For much of last year the planned Gardens development of 335 homes on the east side of John Anderson Highway was mired in protest and controversy, including contention from Flagler Beach government itself, until the county commission approved the project in late November. For much of this year, the project has been hung up in court, its bulldozers stilled.
Yet in stinging contrast this evening, the Flagler Beach City Commission was completing unanimous approval of a pair of “sister” developments that will soon be adding 352 housing units on the two sides of Roberts Road north of Wadsworth Park–240 apartments in eight buildings on one side, 112 single-family houses on the other.
The commission has already approved the apartment units in two previous readings. Tonight it is approving on second reading the 112-house development, delayed to tonight only because of a technicality with advertising the project. The commission votes have all been unanimous. The public opposition, like public involvement, almost nil.
The required newspaper advertising announcing the meeting about the apartment complex only referred to it in the clunky language of land-use legalese, as a planned unit development, neither mentioning apartments nor numbers.
Yet the impact of the two just-approved developments will not be less than that of the Gardens in terms of traffic and demand for services. The signal difference is the developments’ locations. The Gardens would be adjoining the Intracoastal and Bulow Creek. The area around Roberts Road is less bucolic, less naturally posh or isolated from commerce, nearby Wadsworth Park, Publix, a future church.
“Having worked for developers for many years, and sitting on this side of the table a little later in life, you very seldom come across what I consider developers with integrity,” Larry Torino, the city’s planner, had said at the beginning of the series of hearings. “And I don’t think we have to go very far in this county to understand what I mean.” He did not elaborate on that score. “But both these developers have stepped up to the plate. I’m not trying to play this in any way, it speaks for itself. But I just think they deserve the recognition that, win, lose or draw, and how these applications are judged this evening, that you know that these two developers are quality people, and I’ll just leave it at that, despite how you may feel about what they’re proposing to accomplish in the community.”
The apartment complex is called Preserve at Flagler Beach, the single-family home subdivision will be Beach Park Village. Both are on land owned by M.L. Carter Services of Orlando, itself owned by Daryl M. Carter, Pamela L. Wray and Joan Fisher of Orlando, according to Division of Corporation records. Carter bought the Beach park property from Palm Coast Holdings in October 2013 for $2.9 million. The property is currently valued at $678,000 by the Flagler property appraiser, its last property bill totalling $13,800, $3,600 of it to Flagler Beach. He bought the “Preserve” property in 2014 for $440,000 from Florida Landmark Communities, paying just under $6,000 in property taxes last year, $1,500 of it to Flagler Beach.
Here’s the story behind each development as each was presented before the city commission.
Preserve at Flagler Beach
Torino referred to it as the “sister application” of the single-family home development. The apartment complex will go up on 16 acres on the west side of Roberts Road. It has a mixed-use zoning designation, adjacent to Palm Coast’s boundary and a parcel also zoned for mixed mixed use. First Baptist Church of Flagler Beach plans a church to the south of the property, which is within walking distance of Wadsworth Park and Publix.
Torino described the two developments in combination as a de facto master-planned development. “You have two residential developments actually that are the first developments that are going to establish the character along Roberts Road,” Torino said. “The community park, which addresses recreation, you have a church, which represents a religious aspect, which is a good thing” (assuming one is a practicing Baptist, of course–only a fractional minority of the local population is). “And you also have community shopping, all within walking distance. So really the only entity that’s missing is a school. So other than that, it’s kind of strange how all the pieces are coming together.”
Preserve at Flagler Beach will be a 240-unit apartment complex developed by Piedmont Private Equity’s Eric Conkright of Alpharetta, Ga., whose company builds such complexes “largely in the southeast,” he said. “We build creative communities, we maximize our amenities.” He described residents’ profile as a mixture of young professionals all the way to retirees.
The project has retained Flagler Beach architect Joseph Pozzuoli as its consultant and builder John Cattano. Pozzuoli is a member of the city’s Planning and Architecture Review Board (often referred to as the PAR board), before which the project went in June, and whose recommendation it ought before moving on to the city commission. (Pozzuoli says he recuses himself from all board discussions involving his client, including votes, and signs a document explaining his recusal.)
Conkright told commissioners, if not a broader audience, that the apartment complex will not be tax-subsidized–a coded signal that usually signifies poorer people will be kept out.
Preliminary rents are to range between $1,100 to $1,500 a month, though the developers said they were not setting the fees yet, giving them the flexibility to set the price at the time of letting. The project will provide 108 one-bedroom apartments, 108 two-bedroom apartments, and 24 three-bedroom apartments. The smallest will be 725 square feet, two-bedrooms will average 1,050 square feet, and 1,250 for the three-bedroom–on average. The smallest-allowed apartment is 700 square feet. The eight three-story buildings will be 35 feet tall.
There will be 400 parking spaces and 24 enclosed garages. The developers say there will be no short-term rentals, but the development’s shortest allowance for a rental is three months. In effect, that falls within the short-term rental period. Under Florida law, anything less than six months is a short-term rental. “It’s good to have that option, but we believe the bulk of residents will be people that live and work in this community,” Conkright said.
Property management will be on site. The development will not be gated. The site could be permitted for 282 units, but only at the expense of the development’s aesthetic appeal, its developers say. They also want to build a preserve “without turning the whole development into a bunch of asphalt,” Cattano said.
“Why here and why now?” Cattano asked rhetorically. He said there’s been a lot of apartment construction in St. Johns and Volusia counties, but not in Flagler, which he described as “overlooked.” His company’s aim is to target such overlooked zones “based on our perception of demand in that area.” He cited figures: over the past 10 years, from 2010 to 2020, an estimated 2,351 rental units were needed, but only 359 were permitted, he said. “Just in the past 10 years there’s been a tremendous deficit of rental housing in this county,” he said. “Over the next five years, our projections are that there will be an additional 1361 new rental houses that will be in demand, and this is all just based off of population growth and household formation.” He said some 681 units have been planned or started, still leaving a deficit of 680 units over the next five years.
That’s the data that’s driven the developer to Flagler Beach. Cattano said the complex will look for “long-term residents.”
“I did leave St Johns County because it was too much gone, to be perfectly honest, it was too much development up there,” Commissioner Ken Bryan told the developers. “So Flagler Beach area is a kind of skipped-over unknown area. And I know that growth is going to come and I just hope that we can kind of plan it out in a way that’s going to be complementing those that live here, so that we can in fact, keep the kind of charm that kind of keep it small. But I think that we also need some housing in the area because there is a lack of rental property that’s affordable for a lot of folks who live in the area, including those that probably work right here in the city.”
Cattano made an odd statement as he was presenting the project to the commission: “We did have an informal PAR Board meeting about a month before June 8, 2021, where we gave our presentation to them but in a more informal capacity where were able to receive a lot of feedback from them in advance, that we could incorporate into our site plan and into the development agreement before we came to the official meeting.” There are, of course, no such things as “informal” meetings of government advisory panels such as the PAR board–not legally, under Florida’s sunshine law. And Cattano and the city both later qualified that the meeting itself wasn’t informal, but the initial presentation to the PAR board was, to seek feedback, and in the context of an open, official meeting.
The project will contribute $36,000 toward a fire truck. Its developers expect the project will generate approximately $139,000 a year and $820,000 in one-time fees to the city (sewer impact fees and building permit fees), plus the additional economic impact. It drew few comments from the public or from commissioners, and drew commissioners’ full support.
“That’s what we kind of need around town,” Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said. “It’s a good fit.”
“Yeah, I agree that it is a good fit and I’m excited about it. I lived in rentals most of my life,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said.
Beach Park Village
Beach Park Village is a 48-acre development of 112 single-family homes that’ll be built over the next three years. The is on the east side of Roberts Road, north of State Road 100, and adjacent to Wadsworth Park, to its south. The development backs up to the western edges of 14 properties on Lambert Avenue.
Aside from the land pegged for the apartment complex, Carter owns vast acreage split into three parcels to the north, all the way to the land owned by Sea Ray Boats/Boston Whaler. But the next-most immediate parcel he owns north of the planned development is just north of the Flagler Beach-Flagler County boundary.
Jay Livingston, the property owners’ attorney, projects that once all 112 houses are built, the development will generate $187,000 annually in taxes, “based upon today’s numbers,” with one-time impact fees, connection fees and the like totaling $850,000 as the houses are built, plus the residents’ contribution to the local economy.
The development within the acreage will feature homes in close-cropped succession on both sides of a circular road that then spurs into a cul de sac, with only one property fronting Roberts Road. Trees and a retention pond otherwise parallel Roberts Road, so the subdivision itself will not be readily visible from the street.
The minimum lot area will have 4,000 square feet, but the median lot will be over 6,500 square feet. The minimum-size home will be 1,200 square feet, with 25 feet buffers. There’ll be 10 feet between buildings.
The development leaves 80 percent of open space (the minimum requirement is 60 percent). Stormwater will be engineered through a privately maintained master stormwater system, itself maintained by a homeowner association. It is possible that the subdivision will be gated, but for now it’s designed as an ungated community. The development will have an additional emergency lane. Its infrastructure, built ahead of time, will include a water-recycling system, in case the city develops the capacities to recycle (as it intends to).
All services–police, fire, garbage, water, sewer–will be provided by the city. The development will pay the city $28,000 toward defraying the cost of a future fire truck.
The plan had originally been for townhouses, Jay Livingtson, the developer’s attorney, said. Going the route of single-family homes lowered impacts on wetlands. “We finished our wetlands survey, all the kind of preliminary due diligence is completed, so assuming the PUD was approved, we will be coming in for a plat immediately and starting construction as quickly as we can get construction plans approved,” Livingston said.
James Sherman of South Flagler Avenue had concerns and called for a cost-benefit analysis, carried out by “an independent body” and holistically. “As we can see on the weekends, there’s no parking here in the city,” he said. “We have the Gardens project that’s going to be coming on our doorstep, we’re going to have this project now. I live right by Oceanside Bar and Grill. On the weekends there it’s impossible to get out of there.” He also cautioned against another housing bubble. But his concerns, while legitimate in and of themselves, were outside the purview of the commission’s powers, which were limited to ratifying the development as long as it met city planning and land development rules. Within those rules, the developer has his own vested rights which other residents–or even the commission–may not legally impede.
Other input from the public–only four other people spoke–was peripheral or not in opposition to the project.