In early December Palm Coast developer Alex Ustilovsky unveiled his planned 300-home project for the long disused Matanzas golf course snaking through the L Section at the north end of the city. The reaction from most of the 200 people gathered at the Matanzas High School cafeteria for the neighborhood meeting Ustilovsky was hosting was not favorable.
Neighbors of planned development generally are not too friendly anyway. But this was different. The opposition was intense, at times bitter as Ustilovsky and his attorney, Michael Chiumento III, outlined how various portions of the 278-acre course would be transformed into homes, some townhouses, ponds and green space, and some acreage would be developed commercially.
Two issues rankled residents especially: the smaller size of the lots Ustilovsky was proposing, and, for many residents along different swaths of fairways, the disappearance or reduction of their golf-course view.
Fallow for more than a decade, the golf course has been a recurring sore point for the residents lining its fairways. They’ve complained of the previous owners letting it fester and turn into an untended, overgrown little jungle even as the city pursued the previous owners in court and levied steep fines. Residents hoped at different points that the city would take over the land, or that another golf course operator would. Ustilovsky’s proposal turned into the latest sore point, which festered before city council members as recently as the end of January.
Earlier this month Ustilovsky submitted his plans to Palm Coast planners. (The project is termed a Master Planned Development.) It’s part of the regulatory process. The city’s planning department goes over the plans, ensures that they match up with existing regulations in the Land Development Code–that the project is compatible with development regulations–write up a set of formal comments where the project may need alterations, explanations or clarifications, and send those back to the developer.
The city had 15 days to produce its analysis. It has done so, and the city’s top two development officials, Jason DeLorenzo and Ray Tyner, met with the developer today. They outlined what amounts to a vast scaling back of the scope of the project, formalized in written, analytical comments and a more technical but more detailed document. The city’s analysis finds large swaths of development impermissible because they would obstruct existing residents’ golf course view. It requires minimum, 10,000-square-foot lot sizes in several places where the developer had planned smaller lots. It requires town houses no smaller than 1,000 square feet, even though the city’s code elsewhere makes 650-square-foot town houses permissible. And it puts the brakes on the commercial-development segment pending a separate evaluation of a land-use change.
In sum, the city’s response makes it all but impossible for the developer to proceed along plans even approximating those he submitted to the public at the December meeting. What development would still be permissible would be restricted to a few pockets along L-Section streets that are already well developed, and to a large segment of the acreage, at the north-northwest end of the golf course, where there are no existing homes or platted lots, and where Ustilovsky could build as he wishes. The city has not calculated the net reduction in homes resulting from its analysis. “I hate to say it’s going to be only 150 houses when we have no idea what it’ll be,” DeLorenzo said. It appears that perhaps (or at least) a third of the planned development is affected by the city’s restrictions.
The city administration’s analysis is not necessarily binding: the developer could take his plan directly to the city’s Planning Board for a hearing, then to the Palm Coast City Council, where two hearings are required before the development order is approved. Negotiations could take place at those levels, too, and council members could in whole or in part override administrative or Planning Board recommendations. But generally, developers work with the administration before getting to public meetings where officials are more often than not loath to override their planners’ recommendations–especially when the recommendations rest on analyses based on the city’s own land regulations.
The city in this case is concluding that Ustilovsky’s plan in significant parts is not compatible with the Land Development Code.
“As always, we are working with the City and homeowners to improve our original proposal,” Chiumento said in an email this afternoon. “For example, we are meeting many residents on a regular basis and are receiving positive feedback. What we want to avoid is false information being spread by some who do not want anything built here or anywhere else. Again, we are trying to create a win-win both for the property owner and the community.”
At the root of the city’s analysis is one section in the Land Development Code: “Existing golf courses communities located within the former Golf Course Community (GCC) District seeking to add residential units must comply with the standards established for the Master Planned Development District.” The even more salient part of the code, as far as the Matanzas development is concerned: “Existing direct golf course views from the rear yards of all existing, platted lots located within any residentially zoned districts directly abutting the site shall be maintained.”
In simple terms, that means no developer may build in fairways, blocking the backyard views of residents or planned homes along those fairways, because those who bought homes there did so on the expectation that they’d be living along a golf course. The fact that it is no longer a golf course is not relevant, as the code makes explicit: the rule applies even to “former” golf course communities. “You have to apply to still-existing guidelines,” DeLorenzo said.
The code does not define “direct golf course views.” It does not assign an actual distance. A fairway could be quite wide. “A view is subjective,” DeLorenzo concedes. “We took a pretty strict interpretation of view.” Strict or expansive: the end result is no homes on fairways abutting any existing of planned homes, no matter how wide the fairways. That’s taking out a considerable number of homes from Ustilovsky’s plan.
The development is broken down into nine “areas.” Some of them amount to just green space or planned ponds and are not likely to be in contention. For example, significant acreage in one area sits near I-95 at the north-east end of the planned development. Ustilovsky was planning to leave that as wetlands and an existing pond. The city is willing to acquire it–in exchange for what? City officials did not say, other than that they are not asking for the land. That particular segment adjoins a canal important to the city’s stormwater system, and stormwater officials consider the segment potentially useful as part of its flood-control system. But there are no existing homes near it and no access road or the possibility of access, city officials say, even if Ustilovsky found a way to turn the land into developable acreage.
The city is willing to “accept” that segment a few other smaller areas from the developer and maintain them itself, reducing the responsibility of the eventual home owner association (or HOA) that the city is requiring of the development. It’s the HOA that will be responsible for maintenance of all green areas within the developer’s acreage, whether it’s taking care of dead or dying trees or keeping the green zones relatively attractive, though those zones will not be required to be kept anywhere near golf course standards. They will be considered fallow, but the city is hoping some tree-planting will take place.
One sizeable area of the planned development, at its north end, is less affected than others by the “view” requirement: though homes and properties line London Drive and Lake Success Place, there are large swaths where Ustilovsky planned some of the homes, and still can, unimpeded, because those homes’ backyard views are woods, not golf course. A wood buffer would remain, beyond which homes would be built.
That’s not the case along the north stretch of Lakeview Boulevard, which straddles fairways, and where the fairways are very much part of the view for homes and properties on Lee Drive, Lee Place, Leeds Place, and so on.
The area designated for town houses is also subject to city requirements: the town houses must have a minimum of 1,000 square feet, be no taller than 40 feet (to accommodate pitched roofs, which will also be required), have a garage per unit, and be fee-simple. “The most they can have is 49 units because there’s only one entrance and exit,” DeLorenzo said of the acreage designated for town houses.
Ustilovsky was also planning a stretch of commercial development along the west end of the development, along U.S. 1. That segment is currently designated as greenbelt in the Future Land Use map.
“Greenbelt does not permit commercial in our comprehensive plan,” Tyner said. “So basically right now what our comments are, you need to get the commercial out because the comp plan does not permit commercial, now. So they have a separate application they submitted just for this piece for a comprehensive plan future land use map amendment, from greenbelt to mixed use.” That application parallels the Master Planned Development application, but is autonomous from it for now, and will have to go through its regulatory steps independently. If the re-designation clears the council, the commercial segment may then be folded back into the MPD and proceed.
“So when they resubmit the MPD this will have to come out or be contingent on the map change,” DeLorenzo said.
There are also environmental concerns with the old golf course which the developer will have to consider, assuming the ground contains pesticides or other deposits from its golf course days that exceed state and federal regulatory standards. It will then be the developer’s responsibility to clean up the grounds.
The next step is for the MPD, minus its commercial segment, to go before the planning board, then to the city council for two hearings. But there is no deadline: at this stage, it’s up to Ustilovsky to decide how and when to proceed.