The owner and developer of Hammock Harbor, the former boat yard slated for redevelopment as a boat-storage facility and restaurant just south of Bings Landing in the Hammock, sought to reassure neighbors and A1A Scenic Pride Committee members about the project’s scope this morning, but with limited success.
Neighbors and committee members are concerned about noise, fuel storage, traffic, the number of businesses that would eventually be located on the property, hours of operation, the height of buffering walls, the different businesses that could take over should the property be sold, and so on. Some of the concerns were within the purview of the A1A committee, which is responsible for looking over whether a project meshes with “the scenic, the historical and the natural aspect of A1A.”
Some were not, including, at this point, what the project’s site plan will look like. The developer had applied for two “variances,” or exceptions, to development rules, seeking a storage facility taller than allowed by code and different setback distances. The county planning board turned down the applications because neither was necessitated by issues outside the developer’s controls. So the developer submitted new plans that comply with regulations, but those plans only need the approval of the county’s Technical Review Committee, which the plans are almost certain to get in September or October. The plans do not have to get either planning board or county commission approval at this point.
Jim Buckley, who owns the 4-acre site that adjoins Hammock Hardware and several residential properties off State Road A1A, and Bob Million, who is shepherding the paperwork through required county steps, appeared for the third time before the A1A committee, a record for any developer, according to Dennis Clark, the panel’s chairman. But as committee member Mike Goodman noted on several occasions, it wasn’t entirely clear why, since the variance issue was dealt with. “We’re not here to discuss setbacks, we’re not here to talk about height variations, we’re here to make sure everything stays in the guidelines set up in this handbook,” Goodman said, the A1A handbook in his hands.
There’s one caveat: the Hammock Community Association, which is independent of the A1A committee, filed an appeal to a related determination by the county administration. Adam Mengel, the county’s planning director, determined that Hammock Harbor would be less intense of a development than had been the previous use of the property, as a manufacturing plant by Newcastle, the boating company. The association disputes that claim, arguing that the boat-storage facility and ancillary businesses such as a restaurant would bring in much more traffic, use and noise to the property.
The pending appeal, and the developers’ presence, gave the A1A committee points of entry to further discuss the scope of the project and question the developers on their plans, though Million and Buckley were at times clearly frustrated.
“The reason that we came here so early and so often was to try to work with you,” Million told the committee. “The intent is to work with you, and unfortunately I don’t feel like you ever tried to work with us. So if you want to limit jet skis and you want to do something, let’s sit down and figure it out and go together forward, because there’s no reason to be adversarial about this. We’ve got the land use, we’ve got the zoning, and we want to do it right.”
“Those kinds of issues can be mitigated pretty easily,” Buckley said.
“I’m not the nasty developer, I’ve been trying to make this better for everybody,” Million said.
Clark proposed a meeting between the developers and the neighbors of the property to discuss such issues (clark is among the neighbors, his property being 1,200 feet from Hammock Harbor’s), though members of the committee also sought to correct Million: it was not the committee’s nor the neighbors’ opposition that stopped the variances he was seeking. It was county rules, and the county planning department’s own recommendations against the variances. Million himself conceded that much. But it is also true that had the variances not been sought, the proposed development would have had even less public attention than the little attention it has received so far. One of the reasons the community association is appealing Mengel’s determination is to keep the project in the public eye and to seek more vetting, possibly before the county commission. (Greg Hansen, the county commissioner who represents the Hammock and usually sits at A1A meetings, was absent today.)
Some neighbors insisted that they had not been invited to be part of the discussion with the developers, though Buckley said he’s always been a phone call away–and after the meeting segment on Hammock Harbor, he and Million huddled with neighbors outside the Hammock Community Center (where A1A meetings are held) and spoke with them at length.
Buckley had already stressed that previous claims that Hammock Harbor would be a “mini-strip” mall with six businesses were inaccurate. He said he intended to have just the 240-boat storage facility and a restaurant. Nothing else. (The largest boat would be 35 feet, the average boat size would be between 22 and 25 feet. Buckley noted that the sort of boat-storage facility he’d be providing is more in keeping with environmental stewardship that cuts down on more sprawling boat docks and marinas.)
“There are no plans for anything beside the boat storage and the restaurant. None. Zero… you’re now talking to the owner, I’m the one who decides,” Buckley said. “In my market studies I don’t see where we need more retail spots up there at this point. I’ve got plenty to do, thank you, with the boat storage space and the restaurant.”
“We’re far less traffic than what’s generated at Bings Landing,” Million projected.
But some neighbors said that while they trust Buckley, they don’t trust the next property owner Buckley might sell to, as many neighbors were convinced would happen sooner or later.
Few people are in a better position to gauge the issue in its historical context than Margaret “Pidge” Russell and her husband John Russell, who have owned the property next-door to Hammock Harbor since the early 1970s and have lived there since 1977, opening Hammock Hardware, possibly the oldest continuously operating business in the county on the barrier island.
Hammock Harbor would be the third boat-related business the Russells have known next door. An early boat builder was a good neighbor. Newcastle was not. The jury is out on Hammock Harbor as they anticipate the noise from the restaurant and the storage facility’s forklift, and the location of 10,000-gallon, above-ground gas-storage. Buckley told John that he would do “everything humanly possible” to keep the gas storage far from the Russell property, but John doubts that it would be placed at the northeast edge of the parcel, near A1A.
“We don’t mind it being developed, I mean, it’s inevitable, and change is inevitable. We like the people,” Margaret Russell said. They just hope Hammock Harbor will be among the good neighbors they’ve known over the years.