moving to approve two huge new developments that would add 12,000 homes between them, and millions of square feet of commercial and industrial developments.

Palm Coast wanted to extend its long-term “planning horizon” to 2035 and establish an “overlay” zoning  area in its northwest. In May, DCA demolished the proposed amendment with 18 objections, recommending in almost every case against approval. After the city administration made some changes to placate the state—an administration that has publicly spoken derisively of DCA—the Palm Coast City Council went ahead and unanimously approved the amendment anyway, back in July.

Last Friday, DCA declared Palm Coast’s amended plan not in compliance with state objectives and land regulations.

In just one of its 18 objections, DCA had found the plan a recipe for sprawl under all 13 criteria by which the state defines sprawl: the plan would allow the development of low-density housing with no evidence that more such housing is needed (especially not with 18,000 lots in Palm Coast). The plan would sprawl in rural areas at substantial distances from Palm Coast’s existing urban centers. Developments “leapfrog” in isolated patterns that don’t necessarily connect to city services. Premature urbanization “fails to adequately protect and conserve  natural resources, such as wetlands, floodplains, native vegetation, environmentally sensitive areas, and natural groundwater aquifer areas. (The site in question is 75 percent wetlands and 49 percent floodplains). Further, the sprawling plan allows for patterns that “disproportionately increase the cost of providing and maintaining” typical municipal facilities and services such as drinkable water, sewer, stormwater management, parks, and so on.

Another significant objection essentially concluded that Palm Coast’s future population assumptions—a critical component that goes to the need for additional housing of such magnitude—are somewhere between guesswork and fraud. The plan’s 2035 update, DCA concluded, “is not based on population projections and need analysis that are professionally acceptable because they are based on flawed and unsustainable assumptions.” The damning language gets more precise: “For instance, the assumption that the city will capture 91.4 percent of the county’s growth rate throughout the planning timeframe is not justified.” The city, in sum, acted as if the rest of the county has no relevance to its planning horizon (a finding that won’t necessarily surprise planning officials in the county or in other cities).

“In the population projections,” DCA’s objection continues, “the methodology states that the city’s population will continue to grow at the rate it has been growing because the NCOA will be available for urban growth” (the NCOA being the Northwest Corridor  Overlay Area). Which is to say that Palm Coast’s administration is projecting growth tautologically: Palm Coast will grow because Palm Coast will grow, or because it’s making room for growth. What data Palm Coast provided to make its point was either vague or unsubstantiated. DCA didn’t buy the argument.

The state also objected to Palm Coast’s virtual contempt for protection of natural resources and wildlife (including through a network of roads that would fragment bear habitat, for example, while adversely affecting the survival of endangered and threatened species). Planning for schools was inadequate. Many other objections were listed. (Read DCA’s full report.)

DCA’s report amounts to a rejection of Palm Coast’s vision of itself as a necessarily growing, sprawling city. By accepting the development of the Bulow Creek area, DCA was agreeing to what amounts to “filling out” Palm Coast’s developable land between I-95 and the Intracoastal. By rejecting Palm Coast’s leap-frogging in time (to 2035) and geography (across its Northwest and west), DCA was signaling that sprawl has its limits, even when a city annexes land as aggressively as Palm Coast has. The city has almost doubled in area since its incorporation in 1999—from 50 square miles to 89 square miles. DCA is telling Palm Coast that annexation is not in and of itself an entitlement to development.

A look at Palm Coast’s “comprehensive plan” underscores DCA’s issues with the city’s creative way with numbers and assumptions.

For example, the old plan had a projected Palm Coast population of 141,557 by 2020, a figure it termed “an underestimation by several thousands.” Those lines were deleted from the plan, for obvious reasons: the projections proved to be an overestimation by several thousands, if not tens of thousands, as the housing crash—and 18,000 empty lots and a surfeit of foreclosures inside the old city limits—has radically altered those projections. But the following lines were not deleted: “The growth of the City’s economic base, including jobs and shopping, has not kept pace with its residential growth. The residential growth is predominantly comprised of single-family homes on quarter acre lots. Few housing alternatives are available.” White it’s true that the city’s tax base is disproportionate to its commercial and industrial base, it doesn’t follow that the only way to add balance to that mix is to add 12,000 more homes that would make the added industrial and commercial land uses more viable. Yet that’s the direction the plan took (and the disproportionately whacky logic city council members approved).

Much has been and is being made of Palm Coast’s overwhelmingly residential tax base as doing harm to the city’s interests. Yet the city has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state, in a state that has some of the lowest property tax rates in the country. Property tax rates in Palm Coast, in other words, are among the lowest in the nation, and disproportionately so, despite the city’s lopsided reliance on residential property taxes. The comprehensive plan does not explain what, besides mere assumptions, is compelling a move toward more sprawl to justify more industrial and commercial tax base. (In the plan’s wording: Economic and business development to provide a proper balance of jobs, shopping opportunities, and tax base.”)

Another inconsistency is discovered in the plan’s section on affordable housing. “Approximately 60% of the total households in the City fall into an income category (i.e. defined as extremely low, very low, low, or moderate) where there is an identified need for affordable housing opportunities.” It’s not clear how the city’s sprawling west ensures that affordability is still a priority for 60 percent of the city’s population.

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11 Responses for “North By Northwest: State Rejects Palm Coast’s Sprawling Growth Horizon”

  1. Charlie says:

    The interesting comment here, is that “Palm Coast has one of the lowest tax rates in the State”. That maybe true, but the combination of taxes, and FEES, especially utilities, moves us up significantly in the State. Just last year we had a 15% increase in utility rates, jumping my bill $20/month, then they “changed out” water meters, that were only 5 years old, and my consumption jumped 10-12%, which when added to the rate increase, together cost me $360+ year. That I considered an additional tax, as the City owns the utility and should only charge ACTUAL COST, to us as customers. But the growth attempt is just a way of bloated egos, thinking we are are the next Jacksonville sized City in FL.

  2. SAW says:

    How strange,the city of PC runs public service notices on the government channel telling people to “shut off the fawcet while brushing your teeth”, but yet appears to have no problem at all with the construction of thousands of additional homes, duh ?

    Just one more reason to VOTE YES, on Hometown Democracy Amendment # 4.

    What are these people thinking whats next Don’t Flush ?

  3. Dorothea says:

    Pierre, thanks for posting all the documents relating to this new pie in the sky scheme for Palm Coast. Most of the city councilmembers don’t give a rat’s ass about the environmental disaster they are perpetrating. The others don’t say much, so I don’t know where they stand. Did all the councilmembers approve this plan?

    That said, I see an entire new Palm Coast sprawling out to the west, leaving behind all the foreclosed houses and empty lots to its east. There will be the “undesirable” East Palm Coast with rampant crime and people who cannot afford to move anywhere else and the “desirable” West Palm Coast and its low density housing for the rich. The rich will be chronically complaining about the displaced black bears, alligators, and indigo snakes who have no where else to go. Although, personally I think if I had the big bucks, I wouldn’t move anywhere west of
    Route 1, where the mosquitoe population is large and the sea breeze is small.

    With 60% of the population in Palm Coast(as stated in the report) hovering around or below the poverty level in Palm Count and considering the potential environmental damage, I think this scheme should be put on hold until the current problems in Palm Coast are fixed.

    Palm Coast should resign itself to the fact that it is a suburban community with jobs available in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Daytona Beach. If there were a decent transportation system in place, a train depot and buses to conveniently transport workers to the jobs, the problems would eventaully resolve themselves. We have the parks and recreational facilities to attract people who just want a decent place to live and don’t mind getting on a bus or train even if it takes a couple of hours to get to their destination. That’s how it works in suburban communities all over the United States. Why not Palm Coast?

  4. Alison says:

    Dorothea hit it on the head. I knew when I moved to Palm Coast that I would have to commute for work and moved to Palm Coast for the quality of life.

    Palm Coast should resign itself to the fact that it is a bedroom community with jobs available in Jacksonville and Orlando. We have the parks and recreational features to attract people who just want a nice place to live and don’t mind commuting.

    As for housing west of US1 – have you ever heard the train that comes through about 2 or 3 am? Can’t wait for that revelation! ;-)

  5. Robert L says:

    Palm Coast is a consumer economy, not a producer economy. With few exceptions it will remain a consumer economy. Palm Coast is a fairly nice place to live if you don’t mind the commute.

  6. Dorothea says:

    Robert, I’ve used public transportation to commute to jobs in several different cities. I rode on climate controlled and comfortable buses or trains. I took the commuting time to sleep, eat breakfast, and read the paper. It was a pleasant alternative to no job or worse, driving bumper to bumper in mind numbing traffic. Now if the powers that be would stop spending money on erecting vacant buildings or pie in the sky business schemes and invest in public transportation, they might really help get the unemployment numbers down.

  7. JR says:

    In reply to Dorothea:
    The suburban-commuter theory does not hold water in the southeast. While it may work in the northeast, where a high proportion of the retired residents of Palm Coast are from, mass-transit clashes with the history of the south. Typically, southern communities and developments, going back to colonization, have spread out over a wide geographical locale. Which has diminished, significantly, the effectiveness of mass-transit. In the northeast, the geographical nature of developments has made mass-transit a very practical, and popular, means of travel. When I visited New York City, I used the subway extensively, and extremely enjoyed it. And, while NY has 10 times the land, it has over a 100 times the amount of people, which means that roads would have massive, in the hundreds of thousands (five million use the subway each weekday) more amounts of people on them every day, without the subway system. But, to get from Town Center to the Library, I’m driving my car.

  8. Dorothea says:

    JR, my commuting experiences are not limited to the northeast, but cities in the western United States and in countries like Costa Rica and in Europe. I realize the complexities involved, but it is time to start thinking outside the box. There is already a passenger train planned for our corridor.

    I’m not suggesting that we all take a bus from one end of Palm Coast to the other. But many of us could make use of the bike and walking paths that connect the library and Town Center and be healthier for it. Think about mini-buses with bicycle racks and even examine the possibility of electric cars, similar to, but with fewer passenger cars than the those used in Disney World. Those little babies are now street legal and can attain the 45 mph speed limit say on Belle Terre Parkway. There are endless possibilities, just use your imagination.

  9. Federally Ordered Business Building says:

    Because you have made a commitment in Palm Coast by establishing your home here, we believe you should be aware of an agreement that we recently reached with the Federal Trade Commission.
    ITT Community Development Corporation ( ICDC) has signed a Consent Agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning the furture development of Palm Coast. Signing the agreement does not constitute an admission that any law has been violated, as the agreement itself states. We feel the agreement is important in order to attain our primary goal — the development of Palm Coast as a balanced, well-rounded community.
    An important part of the Consent Agreement calls for the execution of plans, within six years, which we believe, in the long run, will be good for Palm Coast. In brief, among other things , we have agreed to the following:
    1. A shopping center with at least 400,000 square feet of floor space will be provided.We are already in contact with prospective developers of individual stores, including a supermarket.
    2. With appropriate governmental agreement, a traffic interchange on Interstate Highway 95 will be constructed to serve Palm Coast according to plans we submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation in August 1972. ICDC will pay for the interchange as originally designed.
    3. An office and research park area will be developed with appropriate roads and utilities to serve it and landscaping to make it an attractive part of Palm Coast. Planning for this already is under way.
    …4. A multi-purpose office building, with at least 5,000 square feet of floor space, will be constructed for tenants in the office and research park. This structure, also, is under planning….
    5. We will move the headquarters of ICDC to Palm Coast. We plan to be substantial employer contributing much to the economy of Palm Coast and Flagler County.
    The agreement also provides for us to restrict our developoment efforts to 42,000 acres for a period of 15 years ( with possible extension for another five years). This will allow appropriate construction in areas set aside for commercial establishments, light industry, recreation, preservation and conservation and other residential uses. Moreover, during this 15- or 20-year period, sales will be limited to 48,000 registered lots of which over 36,000 already have been sold.
    The aforementioned are some of the most important points contained in the Consent Agreement as it affect you and the balanced development of Palm Coast. You will also be interested in knonwing of additional projects that we believe further enhance the community.. Here are some examples:
    We have donated two acres of land, adjoining the furture Emergency Services Building site, to the Palm Coast branch of the YMCA to be used as the location fo a Community Activities Center. We will bear the cost of constructing this facility for all community residents and for sharing in operational expenses during its first three years — a gift totalling more than $400,000.
    We have provided as a gift a site of 57 acres to the Flagler County School Board for a junior-senior high school. The first class of proud seniors was graduated from Flagler-Palm Coast High School last spring.
    We have designated a number of sites for recreation parks, preservation and conservation, and other public areas. One site, in Section 1-A, now is being developed and a paved bicycle path has been constructed. Another bike path, starting near the Yacht Club, is in use.
    We are working with the Palm Coast Civic Association so that Palm Coast residents can form a legal entity to which we can donate oa one-acre site and an Emergency Services Building to house fire and security forces, an ambulance, and facilities for community activities. A preliminary blueprint fo the structure has been approved by a committeee from the Community.
    As you know, we donated a $36,000 pumper fire truck to the Palm Coast Volunteer Fire Department , which will be stationed in the Emergency Services Building..
    Palm Coast’s first church building, St. Mark by the Sea Lutheran Church, ws dedicated on the morning of July 4. Catholic and Baptist church organizations have purchased sites for their proposed churches. And Temple Beth Shalom is considering building a Synagogue. We at ICDC are very pleased, as we know citizens of Palm Coast are, to witness this growth and progress in the vitally important religioius life of our community.
    Palm Coast’s first financial institution, a branch of the Security First Federal Savings and Loan Association, recently opened for business. We believe others will follow with the growth of the community.
    These and many other facilitites will be needed to serve Palm Coast’s growing population. And it is growing. During the last nine months, construction of over 200 homes began. We now have over 1,000 people living and enjoying the good life at Palm Coast.
    In closing, let me assure you that the ITT Community Development Corporation believes very strongly in the furture of Palm Coast and that we are determined that it will grow and progress in a balanced and healthy manner.
    Sincerely yours,
    Alan Smolen

  10. Bob K says:

    I agree with the DCA’s conclusions. The area in question is worthy of preserving. I also question the demand for such a number of dwellings. The housing market will never “recover” as long as high down payments and excellent credit are required for a home purchase. Many former homeowners who have been foreclosed on will not be eligible for a mortgage for years, employment is stagnating, keeping 16% of potential purchasers out of the market, and the economy is showing no clear direction. So, one would wonder why the city officials would want to start a new development that will certainly lead to a general decline in Palm Coast proper. Of course, SOMEONE would have to pay property taxes on this developed land regardless of whether it has a house on it, thus guaranteeing a steady income for those at the helm. Hmmmm…..

  11. Bob K says:

    FOBB: Oh for the good old days!

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