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In Rare Rejection of Its Own Staff’s Push, County Commission Rejects 54-Home Hammock Development

| March 22, 2019

beachwalk hammock

Denied. (Flagler County)

It’s not often that a local government denies a developer’s request to rezone land, especially when an entire subdivision is at stake, and when the government’s own administration is behind the development. Earlier this week, the Flagler County Commission did just that, denying a Jacksonville developer’s request to rezone 12 acres at Jungle Hut Road and State Road A1A, where the developer wanted to build a 54-home subdivision.


The parcel is currently zoned residential-commercial. Ken Atlee of Atlee Development Group applied for the zoning change last August, looking for a “planned unit development” designation that would enable the more intense development–theoretically, up to 87 houses. Currently the minimum  lot size is 75 feet wide. The new designation would have reduced it to 50 feet.

County Planning Director Adam Mengle, who recommended approval of the rezoning request, presented the matter to the County Commission Monday. Part of his presentation was to list other properties where density appeared to mirror that being requested–a comparison a commissioner termed “bogus,” immediately signaling distaste for the proposal.

“If you look at the plat of Sea Colony,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said, referring to the much larger Hammock development not far from the one Atlee was proposing, “and you look at this one, these homes are all just crammed together. You don’t see that at Sea Colony. You don’t. It’s a very well planned community. This doesn’t look like that. These are just jammed in there. I’m really concerned about that. It’s kind of bogus to give us these numbers that say there’s so many hundreds of these type lots out there. It means nothing. The numbers don’t mean anything unless you look at the plat itself and see how they’re organized, see how much free space is in there, how much green space is in there. This just doesn’t look right.”

“I was trying to wrap my head around how with the existing zoning you could fit 87 units in there,” Don O’Brien, chairman of the commission, said of the maximum potential for the development, assuming the rezoning was approved. Developers frequently present what appears to be a lower number of units, compared to the maximum allowed, to make their proposal seem more magnanimous.

Still, the rectangular development would have lined lots along an outer rim and lined another string of homes along the middle of the parcel, with a pond, considered an “amenity,” running the length of the inner lots.

Commissioner Dave Sullivan could think of only a few exceptions further north on A1A where developments were that intense. “But I’m not aware of anything like this in that area right now, so this would be a different looking development for the Hammock,” he said. “Are you changing the nature of the area with that development?”

Mengle found himself in the odd but not unusual position of speaking as if he were the developer’s advocate rather than the county’s, defending the development’s approach by citing an example.

The proposal was recommended for approval in a 5-2 vote at the county planning board, which–but for its isolated dissenters–tends to rubber-stamp development in line with county administration recommendations. The administration itself tried to rush the proposal through the commission–until Sean Moylan, the assistant county attorney, recommended against it in January. “The applicant has not satisfactorily addressed a number of issues that arose during [Technical Review Committee] review,” he wrote, including buffers and open-space requirements. “Additionally, scheduling this item for the action of the Board of County Commissioners only six days after the Planning Board does not provide adequate time to address issues that may arise.” (The planning board was to hear the item that very evening. Mengle was planning to place it on the commission’s agenda on Jan. 14.) “I do not believe that this item is ready to be heard and respectfully believe it should be postponed.”

That, too, was a rare instance of intramural disagreement, though Moylan wrote his memo on Jan. 8, the day former Administrator Craig Coffey announced his resignation: some staffers were already feeling more empowered to do things differently. The planning board voted to table the matter until its February meeting, where it voted to approve.

Opponents wondered, as did Dennis Clark, who chairs the Scenic A1A Committee, “why have a zoning district if it can be changed so easily purely for the benefit of the developer?” The existing zoning would not prevent a development, just a somewhat less intense development, with 34 homes in 75-foot wide lots. The developer was also making no promises to preserve trees, but rather only promising to “make every reasonable effort to preserve” live oaks of a certain diameter or higher.

Hansen wasn’t impressed by that approach, either. “The developer shuffles off the tree preservation to the people that are going to build the houses,” he said. “That seems like an absurd handoff to me, that they’re just throwing their hands up, saying we’re not going to preserve any trees, we’re going to cut them all down, then the homeowner is liable, he’s going to have to replant or do something to comply.”

“There’s not going to be a pushing off to the builder nor to the property owner,” Sid Ansbacher, the laconic attorney representing Atlee, told Hansen. Ansbacher previously appeared before the commission as counsel for the developer of another project that drew much controversy but was eventually approved, at Lakeside last January, a little north of the current proposal. “We also assume that the builder will be responsible for the one replacement tree per 3,000 [square] feet.” The lots were to be 5,500 square feet each (instead of the current 9,000).

After hearing a presentation on the Beachwalk development at an Oct. 26 meeting, Scenic A1A, the county advisory group that reviews all proposed developments in the Hammock, and whose recommendations are (or are supposed to be) taken seriously by county officials, was satisfied in part. But it was also concerned about key parts of the development, including the high density, which “removes the most valuable characteristics of living under the trees,” that “each increase in residential density creates more need for traffic lights and adds to emergency evacuation times,” and that the wildlife corridor would be narrowed.

The item drew much more public response before the county commission than the two speakers it drew on two occasions before the planning board. The respondents were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal.

Some commissioners discussed tabeling the request, toi give the applicant time to address concerns. “I would even move past tabeling and seriously consider denying the request,” O’Brien said. Commissioner Sullivan motioned to that end, Hansen seconded, and the commission denied the request in a 5-0 vote.

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17 Responses for “In Rare Rejection of Its Own Staff’s Push, County Commission Rejects 54-Home Hammock Development”

  1. starryid says:

    Looks like we have FINALLY elected a Flagler County Commission that puts the best interests of the residents – not the developers – first!!! If only we could elect a Palm Coast City Commission and Mayor that does the same!

  2. Paul C Pritchard says:

    Finally, our commissioners showed some backbone!

  3. Wow says:

    Remember what happened to Sea Colony during Irma? I don’t think this area needs LESS drainage.

  4. Randy Jones says:

    One has to ask, “How the homeowners insurance companies would have voted??”

  5. can't believe it says:

    Adam Mengel mostly argues on the side of the developers and doesn’t represent or protect the County from irresponsible development. Thanks to the Commissioners for doing the right thing on this one.

  6. Bill g says:

    Finally someone with brains, yes quit jamming houses in every knook and cranny of palm coas. We need more green areas, homes with bigger lots, not smaller!

  7. Crusty Old Salt says:

    Mengle has never seen a development he did not like. Fortunately, common sense and reason prevailed.

  8. Has Common Sense Returned says:

    to the BOCC? Where was this level of spirited debate when the RV park zoning variance was approved for Colbert Lane? The county attorney came into that meeting so scared that the owner might sue that the BOCC just rolled over.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Finally something done right! They expect to be approved these density and what about the insufficient sewer in the Hammock that is not even good enough for the ridiculous request of expansion of Cptn BBq. Are these developers made to pay for the 8 million extension of the sewer service intended from the Hammock Dunes Bridge to Bings Landings area or they dump into our pockets? I am pretty sick and tired of over development without a proper plan and taking away from the existing residents quality of life. These County and city planning boards and departments work for the developers not us and is a shame! They add all these new housings traffic and speeders into our residential areas into narrow drives and lanes (non intended for it by ITT) with 30 and 40 mph limit that is actually violated 10 to 15 miles over the limit about 60 feet from residential homes by gas and liquified gas tank trucks, were tiny tots play in front yards. Here in the county and Palm Coast we need a moratorium of about at least 6 years in new developments until projects like widening of some thru roads like Old Kings road and others are completed so thru traffic will be channeled in a more safe way!

  10. mark101 says:

    Finally, our commissioners showed some balls.

  11. KJ says:

    Alarm bells and whistles should be going off in the minds of taxpayers regarding County Planning Director Adam Mengle, how could he honestly support this development and advocate for it while representing the interests of the citizens of Palm Coast? His responsibility is to the public good and clearly the requested density exception is NOT in the public’s interest on many fronts: aesthetically; safety related; traffic issues; sewage overflow; drainage and flooding concerns and on and on. I don’t know where this public servant received his city planning education but he needs a refresher.

  12. Concerned Citizen says:

    Wow our BOCC actually said No to a real estate deal?

    It seems that our BOCC won’t rest until they have bought every empty building or developed every single lot of wooded land. I’m really surprised they said No on this one. Especially since Adam Mengle does not represent OUR interests.

    With all this new building going on (IE the proposed unit at Pritchard) I wonder when the County/City plans on upgrading it’s infrastructure?

  13. Willy Boy says:

    Good move.

  14. Dennis Clark says:

    To be accurate, the Planning Board approved the rezoning (R/C to PUD) on Feb 12 with a 5-2 vote (Mr. Corbett and Ms. Kornel dissenting).
    The site plan was approved unanimously on March 12 with only four Planning Board members (out of seven) present.
    MEMBERS PRESENT: Chair Michael Boyd, Mark Langello, Timothy Conner, Jack Corbett
    MEMBERS ABSENT: Michael Goodman, Laureen Kornel, Anthony Lombardo

    Besides being a cookie-cutter development, the removal of 523 out of 577 hardwood index trees was a travesty and an assault on responsible land planning principles. The developer plans to meet with County Commissioners to determine what they can do to get this approved.

  15. Hammock Resident says:

    I have gone to the planning meetings and said nothing, just to see how the circus works, and I watch it on TV at home. I have never heard Mengel speak against any development. He bandstands every development, no matter how poorly planned, no matter how ill prepared the developers are. He talks so fast, he sounds like a car commercial. The Commissioners are afraid to even ask him any questions. Normally Hadeed pats him on the back and smiles at the Commissioners. And they pass it. For once, the Commissioners actually thought through this.

  16. Percy's mother says:

    WHAT??!!

    Why hasn’t “affordable housing” come to The Hammock? . . . similar in concept to what was proposed here, and shot down. It may not have been low income housing but it’s basically the same concept as what DR Horton puts up . . . slash and bulldoze all greenery down and away and put up cookie cutter homes about 10 feet apart. Drive down US-1 and take a look at the DR Horton development . . . I think its called Grand Landings . . . not a bit of greenery to be seen just small poorly built homes about 10 feet apart. I believe Toby Tobin has been pushing that.

    The Hammock development concept voted down is similar to the low income housing Toby Tobin and Mayor Holland are pushing. We need to keep an eye on those 2, otherwise low income housing will be coming to a plat of land near you.

    So, “The Hammock” had enough political clout to get the project voted down.

  17. carol says:

    Totally unfair, the developer has all the right to develop his property. This is not the American way.
    How unjust is the BOCC, or maybe they didn’t get their hands greased??

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