Note: the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday opted to continue negotiating the Cypress Knoll proposal rather than endorse the latest development ICI Homes and city staff worked out. Some 100 people packed the council meeting venue at the Palm Coast Community Center Tuesday evening, opposing the proposal. The story below, from the Palm Coast Planning Board’s original vote on Jan. 18, summarizes the issue.
As Throngs Oppose Cypress Knoll Development Proposal, Planning Board Rejects It 4-2
It was standing room only at the Palm Coast Community Center Wednesday evening (Jan. 18) as throngs of residents from Palm Coast’s E Section, west of Belle Terre, turned out to protest a planned high-intensity residential development in their backyards by ICI, the Volusia-based firm owned by Mori Hosseini.
The proposed development would go up on 21 acres in Cypress Knoll—west of Easthampton Boulevard and south of Eric Drive—and yield a potential development of 60 single-family homes of up to 3,000 square feet each on that acreage. The proposal involves a land swap between ICI and the city, which overwhelmingly favors ICI in terms of the quality of land being swapped: ICI would get buildable uplands from the city, and give up unbuildable wetlands. Without the swap, development would have been far more challenging. In other words, the city would be enabling the planned development rather than controlling it.
A long file of opponents alternately criticized, ridiculed and denounced the proposal before the Palm Coast Planning Board, which then took a 4-2 vote rejecting ICI’s application for the rezoning necessary to enable the development.
“The swap as far as I’m concerned is a very poor business deal,” Stan Bozza, a resident of Eric Drive, told the planning board. “Basically ICI wants to give us twice as much acreage than we’re giving, but it’s useless to a builder. That part of the land is unbuildable.” He termed it a “fantasy” that as previously owned before the swap, ICI could have built even 80 homes. “You couldn’t build 20 homes on that property without spending a lot of money in site preparation. So it’s a fallacy to think that we’re giving up so much for the property that’s buildable. The part of the property the city owns right now is buildable. That’s far more valuable than swamp land, unless you want to build an alligator farm.”
Fred Williams, who built his house in the neighborhood in 1999, said: “I’ve been in sales and marketing all my life. This is the best selling job I’ve heard— ” he was interrupted by laughter and applause. He projected the day when the influx of homes and people would force another opening into the neighborhood, including one from what residents there dread most: from State Road 100 to the south. Yet another resident who’s lived in Cypress Knoll for 10 years said he’d moved away from New York “to get away from the city, and you’re building Queens.” That, too, got a roar of laughter and applause.
Some members of the planning board were troubled by the process that had led to what, in Planning Board member Michael Beebe’s assessment, favored ICI more than the city, whether in the quality of land being swapped or the city’s relinquishing former requirements. “Seems like a really good deal obviously for the developer. Not sure it serves the city’s best interest,” Beebe said.
The vote drew sustained and loud applause. But it’s not the end of the development, as ICI will almost certainly appeal the decision to the Palm Coast City Council.
On the northern property line, parallel to a utility easement, there would be some 90 feet of green, unbuilt land between the back of existing homes and the line of new development. There would be no such separation on the western side of the development, where its homes would essentially butt up to existing homes back-to-back as they often do in subdivisions. But the new homes themselves would be squeezed in much closer together than existing homes. The lowest buffer between structures on the westerly line could be as small as 13 feet. The neighborhood would allow up to 3,200-square foot homes on the small lots.
Small set-backs between properties—and clear disagreement over lot sizes residents thought would be allowed as opposed to what the developer and the city said would be in place—are in part what’s upsetting current residents, who are concerned about the density of new homes.
ICI, represented at the community center by David Haas, its vice president (he was Flagler County’s administrator in the middle of the last decade), could not have been overly surprised: a community meeting on the matter was held at the African-American Cultural Society last April, and by some accounts drew an even larger crowd. City Manager Jim Landon’s description of the meeting to the council, in a memo, as “very positive” notwithstanding, the crowd was as opposed to the project then as it was Wednesday evening.
Bob Cuff, a planning board member, had questions about the swap and the lot sizes, but ended up voting to approve the developer’s application—that is, in dissent in the 4-2 vote. “I’ve been a resident of Palm Coast since 1983, and I’m a lawyer, so I know where Ms. Reischmann is coming from when she says this is part of a settlement of ongoing litigation and how difficult that type of agreement is to craft,” Cuff said, referring to Katie Reischmann, the planning board’s attorney. “The maxim that we lawyers use is that when you have a settlement, it’s only a good settlement if both parties feel they’re disappointed and feel they got the short end of the stick.”
The history of the project is complicated. In 2004 Palm Coast changed the land use designation of the area in question, lowering the allowable building density from up to three homes per acre down to one home per acre. The previous designation would have allowed building up to 86 homes. The new designation, in line with the city’s long-term projections of how sees itself (that is, in line with its “comprehensive plan”), would have allowed up to 28 homes. ICI sued. The two sides started negotiations in February 2006 and have been negotiating on and off since—sometimes more off than on, compelling the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which reviews all local comprehensive plans, to force the two sides to come to an agreement or essentially close the books on the proposal. A dozen proposed settlements have been negotiated since between ICI and the city, according to ICI’s David Haas.
The city doesn’t want to stretch out litigation because it fears losing, in which case the property could revert back to allowing up to 12 units per acre, according to Ray Tyner, the city’s planning manager. A reversal of that magnitude is unlikely, given the history of the property’s designation: its possibility sensationalized the case rather than addressing it on its merits.
“We went into negotiations with the owner to try to come up with a fair, balanced approach for a master planned development,” Tyner said. That would provide for a maximum of 60 units in the development. The developer would also contribute $90,000 for sundry improvements to the neighborhood.
“When we met with the developer and discussed the ongoing issues, having reviewed two or three conceptual plans that had been submitted to the city over a period of two or three years, we really couldn’t come to any conclusion,” Senior Planner Larry Torino said. “The plans did not mean our comprehensive plan guidelines, which in essence is the bible by which we go by for development in the city. We finally realized that the best way to approach this development or potential for a development with this property was, as has been mentioned several times, through a master plans, which means an overall plan that addresses the entire site.”
The city came up with four goals: ensuring compatibility with surrounding land uses, promoting orderly residential growth, maintaining continuity in open space, and sustaining the properties’ wetlands. Then the city developed its compromise with ICI.
Voting to reject the proposal were planning board members Michael Beebe, Glenn Davis, Armando Mustiga and Linda Steggerda. Voting for the proposal were Bob Cuff and Ray Henderson.