The Gardens, the big development proposed to go up on the two sides of John Anderson Highway, and that’s galvanized strenuous opposition from residents in Flagler Beach and south of the development zone, cleared key hurdles Tuesday as two regulatory steps won the Flagler County Planning Board’s near-unanimous recommendations. The proposal goes before the county commission next, possibly in September.
The planning board voted 5-1 to recommend a modification to the development’s so-called Planned Unit Development, a type of development that follows strict guidelines negotiated with county planners, and 6-0 to recommend the development’s preliminary plat for 335 lots to be developed over six phases. The lone dissenting voice in the first vote was that of Mike Goodman. Otherwise, and with minor questions, board members approved of the development with few questions during a planning board session that stretched more than three hours.
The planning board’s recommendations, which reflect the county administration’s, are not binding, though they carry weight, especially with a county commission that has tended to be less assertive–less challenging of administrative recommendations–than it was a few years ago. The development proposal’s various recalibrations have also significantly diminished points of contention from the visceral to the technical. The proposal in essence changed from megadevelopment all but inviting public opposition to a more limited development with few regulatory vulnerabilities.
The Gardens submitted a preliminary plat application for its Planned Unit Development of 335 lots in six phases over 824 acres straddling John Anderson Highway, south of State Road 100. The developer is “entitled” to up to 453 residential homes and apartments. The county had approved the 453-unit proposal in 2006 when Bobby Ginn owned the property, with up to 150 of those units as apartments or multi-family dwellings.
The Gardens last year had proposed a development almost 10 times larger but retracted it in the face of deep public opposition, returning with the proposal that generally fit the previous Ginn parameters. That proposal also calls for an 18-hole golf course (the course is required, though it won’t be developed in the current phase), 230,000 square feet of commercial, retail and office space (“that portion of the property is not being planned out right now, that’s probably for the future,” Michael Chiumento III, The Gardens’ attorney, said), a fire station, a public boat ramp and 1,000 acres designated for conservation–already given to the county.
More development would go up on the east side of John Anderson than in the 2006 proposal. A key difference with the 2005-06 proposal: the older proposal called for the development to have its own water and sewer plant. No longer. “We now have Flagler Beach agreeing to provide those services within our service area,” Adam Mengel, the county’s planning director, said. “You have Flagler Beach committed to providing that infrastructure.”
Jane Mealy, who chairs the Flagler Beach city commission, clarified to the planning board: “I want to make it clear: we can provide utilities with the 353 homes. If there is a phase two or a phase three, we’re not so sure. So I want to make sure that everybody understands that.” She said the city is putting in additional wells, “but they’re only to spread out the use of the wells we currently have.” It was a much more measured assessment of an issue that last week had caused another city commission member, Ken Bryan–who was in the audience at the planning board meeting–to raise bitter objections to the way the city administration had conveyed its readiness to provide utilities to the development.
Chiumento presented the proposal as closely reflecting the one the county had already approved. He refuted the claim that the PUD had “expired.” The Phase 1 development will consist of the first 355 residential units. “There’s nothing inconsistent” with the original PUD, he said. Since there isn’t, he said, the planning board had no choice but to approve the site-plan application. “There’s nothing in the PUD that says you have to have a certain number of units on the east side, and a certain number on the west side,” he said. Potentially, he said, the development could have all 453 units on one side.
Robin Polletta and Sallee Arnoff, representing Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, a group established to oppose The Gardens in its various forms since last year, said they are not disputing the developer’s right to build, but rather that the “developer should submit a new PUD application, because several of their proposed design elements contravene the original PUD in terms of road egress, density and proposed number and location of residential lots,” among other reasons. They argued that the original application called for 220 units on the east side of John Anderson. (See their full presentation here.)
“When Mr. Chiumento made an emphatic statement about the difference in words and terminology, we also feel the same way,” Polletta said, “that the 2005 PUD gave entitlements and those entitlements apply. If you’re going to be using the 2005 PUD, the entitlements are what are there, regardless of the other rhetoric that you heard earlier this evening.” For instance, the acreage donated to the county for conservation to get the 2005 OUD approved was given by Ginn, “way before the current has it. So what the current owner has and bought were the entitlements from the 2005 PUD,” spreading the development over more than 800 acres. Today, she said, the developer wants to concentrate its development over 271 acres.
The 2006 plan had no direct access to John Anderson, compared to two access points in the current plan, while the current plan clashes with county updates to the comprehensive plan (the county’s blueprint for development) since 2006. In sum, the Preserve group argued, even the county attorney’s office found the current PUD amendments to deviate “too greatly” from the 2005 version.
Under the 2005 PUD they can play along with the old rules. “If they have to go through the new PUD process, they have to comply with current standards,” Polletta said. “Again, we are not anti development. But we want to strongly emphasize that we feel that Palm Coast Intracoastal LLC has the time and expertise to create a community that is compliant with current standards and that will be a welcome addition to Flagler Beach and Flagler County, and we would welcome that. But we want them to go through a new PUD process.” (Chiumento said certain changes to the PUD were permissible without requiring a new application.)
Mark Langello, a member of the planning board, sniffed to the chairman that he’d heard the same point five times, and asked that more rigorous time limits be enforced.
There was a subplot to Tuesday’s meeting: The group had also filed a notice of appeal of Mengel’s determination that the application could move forward from the county’s Technical Review Committee to the planning board. The request to stay the process was denied by Kate Stangle, the county’s special counsel, in the sense that the planning board meeting itself could not have been delayed through that process. “From a procedural perspective, our view is the notice of appeal is not applicable, because it was not a decision made by Mr. Mengle,” but by the TRC as a whole, Stangle said–a determination that appeared to hinge on semantics rather than on the essence of the appeal’s argument.
John Tanner, the attorney for the Preserve Flagler Beach group, argued that the Technical Review process had not been completed appropriately. That process is what the group was appealing. Mengle said it was the applican’s decision–The Gardens’ decision–to go forward to the planning board.
The planning board decided to evaluate whether the appeal was valid. Tanner argued his points. Chiumento counter-argued, seeing the appeal as a delaying tactic. “It’s quite obvious what we’re doing here when the appeal is filed the day before” the planning board meeting, Chiumento said, when “the county has been working with Mr. Tanner for a good six months.” And the board denied the appeal.
Jeff Lindstrom “Evidently, attorneys are granted unlimited time, whereas citizens who live here are given very little time. I watched from back there. You’ve all made up your decisions already. That’s not fair. You guys live here too. We live here. Do you have any idea the size of the risk-reward to a project of this magnitude? You know that it could put Flagler on the map. It’s wonderful. Good, thoughtful development is wonderful for business. I’m all over that. It also has a potential to destroy the area. It’s that large. I’m not saying it will. I’m not anxious to be sued. I’m saying as a potential. So while you’re falling asleep, rolling your eyes, aying back in your chair, reading, while concerned citizens, who have spent hundreds of hours researching this and giving you an excellent presentation, get chopped off at the knees. But the attorneys can come up at will. To me listening to an attorney is like watching paint dry, for God’s sakes. I know what goes on here. But I don;t like to see everybody that looks like they’ve already made their determination.”
Many others spoke of flooding concerns, among them Barbara Revels, the former county commissioner, and Ken Bryan, the Flagler Beach city commissioner. Revels is a member of the Preserve Flagler Beach board of directors. Bryan previously served on the board. They spoke of what the development will have to do to prevent flooding on its own units–causing water to shift to existing homeowners’ properties. Other speakers raised traffic concerns on John Anderson. One speaker described the developer as “a class act.”
Chiumento said the concerns were “legitimate” but “technical,” to be addressed at future steps of the development. The developer’s traffic engineer said there would be improvements on John Anderson Highway, such as the addition of turn lanes.
After the meeting, Arnoff said the Preserve Flagler Beach group would concentrate its next efforts in preparation for the proposal’s discussion before the county commission in September. “The fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” she said.
Two planning board members disclosed that they had spoken with the developer before the hearing.