It’s taken 20 years. On Monday evening, following yet another epic discussion that approached the 11th hour—literally and metaphorically—the Flagler County Commission approved the Hunter’s Ridge mega-development in the southern part of the county.
If a commission decision has ever been contingent on a pay-off, this was it: Hunter’s Ridge developers asked the commission to increase the allowable “density” of the development by more than a third—from 1,702 homes to 2,302 homes. In exchange, the developers were ready to give the commission a $1.17 million check. Just five months ago, any notion of expanding the development looked dead.
- Delinquent on Taxes and Other Dues, Hunter’s Ridge Development Wants More Favors
- Citing Contractual Failures and Unwarranted Favors, Flagler Kills Hunter’s Ridge Expansion
- Dogged Duo: Nate McLaughlin and Milissa Holland Take Their County Commission Oath
The check would partly make good on a years-old commitment by the developer, never met since, to give the county $4.5 million rather than have to build a public golf course. The money would also enable the county to but a $200,000 ambulance, a $30,000 sheriff’s cruiser, and a $140,000 school bus. It was Hunter’s Ridge latest sweetener.
Commissioners went for it on a 3-2 vote, with George Hanns, Barbara Revels and Bob Abbott voting in favor, and Milissa Holland and Alan Peterson voting against. It was Abbott’s last action of consequence on the commission. He did not disclose that the Hunter’s Ridge developers had written him a $500 check in July, during his unsuccessful campaign against Nate McLaughlin (who took the oath of office the following day). Revels did not accept developers’ money.
The check was on the administration’s desk the following day, which means that the Hunter’s Ridge development is now a go.
Here’s what the commission approved: 2,302 houses on the Flagler side, an increase of 600 houses from the previous proposal of 1,702. Hunter’s Ridge had actually asked for an increase of 1,200 houses. It tendered the reduction of 600 as a “concession.” (Years ago, the developer’s initial proposal was for 6,000 homes.)
Also approved: a near-doubling of retail, office and industrial square footage in the development, from 345,590 square feet to 604,308 square feet. Conservation acreage, already low, was increased by a negligible amount (from 2,267 acres to 2,366). Hunter’s Ridge will no longer be required to build a fire station in the development. Nor will it be required to improve Durrance Lane.
County Manager Craig Coffey described the deal: “This is not typical. Most landowners that come before the board would just do a land-use change and you’re done. This one has a development order attached to it. Why does it have a development order? Because it’s part of a DRI”—a development of regional impact—“so it’s a much larger picture, much more consideration. So what really complicated this even worse is the existing development order, the poor condition it’s in. The infrastructure and development and vested interests that are on the ground, folks off Durrance Lane, folks that are building subdivisions, folks in Volusia County. You have three different entities—you have the city of Ormond Beach, Volusia County, the Department of Transportation and us all wanting a piece of the developer, where normally you would just have one entity.”
Public opposition to the development’s details primarily was focused on the fate of Durrance Lane, a two to three-mile stretch of unimproved road straddling the Flagler-Volusia county lines. “They had relied on the developer’s obligations to improve Durrance Lane, in their personal decisions, and that developer’s decision of course was based on developer impacts.” The developer was supposed to pave it. The way the development plan was reconfigured, they no longer are using that as a transportation source,” Coffey said. In other words the developer’s original pledge to improve the road was based on outdated traffic patterns. Residents see that as a broken pledge. The county sees it as a future saving: the county won’t be responsible for the road. The most the developer must do, if it goes into the final phase of its development, is put up $200,000 for possible improvements to the road.
County Commissioner Milissa Holland was dejected after the vote. “My vote consisted of many different things, one of them being public safety issues are first and foremost in my mind,” Holland said. “This is in such a secluded part of our county with no access point within our county. I was here during both the fires in the last decade, and remember it in a way that still stays with me. Knowing that that whole entire development is over in an area of our community that succumb to those fires historically, with such detrimental damage, the visual of having residents out there with no way out but one access point was significant to me.”
Holland added: “A big source of frustration came from the fact that this was from a development that had made commitments historically, even as close as two years ago, where there was a financial commitment where he’d never signed a contract, which he stated to the board he would—the golf course agreement—and I felt it was less than genuine to step up before the board and offer a check, for the fourth time, if we approve the increased density. I think that’s completely inappropriate. That’s what the message was.”
Hunter’s Ridge was proposed in 1991 as a 6,500-house development in Volusia and Flagler counties. It has shrunk since. Just 675 unites have been built in Volusia, none in Flagler. The development has been bedeviled with problems, including three years of unpaid taxes to Flagler County and a series of broken pledges.
When construction will actually begin on the development is an open question. And what impact it will have on Flagler County is an even more open question. Between Hunter’s Ridge, three mega-developments Palm Coast just approved, and Palm Coast’s own set of 20,000-some platted lots that have yet to be developed, the county has just amassed the potential for close to 40,000 new homes, which would more than double the county’s population. This, at a time when the county is already suffering from one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, when property values are depressed and still falling, and in an economy that has yet to turn around.