It appeared to be residents’ most pressing concern–their most pressing fear. But there are no plans for a connecting road and bridge between Citation Parkway in Seminole Woods, across I-95 to a planned development along Old Kings Road, just south of State Road 100. ITT had designed Citation with such a bridge in mind, and Palm Coast government has gone as far as “reserving” land on the other side for a “landing zone” to that bridge. But for now and the foreseeable future, no such bridge is planned. Even if the development proceeds.
“There is no plan, there is no intention, there is no capital improvement plan, there is no money, there is no nothing, for a Citation overpass, period,” Michael Chiumento III, the attorney representing the developer, told an audience of 60 people who turned up Wednesday evening for a neighborhood meeting on a long-planned development of 2,250 homes or apartment units and 1.7 million square feet of commercial and office space, much of it concentrated in a planned “commerce park.”
What used to be called the South Old Kings Road Development of Regional Impact, what’s now the Bulow Creek development, has been in the works a dozen years, without a single structure yet built. It’s still in the regulatory phase. Next week, on Feb. 19, the developer goes before the Palm Coast Planning Board to seek recommended approval for the rezoning of the 787 acres in the “Master Planned Development.”
The first of four planned development phases is limited to 600 residential units or their equivalent in the number of vehicle trips 600 units would produce. That means it could be a mixture of homes, apartment units and shops or offices. That phase of the development is likely to be apartment buildings on the most intense or dense side of the development, between Old Kings Road and I-95. The development as a whole would have a variety of zoning, from low density (4 houses per acre) to medium density (4 to 8 units) to high density (8 to 15 units) and commercial. The development also includes swaths of conservation land.
Both the developer and the city see the rezoning as a formality, not a legal hurdle, nor a step where either the Planning Board or the Palm Coast City Council, where the rezoning application heads next–likely in March–could face significant opposition. The reason: the rezoning is merely changing a zoning designation from when the land was in the county’s jurisdiction to making it consistent with Palm Coast’s Comprehensive Plan. And the rezoning is consistent with that plan.
“There is a comprehensive plan that gives certain entitlements to this property,” Chiumento told the audience. “It’s not if this property will be developed, because it has those vested rights, it’s how.” The development is planned in four phases–not by defined geographic phases, but by numbers of houses or units, which can cluster anywhere in the development, no matter the phase. But the build-out may take a generation or more. And with every phase completion, the developer is required to re-analyze such elements as traffic flow, school capacity and so on.
But developments of this size tend to draw concerns and opposition regardless, as the Bulow Creek development did Wednesday evening. Palm Coast government requires developers to hold neighborhood meetings such as that one–it was held at the Hilton Garden Inn–for several reasons: to better inform and include residents about what’s coming, and for the city and its appointed or elected officials to get a sense of where public opinion is on the matter, understanding that Not-In-My-Backyardigans are seldom enthusiastic cheerleaders of big developments, particularly big developments that can change the complexion of a neighborhood while forcibly resting some of their forward-looking projections on more speculative than demonstrable analysis.
As such neighborhood meetings go, the meeting at the Hilton was significantly calmer and more civil than, say, the one held in early December at the Matanzas High School cafeteria, concerning the proposed development around the disused Matanzas golf course in the L Section. That scene was a hectoring drumbeat of decibels and occasional invectives, with Chiumento representing the developer there as well. At the Hilton, the meeting started off on a tense note, with one woman in the front row seemingly ready for warfare as she questioned why her household had not received notice of the meeting the way residents within a certain radius of the development are required to. But it proved to be the exception. What dissatisfaction was voiced was either more reasoned or more tempered with humor (“What can we do to make you go away?” and “Can you tell us whose house to egg?” went one resident).
The concerns, however, were serious, and the answers not always reassuring.
Residents are concerned especially about implications for traffic on a two-lane road that already appears overtaxed at times, especially when the stretch of Old Kings by Old Kings Elementary turns into something more like LaGuardia Airport terminal ramps when school lets in and out. There are no plans to widen Old Kings Road.
“If we live on Old Kings, we really like Old Kings and we don’t want to see that turn into a freeway and ridiculous trucks,” one resident said. “It’s not what we bought into.”
One resident called the traffic issue the development’s Achilles’ heel. She noted that whenever there’s a crash on I-95, Old Kings Road becomes I-95, leaden with traffic and congestion. “You put that much density, then you have an accident, I’m sorry, that makes Old Kings Road a parking lot.” Chiumento said he was himself stuck in just such a jam around Thanksgiving last year. “It does happen all up an down the I-95 corridor when that happens,” he said.
He said rigorous traffic analyses have been completed. The development will depend on a road capable of meeting required traffic capacities–which it does now. He said as development advances, the level of development cannot go forward absent that ready capacity.
“The bottom line is, they don’t care, they just want the money. The money is the driver,” a resident said.
“That statement that they don’t care is not accurate,” Chiumento retorted, saying the development was studied and commented upon by the county, the state, traffic engineers and others. “Those traffic issues are issues and they’re real but they are addressed.”
As for Old Kings Elementary, he revealed one solution that is likely to provide relief to many parents of students at the school, if not to neighbors of the school: the developer will be ceding significant acreage to the school district at the north end of Old Kings Elementary, both to enable an expansion at the school if necessary (though the school is already considerably sizeable), and for the developer–who will assume all costs–to build an entirely new car riders’ in-and-out loop that dumps onto State Road 100.
The development would also set aside sites for fire and police protection–acreage for a fire station and a sheriff’s substation.
There were some environmental concerns, given the proximity of the proposed development to the headwaters of Bulow Creek and the sheer size of the development, which will affect gopher tortoise habitat and of course level large portions of woods: sand pine (the property contains 85 acres of sand pines as of last year), mixed pine (57 acres), temperate hardwoods (66 acres), wetland hardwoods (71 acres), cypress (89 acres) and other vegetation. There is also an 11-acre coquina stockpile area, and, most significant of all–and never mentioned at Wednesday’s meeting–a sandhill ridge that appears to have cultural and historical significance.
A 2010 assessment by Natural Resource Consultants, working for the city, analyzed the area for its environmental values. “The result of this work was the discovery and delineation of an upland sandhill ridge adjacent to the Bulow Creek headwaters wetland system east of Old Kings Road,” NRC’s findings read. “This sandhill ridge and adjacent wetlands (123 acres in size) can be considered unique, and thus environmentally sensitive.”
“Adding to the significance of this sandhill range and two prehistoric archaeological sites (as noted on the Division of Historical Resources Florida Master Site File Map, a midden and burial mound,” the NRC analysis went on. “This is further evidence that this area has had significance in the landscape for hundreds of years. The combination of this upland ridge and adjacent wetland provide numerous benefits to wildlife downstream and provides a unique habitat that is not commonly found in this part of Florida. The wetlands are contiguous with Graham Swamp and eventually lead to Bulow Creek providing direct access to a large corridor allowing wildlife to move north and south.”
At the time, the acreage was removed from the Future Land Use Map, suggesting that it would not be part of the development.
But a city official Wednesday said the ridge remains part of what would be developable land, at least as far as the developer is concerned, while the city is raising objections to that, focusing on a particular area, as it did in one recent analysis of the project: “The Applicant has routinely denied that the referenced ‘ridge’ is unique; however, the August 15, 2019 Carter Environmental Assessment notes that ‘The 17.38 acres of sandhill located within the project area is a unique habitat to Flagler County, however, the size of the habitat limits its function in the landscape.”
Those issues are documented in the voluminous regulatory paperwork that has amassed in the history of the development, but were not brought up Wednesday, as they might be in subsequent hearings.
Hearing a few further objections to the development and questions about what residents could do, Chiumento toward the end of the meeting sounded almost like their advocate. He spoke of the importance of keeping misinformation out of the stream, but also summed up the process from the residents’ point of view.
“You all have, and everybody has the right to form groups, as some have,” the attorney said, “and do whatever you would like to do to inform their city council or your county commission, what you’d like to see, what you don’t want to see, how this could improve, how it needs to go away, and those types of things. So that’s all part of the process, and that’s what most of the time we’re talking about. There will be hearings in front of local governments, they’ll hear everything and determine whether it complies with the law, whether it complies with all the zoning and land development regulations and environmental regulations imposed by the state, federal and local governments. That’s what your city is there to do, to ensure that it complies and they’re not doing something that they can’t do–developers and builders.”