“I feel quite comfortable at the end of tonight’s presentation, you’ll find that there is an adequate legal basis for you to reject this project as is currently configured,” Dennis Bayer told Flagler County commissioners Monday evening.
Bayer, an attorney representing the Hammock Community Association, misjudged a commission that, though divided, voted 3-2 Monday evening to approve an unusually dense, 50-home subdivision on less than 14 acres at the juncture of State Road A1A and Jungle Hut Road called Beachwalk.
Bayer was asking the commission to reject the rezoning application that would enable the subdivision. The Beachwalk proposal has been before commissioners several times this year, and had previously been rejected. Jacksonville developer Ken Atlee made a few changes to the plan and a mediated compromise between him and county regulators emerged for commissioners to approve.
“While we appreciate that there has been changes to the plan we don’t think it goes quite far enough. There needs to be a further reduction in the densities,” Bayer told commissioners. “You are well familiar with the recent issues coming in front of you. The Hammock is basically ground zero for a significant amount of development. It seems every property owner is coming in for more and more and more of intensity than what they purchased the property for. So we’d like you to consider that this is going to be a decision that makes precedent with the other developments that are soon to follow.”
The argument didn’t convince Commissioners Donald O’Brien, Dave Sullivan and Joe Mullins. They first voted against an attempt by Commissioners Greg Hansen and Charlie Ericksen to reject the development, then, with little discussion (Mullins addressed septic issues) for approval.
The vote changes zoning from “urban single-family residential” to “planned unit development,” making the larger density possible. Without the change, development would have had to be limited to some 30 homes. At that number, the developer couldn’t make money, he claimed. The lots will be small, with a minimum size of 5,500 square feet, a width of 50 feet and a lot depth of 110 feet.
The houses would be under 2,000 square feet, and cover 60 percent of the now-wooded acreage with asphalt or concrete, though the developer and his attorney, Sid Ansbacher, insisted somehow that they were somehow preserving green space. “No one has debated the prior testimony before this board from our tree expert,” Ansbacher said, “that the best area of trees is being preserved.”
“I have a lot of problems with this,” Hansen said. “This does not meet the purpose of a PUD zoning, and I agree with that. This should stay R-C zoning. The plan that they have is a good plan, except it has 50 houses in it. Take that same plan, exact same with the buffers and everything else and put 36 houses in there and I’ll vote for it. But not until that happens.” He said the comprehensive plan states low density as a goal. “It doesn’t say we have to do it, but it says the goal should be low density. This doesn’t meet that in my mind. The emotional reason I have is that it’s going to ruin that part of the Hammock. So I’m just strongly against this. I just think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
The greater majority of people in the audience thought likewise.
“I know we will listen to many who will state the same arguments we’ve heard before,” Atlee said before an hour’s worth of public comment echoing Hansen. “That site plan is too dense, and on and on. I want to point out that we were reviewed three times at the [county’s technical review committee] resulting in your planning department recommending approval. Your planning commission voted 4-2 in favor of the PUD, and 5-0 in favor of the original site plan. We were then voted down at [the county commission]. That led to the mediation,” more meetings, and what he referred to as the final compromise.
One of the developer’s selling points was that homes in the subdivision would be connected to a central sewer system, as opposed to independent septic mounds. He and Ansbacher held the specter of another developer building fewer homes but connecting them all to septic systems, to the detriment of the region.
One of the few supporters of the project in the large audience at Monday’s meeting picked up on septic advantage. “I think a lot of people are not looking at the real picture of what they’re trying to do here,” Brent Bruns, the owner of a property at 5047 North Ocean Shore (or A1A) recently approved for a restaurant there. “Right now the Hammock is in a stifled position of no growth. And the reason there can’t be any growth is because there are a lot of larger parcels that could be commercial in an era that everyone would like to be commercial. As a matter of fact, the A1A Scenic [committee] has recommended some areas. None of those areas can be developed without sewer. We have someone coming to the table that is going to spend the money required.”
By the time commissioners were ready to vote, their meeting was nearing the four-hour mark. They’d dealt with numerous issues in their first commission meeting since the Hurricane Dorian disruption, and Beachwalk itself had been before them several times. They took their pair of votes, then moved on. Beachwalk may now be built.