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The Gardens Project Off John Anderson Highway: The View From the Developers’ Perspective

| June 28, 2019

SunBelt Land Management bought nearly 3,000 acres straddling John Anderson Highway some 13 months ago, for $11.5 million, where the Garden Development is planned. The project had previously been marketed by Bobby Ginn/Lubert-Adler as The Gardens at Hammock Beach.

SunBelt Land Management bought nearly 3,000 acres straddling John Anderson Highway some 13 months ago, for $11.5 million, where a portion of the land–825 acre–is planned as The Gardens development. The project had previously been marketed by Bobby Ginn/Lubert-Adler as The Gardens at Hammock Beach.

Note: Attorneys with Cobb Cole, the Daytona Beach law firm that represents the developers of The Gardens along John Anderson Highway, are hosting a neighborhood meeting to discussed the planned mixed-use development on Monday, July 1, at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 55 Town Center Boulevard in Palm Coast. FlaglerLive invited Ken Belshe, a senior director with SunBelt Land Management, to present the developers’ perspective on the project. The same invitation was extended to representatives of a group that calls itself Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, whose spokesperson said an OpEd will likely be forthcoming. The project is currently wending its way through regulatory steps in Flagler County and Flagler Beach.

By Ken Belshe

I am part of the development group proposing to build The Gardens community off John Anderson Highway. A lot is being said and rumored about the development and I’d like to tell you about it more directly, and from the perspective of someone who’s been in Flagler County 20 years and who knows the importance of balanced growth.

Back in 1999, our company laid down a hefty investment in what we saw as a very bright future for this growing community.

We turned that investment of raw land into Palm Coast Plantation on Colbert Lane. The time I spent as part of that development team still stands out as a highlight of my career. I still remember enjoying the opportunities of discovering this great county’s impressive, diverse culture while also getting to know really great people serving on local governments.

That was a time when there was only one Publix in the county, and it was small. It was a time before Town Center, before Target, City Hall, a movie theater and national retailers, before dozens of family-owned restaurants around town and so many companies offering great jobs for our residents. There was much on the horizon for the community’s future, but we had yet to reach our potential.

It was a different time for Flagler County, focused nearly entirely on the needs and lifestyle of retirees and snowbirds. Young families were far outnumbered. High school students graduated and moved away. Back then, there was hardly a reason for them to stick around. What would they do for a living? Where would they live?

ken belshe gardens development flagler

Ken Belshe.

There has been a lot of discussion in the last several months and even years about growth in Flagler County, and where we are headed. Local experts wonder how fast we can grow and whether the diversity of our community will keep up, providing jobs, culture, dining and recreation. It is apparent we need to be prepared to provide resources and execute plans for responsible growth in order to supply housing for people in all walks of life and retain our younger people inclined to move away from home.

Overall, I am personally encouraged by the more rational rate of growth taking place in Flagler County compared to the unbridled growth in the previous decade. We are now seeing end-user home buyers rather than those speculative buyers of our past. People now see Flagler County as a legitimate and viable place to raise a family as well as begin retirement.

As developers, we are preparing our own set of proposed plans for housing solutions in a growing community in need of more modern options. We discovered housing trends have changed not just here in Flagler County, but all around the nation. Millennials are growing into young professionals with needs and interests different from their parents’. With the evolution of things like Uber and Amazon, and in a world of multiple TV shows dedicated to people buying tiny houses, we have seen a drastic progression in the preferences homebuyers can settle into for the long-term. The things trending now – a smaller home and yard with less maintenance, a sense of community and involvement, and close proximity to area amenities – are a stark change from large estates built on three-acre lots.

We know, just like everyone who lives here, that Flagler County is a vibrant community filled with immense opportunity and an unparalleled natural landscape. The cities and the county have done an incredible job protecting our natural resources, expanding our parks and trails and outdoor recreational opportunities. We see our government and our elected officials invested in a way we never have before: they’re building strategic plans for responsible growth and development and setting a growth pace that is both smart and reasonable.

We have every intention of keeping this pace. We have taken our time, investing in properties that offer possibility and potential for producing unique housing options for our residents for decades to come, while others may have walked away. Even when every facet of Flagler County was devastated by the recession and land development practically came to a halt, we stayed the course.

“We have known for decades that this area is a glimmering gem outshining others in the Southeast. We have no intention of damaging that gem or risking its value.”

We have known for decades that this area is a glimmering gem outshining others in the Southeast. We have no intention of damaging that gem or risking its value. We hold it carefully in our hands, polishing it and deliberately waiting to share our ideas about what to do with it.

The Gardens property was purchased long ago by the now-defunct Ginn Company. Their plan included estate-sized homes and a golf course, an impossible sell in today’s economic and cultural environment. We purchased this property from the lender, recognizing its possibility and potential. We know a new plan will require great attention to detail and planning and we intend to develop it slowly, over 25 to 30 years – in other words, over a generation or more – with input from our local governments and others and in accordance with multiple regulatory agencies at the state and federal levels whose jobs are to regulate land development and protect endangered species and wetlands. No developer in today’s regulatory environment can develop any property without strict oversight by these agencies, with severe penalties for violations.

The plan for the Gardens is to execute a responsible and ethical development program, keeping the pace set before us and maintaining our vision while balancing the need for profits for all stakeholders. Over the course of the next couple of decades, the current plans include developing a mixed-use community with 3,966 units – a combination of single family and multi-family housing. There will be well-lit, walkable streets, multi-use trails and sidewalks that will allow residents to drive, walk and bike around the neighborhood and associated amenities or to nearby commercial properties.

Our goal with The Gardens is to develop a modern community spread over 825 acres. By locating this number of homes on this property, we help provide for the future growth of Flagler County but reduce the amount of land that will be required if we were to continue with sprawling neighborhoods.

A recent finding from the Florida 2070 study, which was jointly conducted by 1000 Friends of Florida and the University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center, found that “even modest increases in development densities can result in a substantial saving of land.” Furthermore, this type of development plan, such as it is with The Gardens, can also result in lower costs to the public for roads, drinking water, stormwater management and sewage treatment.

As a result of smart-growth planning and intergovernmental partnerships, this community won’t destroy this area, but rather provide those unique housing opportunities of which Flagler County is in such desperate need. We are excited about the prospect of providing new, diverse and modern residential options for the baby boomer generation, as well as young families planting roots to remain active members of our community for decades to come.

We understand there is opposition to this development, and development of Flagler County in general, and we are willing to engage and listen to all stakeholders throughout this process.

Ken Belshe is a senior director with SunBelt Land Management.

39 Responses for “The Gardens Project Off John Anderson Highway: The View From the Developers’ Perspective”

  1. TheTruth says:

    I was unaware that Flagler County is in desperate need for unique housing developments? Will they end up looking like all the empty store fronts?

  2. Eva Mowry says:

    Very nice sounding story. As an early resident of Palm Coast since 1974, before it was over-developed, sold out to the highest bidders, and all remnants of the sweet peaceful place we moved to, hearing all of this is deja vu. Now I have a place in Flagler Beach, whose leadership protected it from the greed of over-development. I intend to work and make sure it stays that way, and thank God, most of us feel strongly that way. This project does not fit in at ALL with what residents want, however sweet sounding. I suggest you shift west!

  3. T says:

    well played, sir

  4. Keep Flagler Beautiful says:

    I can’t wait to hear how the development of such a massive piece of land is going to benefit the environment, with all those toilets, dishwashers and showers emitting waste water. The number of trees that would have to be knocked down is a great concern, as well. We need deeply rooted trees to stave off flooding during hurricane season. And then there’s the traffic that would all funnel out onto John Anderson. I’m prepared to listen politely to the developer and hope he has the right answers, but this is not a project that will be rubber-stamped. Many concerned citizens are watching.

  5. Concerned Citizen says:

    I am told that some of the condos/apartments are planned to be several stories high. I am also told that the local Fire Departments do not have any way to access a building with multiple floors. I would hope these developers have taken this into account

  6. Stretchem says:

    In layman’s terms, you’re going to destroy the land and kill any non-human species that may lie in your path, in a “responsible manner” (adhering to the laws as written or as they’re altered to fit your agenda) while maximizing profits for all stakeholders.

    May your profits be maximized for you and yours before the oncoming and inevitable rising sea levels wash it all away. But why should you care? Checks will already be deposited and you’ll be worm feed by then anyways (or rather, shrimp feed), while your direct descendants maximize their inherited profits.

    Good day sir. I say good day!

  7. Oceanside says:

    Mr Belshe,

    Your company is located in NC. You don’t appear to own any property in Flagler Co, so I’m curious as to how you’ve “been in Flagler County 20 years”? This stack and pack development is simply a major source of income for you. It won’t impact YOUR neighborhood, wherever that is. You wouldn’t want this monstrosity of a proposed development anywhere near YOUR house–and neither do those of us who actually live here.

    “Back in 1999, our company laid down a hefty investment in what we saw as a very bright future for this growing community.” And I’m sure you’ve received a hefty return on your investment. Developers are not martyrs.

  8. Unrelenting Pessimist says:

    Is it just me, or is it starting to feel like 2005 again?? Financial products are readily available, real estate development is monumentally optimistic, and if you dig a little, you can see trends like median R.E value versus inflation and income skewed similarly to the years before the “Big Reset.” Also, financial products are being easily packaged yet again toward the new (good credit) standard similar to pre 2007. And with rising rates??Optimistic about major development, I am not. I just hope there are enough newly approved asses to sit on couches in these newly built living rooms. I noticed there wasn’t a disclosed number of homes to be developed, nor even a specified timeframe from this article.. but in Florida real estate terms 825 acres is equal to at least 2,000 homes or more. What an optimistic world we’re living in yet again. It’s almost like it comes from nowhere at all!! Just Roll the Field of Dreams dice; If you build it, they will come after all! But can it be sustained? We’ll find out. Hindsight is 20/20. Oh, and these new residents will need jobs… hope they have a good commuter car.

  9. Dave says:

    No thank you, I remember one of my favorite fishing holes used to be where Palm Coast Plantation now sits ,leaving my fishing hole unaccesable to residents of the county,only the private residence. This is an environmental disaster for the wildlife that have sought refugee along this section of John Anderson. Flagler County needs more places to work,not live.

  10. capt says:

    developers are the very worst thing to happen to this state and to the natural beauty of Florida. Their drive, buy , and cut down every tree there is, add concrete, sell homes and apartments and make a whole lot of money and move on to the next group of fools willing to hear their story. .

  11. Agkistrodon says:

    Wonderful, more cars, more garbage, less nature. Maybe a few parking lots are in order as well…….SAD

  12. tttt says:

    I’m impressed. You’ve been here a whole 20 years and can see and feel the impact such a massive development might have. If you weren’t so heavily leveraged, you perhaps might see that Florida needs less development, not more. The sheer environmental impact would continue to erode the delicate balance of man vs nature in a state where the dollar seems to win all arguments.

    The constantly-repeated cycle of northern developers “discovering” an undeveloped plot of land, promising politicians and residents the stars and the moon (and falling short) appears here again.

    I’m hoping that we Floridians oppose these developments and create a more measured and thoughtful approach to how areas are developed, and the impact on our diminishing resources.

  13. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    My initial reaction to this lecture was total laughter:
    Flagler county elected officials still cannot provide a home for our sheriff and his staff. The county continue to overpay for old moldy, defective buildings which they never properly inspect beforehand.

    Flagler County elected officials still cannot fix 3 lousy wells and a cracked wastewater tank, which they promised to do 6 years ago now being charged to used by 5,000 people who live here now- with another 3,000 homes for the future already approved to be on the same antiquated ignored system.

    Flagler county elected officials has done nothing to force FDOT to resurface the many deeply growing pot holes on a major interstate used by everyone who lives in Flagler County. ( I have e-mails from FDOT addressed to me but not to the county giving every excuse for delays)

    Flagler County has put their emergency helicopter back in service from 8PM to 8AM despite the only trauma center located miles away in Daytona Beach.

    Flagler County has no maternity facility that I know of, nor a trauma center .
    Flagler County still has no fix for the growing number of homeless

    And now Flagler County is so desperate to bring in new business they are offering to give away $700,000 of their ‘family’s hard earned money for a pie in the sky unpledged promise by some company to create jos years from now.

    But let’s also remember the dire need for ‘affordable housing’ which ( as long as wages are kept low by the Flagler Businesses-especially the hospital) which will make developers richer than GOD because they will get tax credits on their profit as long as they rent to those who incomes are just above poverty level.

    We also need to borrow millions to put temporary sand on our beaches which, without permanent barriers, like jetties will wash away again and again but hey – our Tourist Department, under the direction of former s now suspended Matt Dunn falsely advertised that ‘ Flagler County has everything.

    Our county attorney doesn’t even now how to write a lease for a private business on public land -even condoning a hard liquor license enabling boaters and drivers to get drunk on county land via the booze served in the freebee private restaurant,

    To recap all my ranting and raving: Flagler County has no business inviting more residents into our county until they are able to take care of the 110,000 of us who live here now.

    My unsolicited advice: vote out every county commissioner who votes ‘yes’ to any aspect of this future disaster to our environment and quality of life.

    A yes vote will not only destroy a gorgeous area it will be an open invitation to more investors to come to Flagler where you can make all the money you want…. To the investors – Flagler County is not ready for you nor anyone else to wants to build until our county is able to provide for its family first. Just go away…

    Take your project sir and hang on another 20 years or just get the hell out of town.

  14. Johng says:

    Soon this whole area will be drug infested, piles of trash, more traffic, gas station and strip malls evey 1/2 mile. What a joke flagler county has become.

  15. Sandra Elliott says:

    Well the drinking water in Plantation Bay is a disaster. What they’re doing to the saltwater Marsh thanks the st. Johns River Water Management is a disaster. So, you guys want to go ruin more of Flagler Beach.! This will absolutely destroy our little lovely town of Flagler Beach. It will destroy the wetlands. How dare you make such remarks that it’s good? Stay in Palm Coast we’re home after home after home of the same stuff. Property values have gone lower and crime has moved in. Keep your stuff up there. The traffic alone will be horrendous and we don’t need commercial growth.

  16. Catherine Jones Lemper says:

    Mr. Belshe, while I appreciate your assurances that the developers of the Gardens have the protection of the fragile and unique environmental beauty of Flagler County at heart, I’ve seen too much blatant destruction of Florida in the past sixty plus years (35+ in Flagler County) to be swayed by your words. In fact, I think we need to do the exact opposite of what you are proposing, this area should be designated as an environmentally sensitive area, and keep it preserved forever. Between climate change, rising sea levels, loss of habitat, and water pollution, another development of this scale is just trouble looking to happen. I would also like to know who your design team is. Are these local folks who have a real knowledge and appreciation of Flagler County or are they being brought in from a large urban with no real “heart investment “ in this area. This is important to know since it is a real indicator of how serious you are about optimal preservation of the site. I just don’t think it’s like the old days when this kind of project could be shoved down the throats of the real shareholders of a community.

  17. m t says:

    Sunbelt Land Management is developing Marina del Palma on Colbert Lane AND Colbert Preserve/Roberts Pointe (which is almost all the land between Roberts Rd & Colbert Lane). So with all that added housing & destroyed land in the area, The Gardens as proposed, CAN NOT Happen

  18. Ritchie says:

    Not a bad deal. About $3800 an acre! This destruction of nature will yield big time cash.

  19. Edith Campins says:

    Paving over paradise one development at a time. Making developers rich and screwing the rest of us.

  20. snapperhead says:

    Go for it Mr Belsche….none of the cry babies were too concerned with our precious environment when land was plundered to build THEIR house. Carve out a parcel for a strip mall along that road too for a convenience store and pizza joint etc. Drain the swamp! MFGA 2020!

  21. The original woody says:

    Not to worry hopefully the developer will leave a dozen or so trees over 825 acre’s.Once again the environment loses.

  22. Janice says:

    Develpment already ruined palm coast, now they plan on going to the coast with it. It will look like daytona and holly hill soon!

  23. Bill says:

    So maybe all those against any future building in Flagler should bulldoze there home plant trees on their lot and MOVE back to wherever they came from.

  24. Willy Boy says:

    More Malthusian mess. From the linked article per Butch, “We could have chosen any place in the southeast to invest our money. We chose Flagler County.” Don’t you wonder why? Cheap land and easily manipulated public officials, maybe.

  25. Jose Ricardo Rodriguez Fabiani says:

    Building big infrastructure projects is always risky, but there are ways the odds … If all these megaprojects have worked as intended; indeed, it is almost … this leaves local governments to pick up the tab for the rest. they usually delivered an unrealistically low project budget creating in fracture and environmental issues for years to come.

  26. Hammock Bear says:

    Is the planned development area a current site for nesting Wood Storks ?

  27. Dawn Smith says:

    Has anyone thought about the water table . As to emergency routes for evacuations. With all this new development. The Developers that are planning all of this, half of them live out of state. No worries. Know when John Anderson is bumper to bumper traffic. When it is time to Evacuate. Need wider roads and more thought about the Wate table. Before development. We can not even get abandoned properties cleaned up. Fence is leaning in adjacent properties. NICE

  28. Bethechange says:

    If you build them, they will stay? Why? There still is ‘hardly a reason for them to stick around.’ For what? A daily, hour to two hour commute to the nearest city, so that they can have access to Flagler’s diversity and cultural offerings? In our household alone, not much has changed since 1999. Our youngest is a 2018 graduate and both of our children chose to stay and work in the areas where they went to school and where there are professional opportunities. Nothing against Flagler. They realize that in order to put their degrees to work while making a livable wage, they need to be where the jobs are. And, the property to be developed is way-too sensitive and fragile. Just drive south on John Anderson during a typical rainy season, just at the end of the S curve and see how the sidewalk leads straight into a now seasonal, run off pond. And speaking of ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’ how about the great job those wetlands did in ’98! The ONLY thing between residences on and around John Anderson and a 95-jumping, 28-home consuming, wind-driven, raging wildfire was the wetlands. And that’s where it came under control and was extinguished. I saw the fire line. And please don’t insult our intelligence touting the respect developers have for environmental oversight and strict penalties. Did we not hear about Ginn taking fines for tearing down 3-5 hundred year old liveoak trees?

  29. Michael Tranchina says:

    No thank you…I love Flagler beach exactly the way it is…Your company exists to make a profit, not to preserve our beautiful, natural community.

    Please make your profit somewhere else…

    I recommend that the city of Flagler Beach and the county buy back the land from the developer and preserve it indefinitely…I am willing to pay higher taxes and fees to preserve our natural resources.

    Whose with me on this?

  30. D Newman says:

    With the potential for 8 to 10 thousand more people and a shrinking amount of untouched land where will wildlife exist? One more gated community for a limited number to enjoy.

    And Flagler Beach continues to develop every last square inch of property without regard to an ongoing environmental decline.

    Meanwhile, Flagler County ignors one of the highest suicide rates and has many other health related problems in spite of a large healthcare provider to citizen ratio.

    The oldest misconception is that development will solve problems. It may but only in the path of creating many more.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    SunBelt purchased this piece of property knowing exactly what it was zoned for. They should have to work within those perimeters. Why should our county bend over and change things, just so they can make a bigger profit? We, the constituents of this county, are the ones to suffer as a result of developers raping the land; all in the name of “progress”. Last time I checked, no one asked for a development of this nature. When I moved to this area it was under the assumption that it would maintain the natural environment that currently composites John Anderson Hwy. Of course, they will build on the property at some point but it should be done by what it was originally zoned for; 1 home per 5 acres, which is totally fitting for this area.
    Less we forget, they already clear-cut Town Center for just a vision as this, and what has it been, ten years+ and they are just beginning to break ground on a few developments. How about instead of continuing to force developments like this on us, every one of those areas be fully developed and filled to capacity and then reassess what our area needs? Also, stick to areas that are not environmentally sensitive, such as west of 95 and even further west of US1. The only reason for this area being ravaged is because the developer knows they can fetch a nice hefty profit due to its proximity to the water.

  32. Outsider says:

    So we have to put in more homes to protect the environment?! If anyone was really concerned with our quality of life, they could stop putting in gas stations and box stores on every corner. They could put an end to making me stop at every intersection for yet another red light. How about stop advertising in every magazine in the country as to how great it is here? It’s not going to be great anymore when you have a million homes and five million people throwing their trash and cigarette butts out at every stop light, and we can’t even walk on the beach because it’s so crowded. In other words, stop pissing on my boots and telling me it’s raining!

  33. mark101 says:

    I like it that our past and present county commissioners appear to sell out in the name of big money to developers that don’t care about the area they screw up. They ( commissioners) see this as progress and tax income, and trees, wetlands, forest are just in the way of progress. Sad, but its happening all over this state. 2018 Fla Population: 21.3 million, and growing .

  34. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    to mark101:
    Had I been elected I would never have voted to increase our population until our current family is taken care of and we have all that we need and that includes our health, welfare and safety counting more than playing gypsy and predicting the future with our tax dollars we are paying today, Nonsense – I agree with you sadly.

  35. Bethechange says:

    Based on many of the above comments, it seems the imminent offense is total disregard for the fragility of this particular parcel and a developer who stands to gain rather than preserve it, not for ourselves, but for the many generations to follow. I urge everyone to read Patrick Smith’s A Land Remembered for its focus on the subject. Though it is a work of fiction, it is my understanding that it is historically very accurate and it has been recommended reading for Florida students for decades. And let us remember the passion of President Teddy Roosevelt to preserve tracts of land facing destruction at the hands of greedy developers, giving us the National Parks system and ensuring that 10s of millions of visitors annually can experience the physical beauty, natural power and spiritual uplifting such experiences provide. Also, google a population density map of the state and see the effects of irresponsible development. Every county from Nassau, down and around the straits, up the Gulfcoast to the panhandle is RED. Except GREEN, little Flagler County. Quite stunning to see. So, in the big picture, we are it; the last. This unspoiled parcel has been this way since Florida rose up out of the sea. So it seems the author had 1 fact right in his op ed, and that is, it is a gem. And once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

  36. Elizabeth says:


    Very well said. If possible, could you put your statement on our FaceBook page? Preserve Flagler Beach & Bulow Creek. I agree with you that everyone, especially those that sit in a seat of power in Florida, should have to read A Land Remembered. If they read it way back when, they should have to reread it.

  37. Sportsman says:

    I expect we will experience another recession in a few years, and left behind will be half done projects and falling property values like we had 10 years ago. Looks like another Bobby Ginn project in the making except people will be packed into less space, leaving the county tax payers to clean up the mess as the developer moves on. Beware neighbors, if it sounds to good to be true…….you got it… it probably is.

  38. Cary says:

    Keep the current zoning at 1 home per 5 acres. They knew the zoning when they purchased was min 5 acres. They have around 825 acres and some of that is wetlands. When creating lots you may not be able to include wetland area as “lot area” for a newly created lot. So 825 + or – acres may produce less than 165 lots and when you deduct for roads you may end up with less than 165 lots.

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