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County Approves Salamander’s Bid For 198-Room Hotel, With Conditions and Donations

| February 3, 2015

Prem Devadas, the affable, strategically accommodating Salamander president,  finally wins one in Flagler County. (© FlaglerLive)

Prem Devadas, the affable, strategically accommodating Salamander president, finally wins one in Flagler County. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 1:53 a.m.

The Flagler County Commission’s verdict, just before 2 a.m. Tuesday, includes some last-minute promises of land and dollars from Salamander, and a four-year deadline to build the $72 million project.

Salamander won conditional approval for a 198-room hotel at Hammock Beach, just above 16th Road. The Flagler County Commission early Tuesday morning–after a hearing that had begun Monday at 5:30 p.m., stretched to 2 a.m. today and included a tie vote that appeared to kill the project–eventually voted 3-1 in favor.


The vote followed an extraordinary, improvised negotiating session over donations of land, dollars and even property boundaries that Salamander offered the county to get over the 2-2 hurdle and win an outright approval for the project.

Commissioners Barbara Revels and Frank Meeker had been originally opposed. Meeker then joined Commissioner George Hanns and Nate McLaughlin in favor, following a motion by McLaughlin to accept the application. Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was absent: he’d been hospitalized earlier in the day.

Salamander bought its way out of the jam: A $500,000 contribution by Salamander to enable some environmental land offsets (Meeker had initially asked for $700,000), along with an additional acre that would be added to the public park at 16th road, swayed the commissioner to switch his vote. The acre to be added to the park runs east-west in a long rectangle along the south border of 16th Road. (An earlier version of this story had incorrectly noted that the acre was located elsewhere.)

The vote may end what has been the most contentious and divisive issue to seize the Hammock since the water wars with Palm Coast of a decade ago (though back then the Hammock presented a united front against potential annexation). Salamander’s proposal drew on passionate support from various segments of the county, but also faced just as passionate opposition. A key difference: the support, while more numerically impressive, was more diffuse over the county, drawing on business, tourism and political concerns that didn’t always have direct grounding in the Hammock proper (though Salamander made sure to draft a solid contingent of supporters there as well). The opposition gravitated solidly and almost exclusively around the Hammock, a powerful constituency that no commissioner can ignore at election time.

Prefacing her original vote opposing the proposal, Revels described herself as a 60-year resident of the county, a distinction not many people in the room could equal. She spoke of riding cars on the beach and doing all sorts of things at a time when “we had a paradise,” when residents could “do anything” freely.  “It’s a huge loss to recognize,” she said. “You just don’t know what we had and what we gave up, so in that context, that’s what I think about.” And it’s in that context that she opposed the project.

Meeker focused on property owners’ rights—what promises were made to people buying into the Hammock, and what promises the commission would potentially be breaking by approving the Salamander project—and on Old Salt Park, which he says has been “assaulted” over the years. Those comments proved to be leverage for the dollars and land discussed later.

All along, Hanns had liked the project’s investment potential. “I can recall in the old days that there were many doomsday prophets at anything, any construction in the Hammock,” Hanns said, citing the so-called “Big House” in the Hammock. “Times change, and I applaud anyone who’s trying to do something positive for Flagler County.”

Salamander says the project will result in a $72 million investment, though it’s not clear when the project would have been built: Salamander had yet to gather the investors to make construction possible.

Almost 400 people–what would represent a considerable portion of the Hammock’s population–crowded into the Government Services Building Monday evening to hear the commission’s verdict on whether to allow construction of a 198-room hotel at Hammock Beach resort. Tuesday morning, Kevin Guthrie, the county’s Emergency Management director who coordinated the seating limitations Monday evening, reported the official count at 377 people.

As hours passed, the issue crystallized between proponents of a 7-acre project they see as an economic and tourism boon to the county that would “put Flagler on the map,” provide jobs and draw businesses, and opponents who see the project as incompatible with its surroundings, and an invitation to further development along the beaches, if the county were to lift a land-use restriction it imposed years ago. Numerous objections focused on environmental concerns, including the potential disorienting effect of the development on turtles. Other objections focused on the proposed hotel’s effect on the view for Hammock condo owners. But a running theme from the opponents was the assertion that to approve Salamander’s application would break a commission promise to the Hammock that there would be no further commercial developments after the tower built in 1998.

One difference between proponents and opponents stood out sharply: proponents were relatively recent arrivals in the county. Opponents could speak of decades of personal history in the Hammock or the county: at least two of them have lived in the Hammock since the Truman administration.

The public hearing started at 5:30 p.m. and was not due to end for about five hours, with the commissioners’ vote at the tail end of the meeting. “Our rules require that we end our meeting at 11 p.m.,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said after the hearing reconvened after a brief recess at 8 p.m. “It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen here.” McLaughlin suggested amending the rules. Other commissioners seemed certain that the meeting would end by 11 p.m.

The commission chambers were quickly filled before 5:30 with 210 people, forcing the county’s emergency management personnel to ensure that capacity did not jeopardize fire marshal and other safety regulations. People were dispersed to a mezzanine on the second floor, which could accommodate 50 people watching either through glass windows or at a live TV screen, and to a third-floor conference room set up for some 100 people, also watching on a big screen.

For all the players, pro or con, it was a repeat performance: they’ve all made the same presentation several times before—to civic and advisory boards, including the county’s planning board—though this time the in-person audience is the largest they’ve had, and the largest any county issue has drawn in at least 10 years. The program followed the same pattern: presentation of the issue by the county’s planning director, Adam Mengle, who recommends approval of the application, followed by Salamander’s pitch, its opponents’ response, public comment—the lengthier part of the evening—and a rejoinder from Salamander’s officials before the commissioners discussed the matter and voted.

It was a reflection of the issue’s sensitivity—and divisiveness—that it took almost 40  minutes of discussions about the rules of the proceedings, by County Attorney Al Hadeed and Meeker, among others, before the hearing began in earnest. The commissioners had to disclose their conversations about the matter prior to the hearing, for example. Hanns said he had contact from people “that normally wouldn’t say hello who have been very cordial to me. I just want to make a note of that.” As the meeting wore on, its tone proved distinctly more cordial and less tense than previous meetings on the matter, formal or not, have been.

Overflow in a third-floor conference room. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Overflow in a third-floor conference room. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Salamander President Prem Devadas began his pitch by placing Hammock Beach in the context of Salamander’s three luxury Florida resorts, and four overall, plugging the resort’s recent ranking by Travel and Leisure magazine among the top resorts in the county. “Tremendous effort by our staff, it has so much to do with service,” Devadas said. “Unfortunately that cannot and is not changing the dynamic of the financials of Hammock Beach.”

In essence, the 14-year-old facility is losing its attractiveness from being older and in need of refurbishing—and for lacking the number of rooms it needs to attract the sort of conference business luxury hotels need to be viable. “They’re eating our lunch,” he said of competitors. “So the property is not being competitive today, and we need to find a way to be able to fund improvements,” Devadas said. Salamander’s $72 million investment in the property, with the 198-room hotel as the centerpiece of the development, would he said enable the hotel to be more competitive.

Devadas noted that the parking lot south of 16th Road that had angered many Hammock residents was scrapped. The hotel would take over the maintenance of 16th Road. The new hotel would be 74 feet tall, two feet shorter than the existing lodge. It would be pulled back 15 feet from the dunes.

Clay Henderson, the powerful Holland and Knight attorney, who sports a list of credentials as an environmentalist, spoke on behalf of Salamander to dispense with legal opposition to the project.

“A resort hotel has been located on this site since 1995,” Henderson said, countering the claim that the lodge is not a hotel. “It is consistent with the comprehensive plan.” Henderson said the application did not entail a rezoning, but a conversion of the old Development of Regional Impact plan, which has been sunset, into a planned unit development (or PUD, in developers’ parlance). “That’s why it’s not really a rezoning” but “an amendment” of the existing land use, he said.

hammock beach resort

Supporters. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

He then noted that commissioners don’t face “a yes or no question. You have the ability to impose conditions on the order.” First, he said, the acreage can be split so that “the rest of the golf course is protected and it has enforceable covenants on it that you can enforce.” Second, Henderson said, the county can enjoin Salamander to “use it or lose it. Impose upon us the obligation to do this within a five-year period so that it is guaranteed that it does in fact happens and you get the economic benefits.” Third, he said, the agreement can be made binding on all subsequent owners. “That will go a long way to build the trust that we need on this project,” Henderson said. (The final agreement is to include several such conditions.)

Salamander is also pledging to donate thousands of dollars a year to an environmental protection fund, to be collected from a $2-a-day fee tacked on to room charges as a donation. Patrons may opt out. But Salamander officials say that more than 90 percent of patrons pay the fee.

The floor was then opened for public comment, with proponents of the project going first. The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce is behind Salamander’s project, and on Monday evening numerous business owners and chamber members, among them at least one past president (Lea Stokes), lent their voice to support the proposal. “It’s going to put Flagler County where we all want it to be,” Stokes said, calling the Salamander proposal “a no-brainer.”

To Howard Holley, who owns a local marketing company and was recently defeated by Meeker, the county commissioner, in the latest election for that seat, approving the project would show other prospective businesses a county commitment to smart growth. Tourist and business visitors, he said, will “ultimately become attracted to the uniqueness of Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches, the same magnet that attracted all of us here.” He urged not only approval, but a unanimous vote.

Only 210 of the more than 350 people who turned up for Monday evening's hearing on Salamander's hotel proposal could be seated in the chambers as County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, left, got ready for the proceedings at 5:30 p.m. (© FlaglerLive)

Only 210 of the more than 350 people who turned up for Monday evening’s hearing on Salamander’s hotel proposal could be seated in the chambers as County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, left, got ready for the proceedings at 5:30 p.m. (© FlaglerLive)

Proponents, who included Hammock residents, several Hammock Beach employees, local business owners, and outright advocates for Salamander who spoke of the company as a steward of the environment and a generous donor to various causes, were still addressing the commission by 9:30 p.m., with opponents yet to speak. The last several dozen speakers in favor of the project, Mark Langello, a Barrier Island resident and Bunnell business owner, cautioned commissioners about what would happen were they not to approve the redevelopment: the resort would continue to “fail,” he said, and possibly fail altogether.

At 9:45 p.m., Meeker called a brief break as opponents of the project started lining up, starting with Michael Chiumento, the Palm Coast attorney representing some 300 property owners at Hammock Beach (and members of the club), but on the first dissonant note from the commission: Chiumento asked for more than three minutes to make the case for the large number of people he represents. The commission gave him just five minutes, a surprising rebuff that, Chiumento said, would affect due process.

“What we’re going to talk about today is your integrity,” he said, referring not to the timing matter but to the history of the commission and its previous definition of the site in question: it was not designed for a hotel, but for a clubhouse. Chiumento derided the notion that when it was originally developed, the lodge was seen as a hotel, or a future hotel. “It was always supposed to be low development,” he said, describing the times decades ago when the Hammock community fought to have beach access as the larger development closed some 20 beach access points.

“It’s a bigger issue. It’s a bigger issue. It’s about your integrity, and the integrity of this board,” he said, asking for a denial of the application.

He was followed by Larry Torino, Flagler Beach’s city planner, who explained from a planner’s perspective what amounted to a rejection of the county planning staff’s interpretation of the application. But like as with Chiumento, Meeker attempted to constrain Torino’s presentation as he had not attempted to constrain any of the speakers from the other side, interrupting Torino as if to correct him: the segment was for public comment, prompting Torino to say that he was commenting, but as an expert witness. Meeker interjected again, only to prompt Hadeed, the county attorney, to suggest that as an expert witness Torino should be given some latitude to make his points. The rest of the commission agreed. But Torino’s momentum had briefly been broken.

“I will tell you unequivocally that I support this resort project. What I don’t support is that no attention has been given to the public entity” adjacent to it, Torino said. “I’m not satisfied from a professional standpoint that it’s been satisfied as a land plan. They can make it better.”

“You gave these plat restrictions, and you can take them back. But why would you?” Alma Nemrava, a Sea Colony resident and influential voice in the Hammock, said.

Naming one development after another that was platted with promise only to burden Flagler with vacancies, one opponent derided the claim that the Salamander proposal would produce an economic windfall for the county and called giving in to the claim “corporate charity.”

Twelve minutes before midnight, the opponents ended their case and the commission took a five-minute break before giving Salamander the right of reply and moving on to commissioners’ deliberations. By then, no fewer than 60 speakers (from both sides) had spoken to the commission. But the commission was far from done: its deliberative portion of the hearing, including two votes and the strange negotiating session, would last another two hours.

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25 Responses for “County Approves Salamander’s Bid For 198-Room Hotel, With Conditions and Donations”

  1. SW says:

    WELL of course you did even though most didn’t want it. But that’s how you ROLL here In PC. Whos getting kick backs this time .

  2. Mcsmiley64 says:

    Before that area started being develop you really could do whatever you wanted to do there. It was remote enough (near Jungle Hut) that if you wanted to sun bathe au natural you could. You could go and bring whatever beverage you wanted to bring there (that was not a great idea because you would get drunk in a hurry in the summer). You could drive on that part of the beach ( if you had 4 wheel drive). It really was a treasure. Not any more. It is still unique but it is not the same. Sometimes progress sucks.

  3. Concerned and say no says:

    I am grateful they have to leave 16th open to the public. It is always sad that big money always wins. With the econmy the way it is I feel it is still risky. So to think this will save a failing resort time will tell. I do believe this will open a door of more commercial growth to this beautiful beach area that will rob and forever change what you can not put back. I do not feel the commisioners protected the area or the people who live here except those who are greedy.What if it fails and they come back and want to build on all the greens of the the golf course. My question other than 150 jobs added is how does the people of PC benefit? If your not a member or guest can you use the golf course or the resturants to come. I do not see how they say it will not have a effect on A1A with 198 rooms and holding events.I feel for those who will have thier views blocked. I would feel the same if I had paid for a view and told this was it on build out.I noticed watching online no reaction to the 1500 signatures from the people of the Hammock and some guest that said no to this. To bad they all could not of been there perhaps our commisioners would of heard the majority of the peolpes will.Who stands to make all the money?

  4. Kpac says:

    It is unfortunate that the chair for the economic advisory Council for Flagler County, Barbara Revels, couldn’t see her way to make a decision that would be in the best economic interest for the County. It would appear her concerns are more about losing friends. We need leadership that is strong enough to stand firmly for what is best for the greater good in a county with high unemployment numbers by voting for job creation.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you ever tried to have a job in the hotel service industry? The wages are so low you can’t live on it! Not even in Flagler county!! Those jobs will not save Flagler county economy! I have been living in this county since 1986, and unfortunately seen good work oportunities to move away ( ie Ascom/ Delta). There is a need for technical and higher paying jobs in this county. And there os plenty land west and north US1 to develop and bring some work there. It is all about greed, plundering Florida’s natural coast treasure for profit.

  5. confidential says:

    Graft talks!

  6. JEFF SOUTHMAYD says:

    Last night we saw what the BOCC is…it was interesting watching the haggling over the price.

  7. Edman says:

    Mcsmiley, nude drunks driving on the beach doing whatever they wanted to? …. ah the “good old days”. NO THNAK YOU, I prefer some civility and am not afraid of progress. Let’s keep encouraging smart development and improvements in the county.

  8. DoubleGator says:

    Forgetting Salamander for the moment, I find it hard to believe folks long for 20 dune cuts and people driving four wheel vehicles with the associated debris down the beach and over the turtle nests. Really?

  9. My thoughts says:

    The properties that Salamander competes with for business are located in areas with airports that have multiple commercial carriers, 2 million plus square foot shopping malls within a 10-15 minute drive, fantastic restaurants, destination entertainment, well, you get the picture. We won’t have the surrounding amenities to support this project. And in the name of economic development, we sacrifice our community resources so that what drew the people who actually invested here in the first place is destroyed.

    I give them five years before they are back trying to do something else with the property. Oh, and check out the websites for Amelia Island and PGA National – $100 million dollar renovations.

  10. Sea Guardian says:

    For 30 years I have watched this once beautiful beach community become a cess pool of careless , ignorant , narcissistic , arrogant polluters who care NOTHING about the ocean and the marine life. Sure, put more hotel rooms on the beach. Go walk the once golden sand beaches that are now covered over beer cans, cigarette butts, femine hygiene products, carry-out food wrappers and every other disgusting piece of trash these idiots feel they need to deposit on the beaches. What do they care, their only there for a day or two and then off to Disney World…Its disgusting !!!!!

  11. lena Marshal says:

    Finally progress in Flagler County,

  12. lena Marshal says:

    This should be interesting to see what happens to Hammock Dunes CC and the members after this one.

  13. confidential says:

    Were do you get that from, Lena? Please! These developers rip off our resources and then once in bankrupt disappear leaving us the despair. Remember Centex? Bobby Ginn and the Ocean Hammock now in shaking financial grounds.

    • David S. says:

      To confidential:Centex,Bobby Ginn yes but not salamander farms look up on their website and get the information yourself,see my comment above.

  14. Anonymous says:

    How do people in Palm Coast expect this town to pull itself out of its downturn if they don’t support projects that bring others INTO Palm Coast?

  15. David S. says:

    A family member of mine has been employed at this resort since it has opened more than 10 years ago ,she has a great job with a college degree and she hopes to stay working there for many years to come. This proposal from salamander was a great one for this resort,flagler county and their company.I also wanted to say that becouse of the great health and other benefits from this job I am able to be on a health plan that has saved us from being out on the cold. Most of the people who apposed this plan are the retirees who have nothing else better to do but complain and collect their fat retirement checks, we don’t have that option. As one person stated finally progress for flagler County.

  16. Will (#1) says:

    The way the mitigation question was handled was not professional. The people from Salamander had been open about their plans and arrangements all the way along, and the last minute squeeze was unnecessary and disrespectful to the business community who had supported the effort as well as to Salamander’s executives.

    I don’t know why the commissioners, particularly Chairman Meeker, could not have communicated the importance of increased mitigation, through staff, in a timely way to have worked this out ahead of time. It was uncomfortable to watch, and did not reflect well on Mr. Meeker and the commissioners.

    I hope this little dance won’t be repeated with future businesses wanting to move to or expand in Flagler County. That might stop the music.

    • Will (#1) says:

      I need to add to my comments that I am VERY pleased that the commissioners voted to approve the project. For that, I offer congratulations, thanks, and praise. My comment above is cautionary for the next time we have such an opportunity. We could do without the grandstanding tactics.

  17. Brad says:

    I applaud the Commission. This was a tough decision and I believe the made the right one that was in the best interest of the County at-large.

    There were 2 things that I think came out of this:

    First, It was very positive to see the amount of community involvement. We could obviously do without the all too common lies and drama that a few always wish to spread around with any debate. But overall it would be nice to see more response and mature debate to a lot of issues that come up around the area.

    Second, this was an opportunity to see how our County Commission truly views economic development. And I think we found that out. Barbara Revels has been the leader in the EDC and the position added, and it is very obvious now that it is NOT about economic development at all with her. For Barbara Revels it s about politics. She personally has made quite a bit from the growth of this area, and as a developer she has also contributed to it. Yet when business seeks to grow she wants to say “no”? Because things change? She needs to do some soul searching and decide whether her position on that Commission is truly about the best interest of Flagler County or just herself. If the latter, she should resign.

    This is Florida, and a Florida coastal community. An obvious economic driver is tourism, and the smart community capitalizes on that if they truly want a healthy local economy. And that means smart growth, and growth is always going to impact somebody negatively. If we don’t want growth, then it’s time to say that and be honest about it. Not play political games, create an expensive position, and then run around trying to tie that position’s name to any little business growth in the area because that’s just politics junk. But if we don’t want that growth then don’t complain when taxes rise to continue to provide quality services.

  18. T Gallivan says:

    It would appear that most of the people in favor of the ‘salamander project’ live west of the ICW. Palm Coast is appeasing them by expanding the roadways from 2lanes to 4 lanes/ 4 lanes to 6 lanes to handle the economic growth (traffic).
    A1A is a 2 lane road and can not handle the surge of traffic that will come about as a result of the expanded project at the end of 16th Street. Speaking of 16th Street which really is only an alley way!! With the addition of 198 vehicles (rooms) to the already hundreds of vehicles from the condos has anybody thought what would happen if there is an emergency? Hundreds of vehicles fleeing the Hammock Beach Resort west on 16th Street (the alley way) would hinder/prevent emergency vehicles access to the resort. A real disaster could ensue!!
    The Commissioners in their ‘stipulations’ to the Salamander Project should require Hammock Beach Resort to file a viable emergency evacuation plan that would not hinder emergency responses to the resort. Traffic experts will profess that 16th Street can handle the traffic because only so many vehicles will be on the road at any specific time>>> what about an emergency ? Traffic experts will profess that only so many of the units (both condo and hotel ) will be occupied at any one time! Then why do you need as many units if the experts say that they will not ‘all’ be occupied.
    Let us hope that a ‘horrific emergency’ never occurs at he end of 16th Street.

  19. YankeeExPat says:

    Dog and Pony Show for the Peasants. This was decided way ahead of time, and no amount of discussion was going to change anything. Developers rule this little Fiefdom we call Palm Coast. So Sit Down, Shut Up and just go with the program……….. Know your place Peasants!

  20. Lancer says:

    Progress is coming, people. Trying to hold back development in the county is like trying to hold back the ocean tides with a push broom.

    I realize the seasoned citizens of this county came dreaming of a lifetime of under development. That’s not going to happen because more and more people are discovering what a special place we have.

    So…you have one option: Deciding how the county will be developed.

    St Johns has over expanded in my opinion. They’ve allowed too much track building and, let’s be honest, track homes don’t have the quality everyone wants.

    Flagler needs to control the expansion and county’s development with solid planning and zoning. We want high end homes, whose property tax dollars, can drive a first class education system and infrastructure development.

    We need to court high tech and professional businesses that will provide $100,000+ household incomes to the county and increase our property values.

    We can keep the area authentic and promote local business, but we need to have a solid plan in place that ensures Flagler County success.

  21. Thomas Everlind says:

    I guess none of you have ever read The Lorax By Dr. Seuss.

  22. DoubleGator says:

    P.S. In a tip of the hat to Henry Flagler (for whom Flagler County is named), Commissioners have approved the construction of a 5 star ocean front hotel. Henry must be smiling for he was noted in Florida for two things: building the East Coast Railroad all the way to Key West and several grand hotels along its route.

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