By John Tanner
In November 2020, the Flagler County Commission approved development applications for the Hammock Beach River Club, now known as The Gardens, a proposed development of some 335 homes off John Anderson Highway. The nonprofit group called Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek appealed the county’s decision in Flagler County Circuit Court.
Circuit Court Judge Terrence Perkins upheld the Commission’s decisions in September. Preserve Flagler Beach appealed the decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeal. The Appeals Court will consider Preserve’s Petition For Writ Of Certiorari–that is, Preserve’s request that the court review the case–challenging:
- The validity of Flagler County’s approval of development applications for The Gardens.
- The failure of the county to abide by the Flagler County Land Development Code.
- The failure of the County Commission to require the developer to comply with the conditions of County Ordinance 2005-22 and the controlling original Planned Unit Development of 2005.
- The lower court’s conclusion that neither Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek nor the adversely affected residents of nearby neighborhoods have “standing” (that is, the right to seek court protection.)
In 2005, the county approved a planned unit development for developer Bobby Ginn, who had originally intended to develop some of the acreage that has now become The Gardens. The 2005 ordinance and agreement require the developer to:
- Build a waste water treatment and disposal system for the City of Flagler Beach.
- Construct an off-grade crossing over or under the John Anderson Scenic Highway.
- Limit the number of houses in the development to 453 single-family dwellings.
- Build an 18-hole golf course, providing a discharge area for the City of Flagler Beach’s recycled water and ending the dumping of city sewage into the Intracoastal Waterway. The city will be required to stop that dumping in the next few years, by state law.
The current developer bought the property in 2018, and county commissioners agreed to continue operating under the original 2005 PUD Agreement. But they did not require the developer to comply with the conditions of PUD Ordinance 2005-22, or the original agreement.
Preserve Flagler is a nonprofit citizens’ organization that supports smart growth, consistent with protecting the unique character and environment of Flagler County and Flagler Beach. Preserve’s members have volunteered hundreds of hours and donated tens of thousands of dollars trying to protect the Bulow Creek ecosystem, water recharge area and the John Anderson Scenic Highway. At risk is the quality of life and property values of the citizens who will be directly affected by the proposed mega development. Does anyone even care about the deer, turkeys, panther, bobcats, bears, gopher tortoises, otters, manatees, game fish hatcheries, countless exotic water birds and small creatures?
At a recent County Meeting, Commissioner David Sullivan opined that Preserve’s appeal might be for “delay.” That is simply not correct. Preserve petitioned the appeals court to block what we believe to be harmful county actions and to affirm the right of all citizens to seek judicial protection from harmful invalid government action.
Last year, the St. Johns River Water Management District determined that The Gardens was clearing land without necessary permits. The management district requested that the developer immediately cease clearing land between John Anderson Highway and the lntracoastal Waterway. The ensuing delay of many months was caused by the county not enforcing its own Code and the developer’s failure to comply with the St. Johns River Water Management District permitting requirements.
The developer’s initial plan for this property was a megadevelopment with nearly 4,000 residential units, 12 story condominium-apartments, and 510,000 square feet of commercial space. This litigation only addresses “Phase One” of the developer’s project. How many more residential and commercial units will these county commissioners allow him to build on this sensitive and unique property?
This 825 acre parcel is one of the very few natural wilderness areas left along the entire coast of Florida. If we allow it to be destroyed, there will never again be a place like it. The state and the county should buy this land for public use as a non-motorized wilderness park and canoe launch. Our children could experience a little piece of Florida “as it once was.”
John Tanner, a former State Attorney, represents Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek Inc.