The Flagler County Commission today approved four new special taxing districts along the shore, three of them to pay for protective berms in the Hammock Dunes area and a fourth to pay for a seawall in the Painters Hill area. Property owners in those districts, who are in agreement with the new levy, will pay a supplemental tax to defray the cost of the new structures, to be built by county government before the next hurricane season.
The commission today only approved the boundaries of the district. Government and property owners are still negotiating what the levy will amount to for the owners. Those figures are to be submitted to the commission at a subsequent public hearing in January. The tax would be in effect for the homeowners’ associations in the Hammock Dunes area for five years. It would be in effect for 15 years for the property owners along Painters Hill.
Many homes along the 21 properties affected in Painters Hill were red-tagged, or declared unsafe to live in, by government inspectors after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, as the storms had eroded the houses’ foundations and in some cases collapsed parts of the structures. In the Hammock Dunes area, the storms blew away what had been natural sand barriers and dunes, washing ocean water over swaths of land, demolishing vegetation, and making the zone much more vulnerable to future storm surges.
A protective solution for both areas was essential. The question was how to put those protections in place specifically to protect private property owners without the projects costing the rest of the county’s taxpayers. Special taxing districts are that solution since they affect only those who directly benefit from the coming protection.
“We have worked with all these groups almost since literally weeks after Hurricane Matthew,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “This is kind of coming toward the finish line of getting the agreements together, the districts set up, and hopefully in mid to late January getting the sand moving and the dozers going and protecting these folks.”
The northern taxing districts, in the Hammock Dunes area, affect the Ocean Hammock Property Owners Association, the Hammock Dunes Owners’ Association, and LRA Hammock Beach Ocean LLC, which essentially amounts to Hammock Beach’s golf course. The Hammock Dunes Owners Association parcels slither along the coast starting at Jungle Hut Road to the north and ending at Varn Park to the south. Ocean Hammock’s parcels stretch along the shore from Jungle Hut to just north of Cinnamon Beach Way.
“Today all we’re doing is establishing the boundaries of the district. The assessment will come next summer and will be based on the agreements that have to come before you,” Coffey said. He noted that “the public does go across these lands, sea turtles nest in these lands, so there’s a lot of dual benefit, public and private, in all of these.” All the agreements with property owners are voluntary.
Mike Gill, president of Hammock Dunes Homeowners Association, and Jim Ulsamer of Ocean Hammock had only compliments for the plan and the county’s efforts. “There was no playbook for this,” Ulsamer said. “We had a variety of different types of communities and situations that we needed to address here, these even go beyond today. I don’t think anybody is happy that it took so long but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
The 21-property Painters Hill seawall taxing district starts with the property of Howard McLaughlin at 3221 North Oceanshore Boulevard, immediately south of the property owned by Flagler Beach Marina owner Howard Sklar, and encompasses the next 21 properties, ending at 3109, one of two adjoining properties owned by Derek Fraser, the former Bunnell fire chief. The two properties are registered under the defunct name of 3109 N. A1A LLC. It was a little more difficult corralling the needed property owners for that one.
“It’s a tricky business to get everyone on the same sheet but we’ve been blessed, we’ve got a lot of great folks in our community, we had a few holdouts but I think Irma changed some minds at the last minute with some of these holdouts,” Coffey said. The taxing district will allow property owners to get the needed protection from the sea wall without having to hire their own contractor, take out a mortgage, or contend with 19 different sea wall designs along their stretch of ocean. (Two of the 21 properties already have sea walls.) The projected, uniform sea wall is expected to stand about 12 feet from most homes and to have significant amounts of sand on either side of it.
“Our goal is to definitely have it in before hurricane season,” Coffey said.
The county’s resolution approving the taxing district notes that Hurricane Matthew severely eroded much of the county’s beaches, “erasing large swaths of the county’s dune system, flooding entire neighborhoods, and damaging and destroying public infrastructure and private property on the barrier island.” The resolution includes one error, referring to Hurricane Matthew as a Category 4 storm that passed along the county’s coastline on Oct. 7, 2016.
Matthew was last a Category 4 at 3 a.m. that day when it was just past the Bahamas and still well offshore between West Palm Beach and Vero Beach. By 9 a.m., when it was parallel to Cocoa Beach, it had been downgraded to a Category 3, paralleling the Flagler shore during the 3 o’clock hour as a Category 3. By the time it was level with Jacksonville, it was a Category 2. Hurricane Irma was a tropical storm when it reached Flagler.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the new districts, with Commission Chairman Greg Hansen absent. Hansen had taken part in several meetings with homeowners previously.