The Flagler County School Board will do with a 20-acre prime piece of land it’s owned in the Hammock since 1984 what it’s always done since then: sit on it. The board rejected the latest inquiries about the parcel, this time from county government. The county’s interest was primed in the context of recent flooding issues surrounding the small subdivision along Pamela Parkway north of the board’s land.
For $10 in 1984, the ITT-subsidiary Admiral Corporation that built Hammock Dunes deeded 20 acres of virgin land sprawling in the shape of a trapezoid between State Road A1A and the Intracoastal Waterway in the Hammock, just below Pamela Parkway. The board once intended it to be an ecological study area. It never became one.
The site is too small for a school. The minimum acreage for an elementary school, by regulation is 40 acres (Bunnell Elementary sits on 20 acres but predates those regulations), and 70 acres for a high school. Periodically, the board inventories its properties and hears recommendations from its administration. In 2004 then-Superintendent Robert Corley recommended selling or trading the parcel. Colleen Conklin, then ending her first term on the board, was uncomfortable with “cashing in” on the land. In July 2005, with Corley gone, Superintendent Bill Delbrugge recommended that the board “sit tight and do nothing” with it, according to minutes from the period.
So the land has sat there undisturbed since but for the occasional inquiry from prospective buyers. Less than three years ago a developer looking to build a single-family home subdivision there approached board to buy it. The property appraiser listed the just market value back then at $335,000, not much more than where it had been four years earlier. The board members had a few questions but passed.
On Jan. 20 Michael Lagasse, a project supervisor in Flagler County government’s Land Management Department, wrote School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker. The county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands program, Lagasse said, was interested in the property (though the ESL program’s Land Acquisition Committee hadn’t met for several months). Lagasse wrote that the committee identified the property “as potentially favorable for acquisition based on theirs and several citizen’s [sic.] inquiries into the property.”
The Environmentally Sensitive Lands program uses revenue from a property surtax voters have overwhelmingly and repeatedly approved to buy land–like Princess Place Preserve–and preserve it as conservation or parks. The program has not made a major acquisition in several years.
Around the time Lagasse wrote the letter, the county administration was planning to give away a boat ramp and right of way segment at the end of nearby Pamela Parkway to two adjoining property owners in exchange for the property owners building a sea wall as a flood-protection measure. The administration had not been transparent about the plan. When it presented it to commissioners, questions from commissioners and public opposition eventually blocked the giveaway. Commissioners were more interested in retaining ownership and having the county build a wall if that’s what was necessary.
The discussion brought to light broader concerns with flooding along that segment of the Intracoastal, and from A1A, especially after the construction of Yacht Harbor, the large gated subdivision just south of the school board property. Some commissioners thought building a sea wall at the end of Pamela Parkway might not make much difference, and could potentially exacerbate flooding problems, considering that the school board’s frontage on the Intracoastal is not walled. Hence the context for the county approaching the school board to buy the 20 acres, now valued at $1 million.
School and county officials, including Dave Freeman, the district’s facilities director, and Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt, met with Lagasse and Tim Telfer, who heads the land management division, earlier this month to discuss the issue. If a sale were to take place, the parcel would have to be at least twice appraised, and the county commission would have to approve the acquisition just as the school board would have to approve the sale. It’s not a swift or simple process. Tucker on Tuesday quickly put the board on notice to make its intentions clear from the start.
“We are not interested,” he said sharply after little discussion.
School Board member Janet McDonald said she’d had a meeting with then-Superintendent Jim Tager and county officials to discuss a “swap” because the county was interested in the site “for a boat launch,” she said, but the county “didn’t have anything they wanted to swap, that’s why it didn’t go anywhere then.” She also questioned the district’s previous appraisals.