The small neighborhood of five streets branching out from Apache Drive and north of Malacompra Road is one of those rustic Hammock grids that give the Hammock its name: stately old trees curving over dirt roads, large lots that mix handsome properties with distinctly less handsome ones, and that feel of country somnolence that gives the lie to the fact that the neighborhood off of State Road A1A is technically considered part of the Palm Coast utility zone.
Whatever its designation, many, but not all, local residents like their neighborhood the way it is. They like their unpaved roads and want to keep them that way. But against sharp opposition, the Flagler County Commission on Monday voted 4-1 to pave some of the roads anyway.
The county got a $1.7 million state grant through the Florida Department of Transportation to build 0.7 miles of paved roads with drainage and a retention pond. Th initial plan was to pave all five streets–Apache Drive, Seminole, Cherokee, Osceola and First Avenue.
Residents were informed of the plan in 2019, when the county took a survey of residents, held a zoom community meeting and an in-person meeting with residents, reducing the plan to 0.55 miles and eliminating Cherokee and Seminole Avenues and most of Apache Street from the project, along with the cost, which is now $1.4 million.
“You work with what you have available and what we’ve got available is DOT funding and the limitations that are there,” Commissioner Andy Dance, who voted against the project–and who is a landscape architect–said. “Problem is DOT brings in a backhoe when a shovel is suitable, in my opinion. If I was a resident there, I would be looking for a less intrusive solution.” But he acknowledged that the county’s ability to navigate the transportation department’s grant was limited, and that the project was far down the road of execution. “I think future solutions should should be more sites sensitive and and not just all rely on DOT to solve the problems.”
The vote took place after two rounds of public comments featuring Hammock residents who were all opposed to the project.
“We have a problem in the hammock. We don’t want our roads paved. And we’ve brought proof to the commission that we don’t want this,” Julia LaRue of Seminole Avenue said. “Because what’s going to happen out there is going to be butchering or trees. Plus we don’t want to pay for roads. This is our community. You all work for us. Please, please stop it.”
“They’ve been fighting this for eight years,” another resident of Seminole Avenue said. “This is ridiculous. I don’t know why they want to pave them, what’s behind this. It’s flooded once in 100 years from my understanding, so it’s not in a flood zone. And anybody that votes for this. I’mm going to vote against you guys when it’s time for your seats up. We can’t have people on here that don’t listen to us. We really don’t want this done. It’s a lot of money. It’s a million and a half that they’re going to spend on these roads, and for what? Put it into some news programs that are so needed.”
“We have a piece of heaven. I don’t want to see it go and all my neighbors don’t want to see it go,” Irene Allen of Cherokee Avenue said. “We didn’t move to the city. We moved to the ocean.”
“I heard a lot of things about Seminole and Cherokee. I wonder who’s telling you that we’re paving those roads,” Commissioner Greg Hansen told the opponents at one point. “We’re not paving those roads. And you know I’ve been out there and I’ve walked them with you, and I got Seminole removed from the plan. I got Cherokee removed from the plan. I got two-thirds of Apache removed from the plan. So why are you up here complaining about paving those roads?”
That left other streets where opponents were just as vocal. Marty Jewel, an Osceola Avenue resident, presented a petition with 184 signatures, 69 to 70 percent of residents on Osceola “strongly opposed to the paving project,” she said. She said Osceola Avenue doesn’t have flooding issues, other than when Hurricane Matthew’s effects washed over the area and devastated trees. “We are unique,” she said, “we do not want to become just another paved community.” She said the big draw to the area is the way of life there. “We do not want to lose it.”
Faith al-Khatib, the county engineer, put the project in the larger context of the county’s ongoing Marineland Acres drainage improvement plans, designed to reduce chronic flooding there. “The same issue happened here to this area. After Matthews, a lot flooding area has been been happening there. One of these areas was First Avenue and Osceola. And you can see with the nature there, most of these trees died after Hurricane Matthews. A lot of residents that year, they came to us and they asked us to expedite and do some kind of drainage improvement in that area, which we did. We applied for a grant funding.”
Al-Khatib said the county decided to move ahead with paving and drainage improvements based on its findings from a survey of residents. She said 31 residents were surveyed on Osceola, only about half responded, of whom nine told the county to go ahead with paving. She followed that with letters to each home address, explaining what the plan was specifically, and spoke of conversations with residents who said the opposite of what opponents of the paving were saying on Monday.
The county was conflating drainage and paving by necessity, as it saw it, even if residents may have been more eager for drainage than paving. Commissioner Andy Dance wanted to know the feasibility of separating the two issues.
Building a drainage system without a road would only enable further erosion, al-Khatib said, citing how the county did just that on Bay Drive, only for erosion to muck up the works. “I don’t know if it’s feasible or not but our recommendation to go on and pave and proceed with our plan,” al-Khatib said. “i know we love the area but there is a need to do certain improvements there.”
Dance could understand the county’s position. But residents hadn’t come out to petition for the road-paving, they’d come out only to petition against it. “The dilemma is being able to design something to fit the area,” Dance said. “But because we rely on DOT money we have to design based on their safety design guidelines. And that limits that creativity, unfortunately. But until there’s a different funding mechanism that the county controls and can do those improvements, we have to follow DOT guidelines and that results in more trees coming out and all the other safety designs.”
Commissioner Donald O’Brien called it “a safety issue from the standpoint of drainage and making sure that we’re doing what we can with money that’s available for us to protect these properties.” But when the floor was again opened to the public, Osceola Avenue residents disputed the claim.
“What are you talking about safety? We don’t flood. We have sand. It drains,” a resident said, echoing others.