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Palm Coast Seethes as Flagler Ends Hammock Dunes DRI’s Obligations to County and City

| December 20, 2011

DRI, RIP. (© FlaglerLive)

The Hammock Dunes development is almost 30 years old. ITT first proposed it in 1982, when Ronald Reagan was president, Ma Bell was everybody’s long-distance carrier and Palm Coast was a smudge of a subdivision. It became a so-called Development of Regional Impact two years later, or DRI, entailing the massive development of almost 7,000 homes in 42 clusters sprawled on 2,258 beachfront acres. In exchange, ITT would meet various obligations to the county, from park building to land swaps to road and bridge construction, including the construction of the Intracoastal bridge.

Monday evening, after a remarkable three-hour hearing that featured polite but pointed rancor between county and Palm Coast officials as each side cast doubt on the integrity of the other’s methods and facts,  the Flagler County Commission declared the Hammock Dunes DRI essentially closed. That means the developers, who by now include the Admiral Corporation, have been released of all significant obligations either to the county or to Palm Coast in future years, whether it’s the widening of the Intracoastal bridge or the widening of Palm Harbor Parkway, both of which Palm Coast contends should still have been the developer’s responsibility.

If the DRI had stayed in effect, the developer could have applied for an extension, potentially reopening development options and forcing the county to fight them, and residents of the Dunes to contend with the consequences. The DRI has, in fact, been extended several times, and altered significantly: The projected 6,600 homes were reduced to 3,800, and may be reduced still further, with many of those not yet built and only 15 or so per year being built. The DRI was expiring in 70 days anyway. But the county wanted to move up the date for two reasons. The Legislature in 2009 arbitrarily extended the life of DRIs across the state. It could do so again this January. The county wants to pre-empt that possibility.

The developer could also file yet another so-called “notice of proposed change” meaning the first step in applying for a significant variation on the scope of the development. The county wanted to prevent that possibility, too. Six of those notices of proposed change have been filed in the life of the DRI. The most recent, by developer Ginn-Luber Adler (ITT and the Admiral Corporation, original developers, being only peripherally involved at this point) wanted to apply a make-over to the area near 16th Road, building up to 1,147 units there in a 34-acre residential cluster and eliminating the existing beach club and a part of the golf course while erecting a high structure near the beach. The county spent $200,000 in legal fees and an estimated $100,000 in staff time fighting the proposal through courts all the way to the Florida Cabinet, which ruled in favor of the county last summer and against Ginn-Luber Adler.

The County’s Motives

Both county government and Dunes residents have been exhausted by the battle—or battles—and want an end to it. Monday’s unanimous decision by the commission to close out the DRI did just that. In exchange, the county released current and former developers from their obligations to local governments. And that’s what angered Palm Coast, a city that likes to shift as much of its financial burdens onto developers, or other governments, as it can.

“I did not want us to be in a position where we were laying an agreement that had problems in it that would tend to engender litigation, lawsuits, which are very, very expensive, there are public dollars that are being spent, as well as the incredible distraction of time of everybody that’s involved in litigation, including your staff,” Al Hadeed, the county attorney, told the commission on Monday, “but including the people that live there, the anxiety they have about what’s that litigation mean. My efforts were designed to minimize that, and I hope you see that in the agreement.”  Admiral has agreed to hold the county harmless in the event there is litigation.

The Dunes Community Development District will still make contributions of up to $1.8 million to the county, pending approval by the CDD governing board. Admiral will pay the county $350,000, $125,000 of which will go to the school board. The county contends that given current development trends, the Dunes will not be growing anywhere near levels projected a few years ago, nor will the barrier island. So there’s no more need to perpetuate the DRI in hopes of recouping infrastructure dollars from the developers, especially at the risk of triggering more development changes within the DRI that the county might yet again have to battle.

Palm Coast Protests

To the county, the end of the DRI was “a long time coming,” in Commissioner Milissa Holland’s words. To Palm Coast, it was supposedly a kick in the teeth.

“I am concerned about the fact that Palm Coast has not been party to these discussions,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts told the commission. “Consider my appearance here tonight a follow up to the letter that I sent you on Dec. 14. In that letter, I request that you continue this matter, this essentially built out agreement, until Palm Coast has had sufficient time to review all the documentation that purportedly supports this action. This is after all a development of regional impact. The development clearly impacts more than the barrier island. It’s by definition its impact is regional and Palm Coast is part of that region.”

jon netts palm coast mayor city council

Jon Netts. (© FlaglerLive)

Netts said the city was told of the impending closure of the DR only on Nov. 1, and was subsequently sent a series of draft proposals, each different than the one before, leaving it no time to review it. That aside, Netts said the city was concerned about the impact on Palm Coast’s infrastructure, now that developers are no longer financially responsible, particularly with traffic on Palm Harbor Parkway.

“If you excuse the developers—ITT, the Admiral Corporation, the successor developers—from this obligation on Palm Harbor Parkway, you place that obligation solely on the shoulders of Palm Coast residents. If you think about it, it’s very clear that at least a portion of the traffic on Palm Harbor Parkway is the result of development on the barrier island. Think of how the residents access the Creek course for example,” Netts said, referring to the Creek golf course at Hammock Dunes. “To put all this burden on Palm Coast residents, we don’t think is fair or equitable. We are willing to sit down immediately to discuss alternatives.”

Palm Coast attorney Katie Reischmann, Sara Lockhart, a senior planner with the city, and Robert Boggs, a traffic engineer, elucidated the mayor’s points.

Trafficking in Numbers

But the county administrator and Admiral Corp.’s lawyer, Ellen Avery-Smith, flatly rejected the basis of the city’s contention that developers were being let off.

The dispute centered, literally, on two sets of numbers for the very same traffic patterns. The city contends that traffic on the Intracoastal bridge is already past the level where it would “trigger” the developer’s responsibility to widen the bridge, and that traffic on Palm Harbor Parkway is 300 car trips away from an even worse traffic level than the bridge.

The eastbound traffic on the bridge, according to Palm Coast, was 11,000 vehicles when it was measured in May. But Dunes district, which runs the bridge, has exact counts of eastbound traffic because it collects tolls. The average daily count: 3,500, far below any worrisome level, let alone triggers for widening, there or along Palm Harbor Parkway.

The disparity was never explained. But another big disparity came to light about the traffic counts. County Administrator Craig Coffey, who did not like hearing Palm Coast officials claim that the county had not involved the city in the county’s process, or had ignored the city’s traffic counts, fired back with what amounted to calling the city’s record-keeping as deceptive as the claims it was making Monday evening.

Craig Coffey Flares Up

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Here’s Coffey’s full testimony on that score as he referred to traffic counts on the bridge: “We did go to the Palm Coast website when we first pursued this. We had toll counts of, in 97, six thousand, 2002, six thousand four hundred,’04, eight thousand seven hundred, ‘06, ninety-one hundred [that was the height of the construction and housing boom, when trucks and other commercial traffic reached an all-time high locally], and then ’08, at seventy-seven hundred. If you recall, the analysis that was presented to you had a current count of about seventy-five hundred average daily trips. However the 2011 count, and you could talk to the applicants, traffic engineer, when they pulled it off the website earlier, when we gave first notice of this, it was 4,000, and then it has since been changed to 11,000 between now and the time we gave first notice, so there’s a discrepancy there, and I’ll enter into the record both website items we produced. We don’t have it tagged through a website unfortunately. This time we’d have to research it through some type of open record or something.”

When Ellen Avery-Smith, the Admiral attorney, cross-examined Boggs, the Palm Coast traffic engineer, she pressed the discrepancy issue further: ““Can you please explain to the board why the 2011 bridge count has increased significantly, so significantly, from prior years?”

“Because the 4,000 count from Intracoastal waterway Hammock Dunes Bridge eastbound was entered in error,” Boggs replied, “and we corrected that error some time ago. It is 11,000.”

“So you’re testifying here today that the traffic count on the bridge is higher today, in a recession, after five years of recession, than it was at the height of the real estate boom,” Avery-Smith asked him. Boggs stuck by the number.


The issue was not resolved, and was rendered moot a few minutes into the fourth hour of the hearing when the commission voted on the matter. Holland summed it up.

milissa holland flagler county commission flaglerlive

Milissa Holland (© FlaglerLive)

“We did ask our staff to move forward aggressively with this,” Holland said. “We have spent an enormous amount of tax dollars fighting this issue, historically, to ensure that promises were made originally were kept through the development agreement. I am satisfied with the testimony given tonight that the obligations have been met and I also am a little conflicted in regards to some of the items brought forth. I say this because I think in the future it’d be important, when the city of Palm Coast or any municipality or us hosts a workshop in regards to an issue that we need information on, I would just request that the city invite the county into that discussion at that time. I think it would curtail some of the discussions we’re hearing this evening and would make it a lot easier when we have these future discussions.”

Holland added:  “The residents over there are owed for this commission to close this item now.”

Dunes residents, clad in blue shirts, applauded when the commission took its unanimous vote. And the Hammock Dunes DRI was history.

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21 Responses for “Palm Coast Seethes as Flagler Ends Hammock Dunes DRI’s Obligations to County and City”

  1. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    If I’m correct, many rsidents of the Hammock have encoded stickers on their cars windows, that would account for the difference in the traffic across the bridge, The stickers do not supposedly “pay” a toll, so the toll count is just those of us who pay. Who collects the tolls money? I though that was to pay for the upkeep of the bridge? PC should now take over the bridge, and double the tolls, no free ride for the sticker folks.

  2. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    As a followup to my earlier commenst. At today’s City Council the Mayor suggested this subject is not yet over and that they have their Attorney looking at the subject/decision. Why should PC be responsible? This is County land?

  3. In reply to Mr.Ericksen: I have one of those stickers on my car. I live on the mainland. Whenever I go to the beachside in my car I go through the toll booth. They scan my stcker and deduct the toll from my deposit. Instead of paying the $2.00 toll, I pay a reduced fee because I bought a sticker. So the suggestion that my car is not counted because I have a sticker is wrong.

  4. JimN says:

    Close Palm Coast Parkway east bound @ Palm Harbor Parkway. It will force the residents of the DRI to use the COUNTY/STATE Bridge on Highway 100 thus reducing traffic on Palm Coast Parkway.

  5. John Boy says:

    If I remember correctly the assessed valuation for both Dunes golf courses have been drastically reduce to around 1 Million each. This truck me funny as it is only several time my valuation and yet each are over 500 times the size of my lot. They are commercial in nature and thus bring in fees and profits. Each has a club houses greater or at least equal to the value any private home. Sounds like our Assessor and Tax Collector are in cohort with the Commissioners in artificially holding down their taxes and passing the responsibility on to you and me. Better follow the money and possibly call for a criminal investigation of all parties.

  6. Doug Chozianin says:

    Peterson, Revels and Hanns need to be term limited this November. Once we throw these hoary politicians out we’ll get a Council that is sensitive to Palm Coast Taxpayer needs.

    Fire these incumbents.

  7. Roger Cullinane says:

    Palm Coast’s assertion that eastbound traffic on the Intercoastal Bridge is 11,000 cars per day means the average count is over 450 cars per hour, twenty-four hours a day. Anyone that uses this bridge knows that the actual traffic is nowhere near that count. In fact, the traffic is so light that Flagler County has been putting speed traps on the bridge to catch speeders. In addition, since the toll count is under 4,000 per day, how does the Palm Coast traffic engineer account for the other claimed 7,000 eastbound cars – does he believe most cars are traveling free over the bridge.

  8. some guy says:

    I also have a sticker I PAY for it at a reduced rate and do not live in the Hammock. i see it as just one more way our City of Palm Coast is trying to overtake more of the County.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    I am openly shocked of Commissioner Milissa Holland and the rest of the County Commission on their decision. Regarding here again working for the county, attorney Al Hadeed and thanks to the auspices of Milissa Holland among others, does not surprise me at all his ill advise. He did the same and stabbed Palm Coasters on the back big time when in the late 90’s on the ITT pull out, we, under the county were offered to buy with first right of refusal, the ITT water utility that served us, not the county. Palm Coast as still unincorporated city had no authority to decide.The price then about 12 million a real bargain but then, County Attorney Hadeed pull out the same excuse as now, about not having the county battle “the big ticket legal team of Florida Water wanting to buy it also”. So the scam worked and commissioners spearheaded, just like Holland now, by Chairman Darby decided (against Palm Coasters best interest) to let it go to Florida Water. Then about 8 years later after Palm Coast incorporated we had to fight for our water utility not to be sold to Wall Street driven little two cities in the panhandle and had to buy it for 89 million, so we can have some local say on rates at least.
    Now this commission with anti Palmcoasters Milissa Holland at the head and following as well the same ill advise, from same “Al Hadeed county attorney pro special interest”, just stick it to us again. I am with City of Palm Coast Mayor Nets and Manager Landon and our engineering and our Attorney Reissman team that represented us on “the monkey trial type” county meeting. Hadeed and this county are pulling the same scam on us all, in this city and lets stop them this time. This is the same county that with Hadeed and Darby at the helm back then took away our ocean front Sun Sports Resort pool area used by Palmcoasters memberships.That pool area and cabanas on the beach along with 16 blocks of ocean front beach and traded to Ginn for 300 hundred acres in the bun docks and a $20,000 check for the Jungle Hut beach access. Anyone that can refresh my details recalled here, please feel free to say it and or correct me…All should be on the county records. We lost “our ocean front for Palmcoasters” that was granfathering.The same shame that county just did before we incorporated as Palm Coast hurried to change the building lots plans around Matanzas and everywhere on our backs with no meetings to be addressed by those owners in those areas negatively affected by their unilateral decision. There you have today Matanzas residents having to fight nowadays for their usurped rights. Tomorrow will be us, paying for the cost of widening bridge, and parkways that should be still be paid by the developer…Al Hadeed was ousted in 1999 I think was, and its time to do it again by Palmcoasters this time, given his ill advise. Hope Palm Coast City attorney do not back off…maybe we need a class action here on a contingency basis for all the ammenities grandfathering by law, filed by ICDC with the Federal Trade Commission and not abided by, is not just the Hammock Bridge and Parkway’s, but also our Tennis Players Club and pool, our Palm Coast Marina and the obligation of Centex-Pulte to rebuild our beloved Palm Coast Resort and refund Palmcoaster for the 5 million spent in repairing the damage done to the Palm Harbor Golf Course closed down by Centex before we reopened it.. Enough is enough.

  10. Billy Bob says:

    If you have a sticker, you still pay, at a reduced rate. I think only emergency workers (Sheriff, Fire) get through “free”, although I don’t know if that’s a fact. There are tiered rates based on how much you put into your account (you have to prepay to fund your account, unfortunately) ranging from a small discount to what amounts to paying less than a dollar, presumably for folks who travel over the bridge multiple times per day. I do not live in Hammock Dunes. I spend between $750 to $1000 a year on tolls at the discount rate. If I was paying full price this would be closer to $2500. I am glad for the discount “sticker” and it also speeds up the process of driving through the toll booth and you don’t have to always have cash on you. If I had to drive down to 100 then back up it would cost much more in gas (and time) then the toll cost.

    Anyone who travels the bridge frequently can stop in at the toll bridge office located immediately after the toll plaza and apply for the program. If you just go to the beach once a month it’s probably not worth it. If Palm Coast takes over the bridge and eliminates the discount program, there are many folks, myself included, who would suffer, not just Hammock Dunes residents. Although I sure could see how Palm Coast could view that bridge as a cash cow…

    Also note some vendors, such as JT’s Seafood, will reimburse your toll if you get a receipt and eat there. So plan a beach day and eat at JT’s while you’re out and the toll is free. :)

  11. palmcoaster says:

    One of many of the recent shames that the current county commission to the advise of current again county attorney Al Hadeed and his administrator Craig Coffey do the tax payers:

    “Ginn Development Co. in April walked away from a $2 million obligation to Flagler County taxpayers when it defaulted on a building the county built for it at the county airport. That building now sits empty, with public money making the $200,000 a year mortgage payment. Rather than pursue Ginn in court, the county settled for $37,000”.
    Please tell us what kind of legal advise is that and who benefits?

  12. East of 95er says:

    If the Hammock Dunes bridge ever needs to be widened, I don’t think any of us will want to be here anymore, anyway.

  13. Justice for All says:

    How many of you take S.R. 100 east but drive back “free?”

    Here’s a thought – agree the bridge will never be widened, just like what was done on State Road A1A, and eliminate the toll.

  14. Anonymous says:


    YES Ginn walked away from its leas on the Airport building BUT our tax $$$ do not pay for it. The Airport is run on its own funding from fuel sales rents on buildings and land lease. You , I and all the other tax payers ofthe COUNTY are not paying the bill on that one.

  15. JOHN R. says:

    Again the tension arises between the County and The City ,and The County has again, with its decision to cancel The DRI, has thrown The City under the bus. Jim Landon again gets his way . Perhaps The City can even the score by withholding water rights to all of the proposed development at The Flagler County Airport. That issue has been fairly quiet recently. Let’s see what happens with the waste collection contract as the bids were not opened publicly. Palm Coast is being run as a fiefdom since incorporation in 1999, a step to which I was opposed.

  16. JOHN R. says:

    In my earlier comment, my reference to Jim Landon should be changed to Craig Coffey. Moreover, Palm Coast is the engine that drives Flagler County and we should be getting more respect. For example,we were taken advantage of by Flagler Enterprise, and its key officials are still around. BTW, its crown jewel is Palm Coast Data, and just what is its current employment level? Have they met the 1000 employee benchmark?

  17. palmcoaster says:

    Dear Anonymous:
    I would appreciate to be properly documented regarding your belief that we were not left holding Ginn’s bag as well as the over half million Cakes Across…and other failed investments.
    I would appreciate to be documented other than the often “here say”… with the paper work substantiating your statement from back then when the deal was done.
    After all the “County” airport just by as its name reads is as well publicly owned…. John Mica head of the Federal Transportation Committee gets some grants some times for specific use on the airport. He should instead get grants for some life saving walkways so this county kids and residents do not have to walk, jog or ride on our parkways and get killed so often.

  18. cj says:

    And where was “our leader” Jim Landon during all of this?

  19. Gary says:

    the reason for the increase in traffic is simple, do to the increase gas prices it is cheaper to cross the bridge than use 100.

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