The Flagler County Commission today rejected an appeal of a disputed decision that in August had opened the way for the redevelopment of a disused boat yard in the Hammock. The commission’s unanimous vote allows the owner of the 4-acre parcel, immediately adjacent to Hammock Hardware, to go forward with a plan to build a boat-storage facility there for 240 boats, along with a restaurant. Jim Buckley, the owner, has no plan for other shops.
The parcel at 5658 North Oceanshore Boulevard had once been a Newcastle boating company manufacturing plant. It’s been in disuse for several years. It’s overgrown, its hulking hangar rusty and out of place with its surroundings. Buckley intends to level the structure and rebuild one not too dissimilar, at least in size, but wider, topping off at 40 feet high, and with aesthetic improvements. He’d intended to build a 58-foot-high structure with different setbacks, but the county’s Technical Review Committee found those exceptions to existing rules impermissible. Buckley backed down.
Either way, the Hammock Community Association was not happy with the proposed re-development. Its membership considers the plan, not just the proposed structure, out of kilter with its environment, and sees it as an invitation to heavy traffic and more intense development than the county’s development rules allow.
That’s where Planning Director Adam Mengle stepped in with his controversial interpretation. He determined that Buckley’s plan for a development called Hammock Harbor would be less “intense” than the boat manufacturing plants that had preceded it, and that it would fit with the county commission’s 2000 rezoning of the parcel as C-2 zoning–general commercial and shopping district.
Of course, the manufacturing that took place under Newcastle’s roof involved one luxury boat per year, with a value of around $10 million.
“The code does give the planning director the authority to interpret ambiguities in the code. However that doesn’t mean you cannot overturn that decision,” Sean Moylan, the county’s assistant attorney, told the commission. (Moylan was sitting in for County Attorney Al Hadeed on this particular issue because of Hadeed’s involvement in the 2000 commission action.)
The Hammock Community Association appealed Mengle’s determination. The appeal went to the planning board with two questions: did Mengle have the authority to make that determination, and did he make the right determination? “The planning board voted yes on both accounts,” Moylansaid. The association then appealed the planning board’s decision, placing both questions before county commissioners.
The association knew that it was a long shot. But its aim was not simply to contest Mengle’s role, but to bring Hammock Harbor under more scrutiny, bringing it out from under the Technical Review Committee’s usually less publicly visible, more bureaucratic wings. The association’s appeal was also a means of putting the commission on record regarding the development, and a further illustration of the commission’s deference to decisions generally more rather than less favorable to more rather than less intense development. The commission’s Hammock Harbor decision is the latest in a series of such decisions that also include the approval almost two years ago of 200 homes near Lakeside-By-the-Sea–a decision that may be having unintended consequences for the nearby subdivision called Willow Woods–and the approval of a 50-home subdivision that will change the complexion of Jungle Hut Road.
Representing the association, attorney Dennis Bayer said the restaurant at Hammock Harbor was not objectionable. But allowing Mengle to make the determination on land use was. “We’ve not seen data to support the decision” that boat storage is a permissible use of the property. Mengle could have applied regulations and proper interpretations, but not override responsibilities of boards or officials. The determination then usurped the county commission’s role to make such a determination, Bayer argued. “Mr Mengle was basically redefining what was provided for the property in 2000,” Bayer said.
Bayer also argued that Mengle’s interpretation was incorrect: “There is a significant difference in intensity of what’s being discussed under this current boat storage facility because,” Bayer said, “the existing building that’s there is completely going away. Parking is increasing substantially,” with what the Hammock Association estimates will be a tenfold increase in parking and the installation a 10,000-gallon fuel tank to enable daily boat launches. “This is an entire different use that was previously approved of one luxury yacht at a time,” Bayer said. He described the proposed facility as a warehouse. “And if you look elsewhere under your C-2 category, warehouses are not permitted use in the A1A scenic overlay zoning, so for that reason it’s not a permitted use in C-2. If it were to go through the proper channels, I think that’s going to be a fatal flaw.”
But Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien asked Bayer a question that elicited what appeared to be a contradictory answer, at least regarding the association’s discomfort with intensity: would the association be OK with a restaurant that would need all the proposed parking spaces in the current plans? Yes.
“You say this is not an approved use,” Bob Million, who represents the owner, told the commission. “You realize that grocery stores are not an approved use–specifically approved? There’s some interpretation in all of these codes, so what we have is a situation where at 5878 North Oceanshore there was a dry boat storage, fuel, marina, and operated for 30-plus years. C-2 zoning. This is an identical use to that previously approved, nobody complained about it, ongoing operation. We’re not here looking for a zoning change, we’re not here looking for anything other than upholding the planning director’s decision, which was upheld by the planning board. All the requirements that are in the code will be upheld. The 40-foot residential buffer has been retained, will be retained. It was clearly retained. So we’re not doing anything out of the ordinary. This is simply developing a piece of property.”
He conceded that using the word “intensity” was the “wrong choice.” It will be more intense. But it won;t exceed the building footprint or the parking requirements.
Dennis Clark, a member of the Hammock association, read a statement from Thad Crowe, a veteran planner and planning director who served eight years on the Flagler County Planning Board and co-authored the Scenic A1A overlay district. He said there would increase traffic to 1,200 daily trips on Sundays, among other issues, and a 500 increase in the impervious area–the area to be covered by concrete or asphalt, which would then impact drainage and flooding. He saw the proposal as “creating a new use,” requiring a pair of hearings before the commission. But even then it appeared as if, had the commission granted those hearings, its decision would not have been different.
Million disputed the claim of 1,200 trips a day, citing a 340-boat storage facility ion St. Augustine where on Memorial Day, the biggest day of the year, “62 boats went out,” he said. “How do you get 1,200 trips?”
Jodie Bollinger, a resident neighboring the 4-acre parcel, said she did not “relish the thought of being bombarded with noise from a huge forklift truck and its beeper or from the boat and car traffic it would produce,” or having her view of the Intracoastal “marred” by a gasoline storage tank or a 40-foot tall warehouse, describing the project as “an attack” on the vision for the hammock. Others also objected, among them John Russell, who owns the Hammock Hardware property and the residential property south of the proposed boat-storage facility. Russell said he had no objections to previous boat yards, but he did not believe the claims that the proposed redevelopment would be anything like those uses, especially in “intensity.”
“It’s all how it’s designed, how it’s put together. I think they’re oiver-estimating the noise, they’re overestimating the problems,” Million said. “I’ve built these things, I’ve run these things, and the problems are not what they say. The physical side? That’s code. The parking? That’s code.” (See: “Hammock Harbor Re-Developer Seeks to Reassure Skeptical Neighbors of Project’s Scope.”
Commissioners essentially agreed. “I think it boils down to interpretation of whether it’s a warehouse or not, that’s pretty simple,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said. “Most of the arguments I heard today were pretty bogus, I’ve got to tell you.” He said he was referring to high traffic numbers, relying on his own observation of the number of boats he saw at Ponce Inlet recently. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Mengle used the phrase less intense, because I don;t see that at all, it’s got to be more intense than having 12 workers, now you’re going to have a restaurant and boat storage.” But he said the noise issue was not valid.
The commission voted 5-0 to reject the appeal. No further step is expected before either the planning board or the county commission regarding the Hammock Harbor redevelopment project.
See also HCA’s briefings: