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20 Years On, With $1.17 Million Pay-off, County Approves Hunter’s Ridge Megadevelopment

| November 18, 2010

Hunter's Ridge money has landed. For now. (Jon Tucker)

It’s taken 20 years. On Monday evening, following yet another epic discussion that approached the 11th hour—literally and metaphorically—the Flagler County Commission approved the Hunter’s Ridge mega-development in the southern part of the county.

If a commission decision has ever been contingent on a pay-off, this was it: Hunter’s Ridge developers asked the commission to increase the allowable “density” of the development by more than a third—from 1,702 homes to 2,302 homes. In exchange, the developers were ready to give the commission a $1.17 million check. Just five months ago, any notion of expanding the development looked dead.

The check would partly make good on a years-old commitment by the developer, never met since, to give the county $4.5 million rather than have to build a public golf course. The money would also enable the county to but a $200,000 ambulance, a $30,000 sheriff’s cruiser, and a $140,000 school bus. It was Hunter’s Ridge latest sweetener.

Commissioners went for it on a 3-2 vote, with George Hanns, Barbara Revels and Bob Abbott voting in favor, and Milissa Holland and Alan Peterson voting against. It was Abbott’s last action of consequence on the commission. He did not disclose that the Hunter’s Ridge developers had written him a $500 check in July, during his unsuccessful campaign against Nate McLaughlin (who took the oath of office the following day). Revels did not accept developers’ money.

The check was on the administration’s desk the following day, which means that the Hunter’s Ridge development is now a go.

Here’s what the commission approved: 2,302 houses on the Flagler side, an increase of 600 houses from the previous proposal of 1,702. Hunter’s Ridge had actually asked for an increase of 1,200 houses. It tendered the reduction of 600 as a “concession.” (Years ago, the developer’s initial proposal was for 6,000 homes.)

Also approved: a near-doubling of retail, office and industrial square footage in the development, from 345,590 square feet to 604,308 square feet. Conservation acreage, already low, was increased by a negligible amount (from 2,267 acres to 2,366). Hunter’s Ridge will no longer be required to build a fire station in the development. Nor will it be required to improve Durrance Lane.

County Manager Craig Coffey described the deal: “This is not typical. Most landowners that come before the board would just do a land-use change and you’re done. This one has a development order attached to it. Why does it have a development order? Because it’s part of a DRI”—a development of regional impact—“so it’s a much larger picture, much more consideration. So what really complicated this even worse is the existing development order, the poor condition it’s in. The infrastructure and development and vested interests that are on the ground, folks off Durrance Lane, folks that are building subdivisions, folks in Volusia County. You have three different entities—you have the city of Ormond Beach, Volusia County, the Department of Transportation and us all wanting a piece of the developer, where normally you would just have one entity.”

Public opposition to the development’s details primarily was focused on the fate of Durrance Lane, a two to three-mile stretch of unimproved road straddling the Flagler-Volusia county lines. “They had relied on the developer’s obligations to improve Durrance Lane, in their personal decisions, and that developer’s decision of course was based on developer impacts.” The developer was supposed to pave it. The way the development plan was reconfigured, they no longer are using that as a transportation source,” Coffey said. In other words the developer’s original pledge to improve the road was based on outdated traffic patterns. Residents see that as a broken pledge. The county sees it as a future saving: the county won’t be responsible for the road. The most the developer must do, if it goes into the final phase of its development, is put up $200,000 for possible improvements to the road.

County Commissioner Milissa Holland was dejected after the vote. “My vote consisted of many different things, one of them being public safety issues are first and foremost in my mind,” Holland said. “This is in such a secluded part of our county with no access point within our county. I was here during both the fires in the last decade, and remember it in a way that still stays with me. Knowing that that whole entire development is over in an area of our community that succumb to those fires historically, with such detrimental damage, the visual of having residents out there with no way out but one access point was significant to me.”

Holland added: “A big source of frustration came from the fact that this was from a development that had made commitments historically, even as close as two years ago, where there was a financial commitment where he’d never signed a contract, which he stated to the board he would—the golf course agreement—and I felt it was less than genuine to step up before the board and offer a check, for the fourth time, if we approve the increased density. I think that’s completely inappropriate. That’s what the message was.”

Hunter’s Ridge was proposed in 1991 as a 6,500-house development in Volusia and Flagler counties. It has shrunk since. Just 675 unites have been built in Volusia, none in Flagler. The development has been bedeviled with problems, including three years of unpaid taxes to Flagler County and a series of broken pledges.

When construction will actually begin on the development is an open question. And what impact it will have on Flagler County is an even more open question. Between Hunter’s Ridge, three mega-developments Palm Coast just approved, and Palm Coast’s own set of 20,000-some platted  lots that have yet to be developed, the county has just amassed the potential for close to 40,000 new homes, which would more than double the county’s population. This, at a time when the county is already suffering from one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, when property values are depressed and still falling, and in an economy that has yet to turn around.

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12 Responses for “20 Years On, With $1.17 Million Pay-off, County Approves Hunter’s Ridge Megadevelopment”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    … and the dumb get dumber.

  2. Robert L says:

    This and more of the same is what those who voted no on amendment 4 have given us.
    This is an example of developers buying off elected officials.

  3. tulip says:

    At least there were 2 smart ones that voted against it, and now that a new Commissioner is in place, it will be interesting to see how that evolves over time.

  4. Jack Howell says:

    Will Palm Coast try to annex it?

  5. Save us Nate! says:

    The only hope we have is NATE!!!!!! Time will tell if he stands up for the people, or if he is just like the rest of the County Commissioners.

  6. Justice for All says:

    What failed land policies. Eventually Tampa, Orlando and Daytona will merge into one megalopolis. And Flagler County and Palm Coast housing stock will look like Deltona does now.

  7. SAW says:

    Oh yea, and your CHAMBER (developer ) controlled “tea party” said Vote NO on amemdment # 4, or your taxes will go up, ,fooled you again huh ?

    Just wait, till that mega developement in the boon docks,requires all those services, schools, fire, police etc,

    Just who do you think will pay for all of that the developer ?

    For those that fell in that trap, you may want to study your amendments a little better next time, and also keep a list of what commissioners voted thumbs up or down on these issues for your next election day ?

  8. MadResident says:

    Meeting after meeting in front of the County Commissioners. Countless hours of negotiations with County Staff (unpaid to date). Broken promises. Unpaid concessions. All for a Developer who has not paid property taxes for 3 years!!!

  9. Wayne Griffin says:

    Shame on Flagler County Commissioners that voted for Hunter’s Ridge. Over $2.5 million was eliminated from DRI concerrency fees from the previous DRI with no concession to the County. Such as library facility & site, book mobile, park and recreation facility etc. The County finally collected $1.17 million which included the down payment for the golf course of $800K which leaves $370K for new conconerrency. If the County had done nothing according to the old DRI they could have collected $2,598,000 without the already promised down payment for the golf course of $1,078,000. This comes to a total of $3,676,500. When this goes on in Flagler no wonder America is in the ecomonic state it is.

  10. John Barrett says:

    As a property owner out here off Durrance Lane in Flagler County, I attended the so called vote concerning the DRI with Hunters Ridge and the paving of Durrance Lane by Hunters Ridge. I am absolutely amazed by George Hanns,Barbara Revels and Bob Abbott voting in favor of an amended DRI allowing even more development by Hunters Ridge while relieving them of obligations and promises that were made under the original DRI including the paving of Durrance Lane. How could they let us all down like that? I’ll remember that come next vote…..I promise. Kudos to Milissa Holland and Alan Peterson for seeing thru the smoke and mirrors of Hunters Ridge and trying to do the right thing for us property owners on or near Durrance Lane and the citizens of Flagler County. I’ll remember that too come next vote….I promise. Now that Nate McLaughlin has sworn in,maybe he can help us repeal this terrible decision to the people of Flagler County.

  11. Jeff Myers says:

    The numbers speak for themselves. It is amazing what was left on the table in the way of concurriencies and obligations that existed in the original DRI. All negotiated by County Staff for, supposedly, the good of the County. The loss of millions of dollars for Flagler County and the loss of many obligations that the Developer should of been held to. I fail to understand how those County Commissioners who voted for these changes viewed this as a “win” for Flagler County. The loss of $2.5 million and the elimination of several obligations, including the improvement to Durrance Lane, and then add in that the Board “gave” the Developer more density in the development. How does this present a “win” for the County? How could this all be negotiated by those that are supposed to have the County’s interest at heart? The outcome of this vote by the Board was not only a loss for those effected directly by this development, but for the entire Flagler County community. The Commissioners that voted for this change should be remembered come election time. In the current economic state, it should be remembered what was “left on the table” when they voted “yay” to this issue.

  12. MadResident says:

    It is a shame that 3 of the 5 County Commissioners would jump at a check waved in front of them and vote for a change on the Hunters Ridge DRI. They seemed to had forgotten all the promises of such a check in previous meetings with this Developer in which the Developer had never responded to the promises made. They seemed to forego all the promises and contingencies that had been discussed in all the previous meetings. They even seemed to forget that this Developer has not paid his property taxes in 3 years!! Of particular interest was the promise for the improvement of Durrance Lane/Strickland Road. I heard the residents of Hunters Ridge speak about why spend monies for somthing “outside” the development. These residents live in the same area where Durrance Lane/Strickland Road became the primary route in fighting the fires that threatened Hunters Ridge not too many years ago. To think that these residents (all 2,302 households) will only have 2 exits, both to the South, in such an emergency is (or should be) scary. Durrance Lane/Strickland Road became a lifeline for those who fought the fires. Even to the point that the residents who use Durrance/Strickland as their main thourghfare could hardly get out of the way of the fires themselves due to the equipment that used the road. And after it was over, after that heavy equipment was gone, the road was never repaired (or even an offering to do so) of the damage done from the useage of the road. I think Millisa Holland hit the nail on the head with her concerns over saftey of these residents. Alan Petterson could see it and was steadfast against any further density to the development. The other Commissioners just jumped at the check. One that gave away millions of dollars from the original DRI. “Show me the money”, I heard one Commissioner state. I wonder now if he realizes how little money he was actually shown.

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