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Planning Board Unanimously Backs Big Senior Complex Near Woodlands, Upsetting Many

| August 16, 2012

A standing-room-only audience heard Grand Haven developer Jim Cullis pitch the project of a big assisted living facility near the Woodlands in a hearing on Wednesday. The Palm Coast planning board recommended the project unanimously, to the displeasure of a majority of the crowd. (© FlaglerLive)

Several years ago Jim Cullis, the developer of Grand Haven—the sprawling gated community along Colbert Lane in Palm Coast—was approached by a couple of priests who were worried. A lot of elderly people who lived in Grand Haven, they told Cullis, would reach a certain age, then move out, no longer able to maintain n their households, to assisted living facilities in St. Augustine or Ormond Beach, because there aren’t enough of such facilities in Palm Coast. The Grand Haven residents didn’t like leaving their community and circle of friends, but had no choice, as Cullis told the story. Cullis’s idea: build them just such an assisted and independent living facility, within walking distance of Grand Haven itself.

The result: Grand Living, a 216-unit complex of about half a dozen buildings, some of them possibly rising 60 feet, surrounded by greenery and a 25,000 square foot shopping and commercial zone. All on Colbert Lane, just south of Palm Coast Parkway and the campus of Daytona State College. The project could be done by 2014. “I personally am in favor of the project if they do what they say they’re going to do,” a resident of the neighboring Woodlands. One of Palm Coast’s oldest and greenest neighborhoods, said.

But that’s the rub. The project has the Woodlands in a guarded uproar as residents there are almost all opposed to the project if it proceeds as planned—with an exit road onto Blare Drive, which crosses the relatively quiet Woodlands (and already is absorbing more traffic than Woodlands residents are comfortable with, because drivers from Colbert to Old Kings are using it as a short-cut). And with construction of some of the project on land currently zoned as conservation land, which means nothing can be built on it. Many residents along Blare Drive and other sections of the Woodlands had bought their homes on the assumption that the woods in the neighborhoods would remain as they are, in conservation.

But the Grand Living project entails rezoning 3.5 acres of conservation land to “mixed use” to enable the development, while converting other acreage in the area to conservation. The swap would more than compensate for the loss. But that’s not the issue to Woodlands residents. It’s the location of the lost conservation acreage that worries them—east and south of Blare Drive—and the proximity of the assisted living facility, its traffic and its building heights that they object to.

A standing-room-only crowd jammed the Palm Coast Community Center Wednesday evening to hear Cullis and his team make the case for the project to the Palm Coast planning board, and to have its own voices heard. The public response was by no means unanimously opposed to the project, and even those who opposed it did so with less animosity and a greater willingness to hear possibilities of compromise. They were responding to a couple of factors: Grand Haven is no stranger, nor is Jim Cullis. Both are vested in the community and have a reputation to maintain, and Cullis himself on repeated occasion projected a willingness to accommodate concerns rather than ram through a project, despite having most of the necessary land already designated for commercial development.

More than two hours into the hearing, and despite hearing a number of unresolved contradictions and unanswered questions surrounding the project, the planning board voted its unanimous recommendation in favor of Grand Living (it was a 6-0 vote). It’s a mere recommendation. But the proposal now goes before the Palm Coast City Council, which can use the planning board’s unanimity for cover despite the public opposition the project may still draw. It’s a matter of math: the number of residents affected are a relatively small group on the map, geographically and politically.

While the council has been known to backtrack and even radically reverse its own unanimous votes in the face of well-orchestrated public opposition (as it did in June, when it first approved, then killed, a 6 percent utility tax), it has done so only when the opposition reflected a large political base. Ironically, the utility tax reversal was driven by Grand Haven, the single most powerful political bloc in the city.

That’s where Woodlands residents may find their closest allies if they are to influence the Grand Living development their way, Grand Haven—which has its own elected Community Development District Bard of Supervisors, and acts as a quasi government—was instrumental in forcing a name change on Grand Living (from Grand Haven North), as Grand Haven didn’t want the direct association with the assisted living facility. On Wednesday, Stephen Davidson, who chairs the Grand Haven board of supervisors, made a detailed presentation of his own to the planning board that endorsed Grand Living in principle, calling some of its designs and concerns for conservation “admirable.”

“However,” Davidson said, “the devil, as they say, is in the details.” So Davidson, speaking for the board of supervisors, not only asked that the city make Grand Haven aware of all the development’s details as they proceed, but put them on notice regarding six issues of serious concern to Grand Haven: traffic from the new project would not only affect the Woodlands, but Colbert Lane, whose paths are heavily used by bicyclists and pedestrians. Grand Haven is looking to see those amenities enhanced, not compromised, by the new development. Davidson also reflected a worry echoed by Woodlands residents: if Cullis’s current project did not go ahead, would apartment buildings replace it, without restrictions on the age of tenants? No such alterations should be allowed, Stephens said. He also cited concerns about preservation of natural resources, the height of proposed buildings and other matters.

As Woodlands residents spoke one after the other, the most recurring concern (aside from the surprise announcement, by Cullis, of a future Publix in the area) was that exit from the complex onto Blare Drive. And it was left up to Matt Hathaway and his wife, who moved to the Woodlands because of its woods and quietness (they have three young children), to remind the board: “Make no mistake, you are rezoning conservation land.” He added, citing other available land in town for projects of that size: “It sounds like a great project but why build it in between two residential communities, because ultimately you’re punching it right in there.”

No fewer than 22 people addressed the board after Cullis, about three-quarter of them opposed to the project. “I realize this gentleman did invest in this property,” one Woodlands resident said, pointing to Cullis, “but so did everybody that lives in the Woodlands. We all invested in our homes.” That drew immediate applause. “And it’s named the Woodlands for a reason,” she said.

Another resident pointed out Cullis’s contradictions. “Several times he said that this property is really not good commercial, and probably one of the reasons that no commercial building has gone on there. But then on the other side the fear factor comes in and says if we don’t do this, you’re liable to get bars and gas stations and all this other kind of stuff. So what is really the truth?”

But there were also voices such as that of Cornelia Manfre, the commercial Realtor, and Irene McKenna, both Grand Haven residents, who lent their outright support for the project. “It would be very nice to know that an opportunity for gradually more extended care would be right here in the area we’ve all come to love,” McKenna said. “So I’m speaking on behalf of many of my friends and associates in Grand Haven, and we think this would be a very nice addition rather than the strip mall.”

Toward the end of the hearing, Cullis addressed one of the recurring concerns:  “I don’t like tall buildings either, but the answer is, until you get out there and figure out where all the trees are that you have to save, it’s hard to say how high the buildings need to be in order to build enough units to do the project nice and first class. I hope in the end they end up being two and three, four-story buildings, and we have room out there to build a nice community. I’m open to any suggestions from the planning commission on that.”

The planning board had virtually no suggestions. Its members raised a few cursory issues (Ray Tyner, the city’s chief planner, suggested that the project be made to have a certified arborist as opposed to a mere landscape architect, and to coordinate its designs with the city’s own arborist and landscape architect) but more often sounded like advocates for the project rather than overseers of the city’s interests or advocates for Woodlands residents. The unanimous vote, when it was taken, was by then not a surprise.

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28 Responses for “Planning Board Unanimously Backs Big Senior Complex Near Woodlands, Upsetting Many”

  1. Ben Blakely says:

    Weee! The planning board is licking its chops at the new funds it will have to play with.

    More conservation land removed as Palm Coast becomes a thick dense mass of development. Forget about any areas of green, quiet and darkness in the evening. Nature is to be dug up and covered over with concrete. They never learn.

    • Magnolia says:

      You are correct. This was a done deal long before this hearing and people here had better realize that. Your elected officials and many not elected but with big bucks pushed this one through fast and they already knew the outcome. Why do you think Mr. DeLorenzo wanted to be on the council? Why do you think Mr. Amaral, President of the Builders, wants to be on the council?

      Wake up, Palm Coast.

      If you don’t unelect most on your council and commission, Palm Coast is going to become a city of high development over on the water side because that is where the BIG MONEY is, that is why Mr. Cullis developed Grand Haven in the first place, to be a constant money machine for him. It was not for the beauty.

      Say good bye to the beautiful trees along Palm Harbor Parkway and along Colbert Lane. Where they graced the sky with their beauty, you are about to see tall buildings, lots of them, and these buildings are not going to bring reasonable housing, they are going to be very expensive because Mayor Netts and the Council have BIG DOLLAR signs in their eyes.

      Say goodbye to your beautiful little community. The developers are in charge.

  2. Sue Dickinson says:

    IF the City does it right and after hearing Mr. Cullis speak on radio today – the area is zoned commercial. Do we really want a Kangaroo sitting in the corner? Which would probably be sitting within the beautiful area of the Woods = “Woodlands?” But once again the more important part is if the city requires turn lanes and marking the present roads. And that they require the TREES to be left on the perimeter of the project therefore we will still have the WOODS with the project being in the center of the acerage. Not sure how the land design has been presented. But it could be a plus to our area.
    Now IF the original plan for that area had been developed we could have a community park on that property. With all of the negative news of the shootings etc that have been happening in our other parks perhaps a Senior center could be a plus.

  3. justice for all says:

    Flaglerlive nailed it with the observation staff is advocating this project. How can land that was determined by be conservation suddently become developable, but land that was developable now becomes conservation? Please keep digging, Flaglerlive!

  4. Umm says:

    Rather than developing all of this beautiful land and wasting millions of dollars on more buildings, wouldn’t it just make sense to buy the European Village, clean house of the all the scum that is there now, and go from there?! It used to be a beautiful space and still has the potential if the right owner/owners come in and revamp it. Plus, it has all the space needed for the elderly: indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, nice courtyard, store fronts to put places to shop and dine, and the living quarters are perfect for the elderly. it really could be their own little town in a space that is currently desolate and disgusting. We really don’t need any new buildings with all of the abandoned ones around here.

    • Magnolia says:

      Umm, because developers don’t care about what happens after they build. Just take a look at what the Mayor and council did to the marina and to European Village. Throw in the tennis courts where world class professionals used to play and you begin to see what is happening here. Nothing here is as it was promised in the planning.

      Wait for the development that is about to begin at the golf course, the one the manager promised he would take care of, the one he wanted to buy for the community. A developer is about to take that over and build high rises along the water in some of the most protected and pristine land in Palm Coast. Your Mayor knows about it, your manager knows about it, your council knows about it. Do you think they care or are thinking about how this will effect the community? Of course not. All they care about is more $$$$$$$$$ signs.

      Just take a look at town center. Do you see what you were promised there? Palm Coast is in the hands of very greedy politicians and developers. They want their pound of flesh and they will take it, without your approval.

      They will take it because they know that you won’t even show up and vote them out.

  5. Lori Speis Pfeiffer says:

    That is the Flagler way.

  6. Lonewolf says:

    Great job by the planning board. Much needed facilities and jobs.

  7. tulip says:

    I get the impression that this new assisted living place will be for Grand Haven residents only, so therefore they would have no interest in buying EV and remodeling it for all residents. It is also probably more profitable to the landowner, developers and builders to build it in Grand Haven and keep it more privately controlled.

    • Magnolia says:

      Tulip, oddly enough many in Grand Haven were not told about this hearing until YESTERDAY, one day too late. Nice work, Tom Lawrence.

      Palmcoastpionneers, Thank you. I know that the city has a policy against high density development, but they don’t seem to be following it. The Tidelands is an excellent example of this.

      I understand they will be changing the Comprehensive Plan soon. Make sure you are there to hear what they want to do.

  8. question says:

    Wow, shocker of all shockers.

    I must have be clairvoyant with my ‘Wonder why I think Grand Haven is will get whatever it wants’ previous post/prediction :) … :(

  9. Elaygee says:

    Write down the names of everyone oppossed to the project and make sure they do not ever get a place in an assisted living facility anywhere.

    • Magnolia says:

      Why would you say such a thing? Are you a builder, realtor or elected official? That’s more than a little harsh.

      I wouldn’t be so sure this is going to be an assisted living facility. A facility would already be allowed under current commercial zoning.

      Your planning commission and developers are attempting to change more than this zoning. The building density, perhaps?

      BIG MONEY at stake here.

  10. Harry says:

    The same people who want all the new facilities and jobs tend to be the same people who moved away from another area inundated with facilities and jobs which they couldn’t wait to get away from. They move to Palm Coast to escape it all, have a piece of paradise, only to promote the kind of development they had wanted to escape. Quickly on our way to becoming another N.J.

  11. Matt says:

    I say this will all due respect for the builders and hope if this project does move forward they will collectively work with the surrounding community and listen to their concerns.

    Regardless of what side of the argument you are on in this discussion, please don’t fall for basic rezoning tactics. It’s very clear the current FLU map conservation on that specific piece of property on Colbert and Blare makes it very difficult to build on AS IS. It’s been identified as a “bad” piece of commercial land by developers. Thus the reason NO ONE has built on it, attempted to build on it, or even bought with intentions of building it; until now. And they have to REZONE to do anything. In my opinion with the current zoning, that lot may never be built on. But that is just my opinion.

    With that said, let’s say someone did build on it with the current zoning it seems it could be no where the size of what’s being proposed. Just look at the current FLU map compared to the proposed FLU map. Simple math shows most of the land on the south side of the lot is un-buildable conservation overlay. Even if they built a Kangaroo, as mentioned, the proposed living facility is equivalent to building FIVE multistory Kangaroos! Also mentioned was a strip mall. How many more empty strip malls does Palm Coast need and why would any builder waste money on another?

    The question should be, do the residents of the area want possible one or two small commercial buildings on the corner or multibuiding/ mutilstory large residential/commercial development with potential staff/ residents commuting at all hours.

    It seems like the main leverage the city/developer are using in their recommendation to rezone is the argument that “The Current Future Potential is Worse Than The Grand Living Proposal”. Unfortunately it may be opposite and at no time have they proved their case on what “COULD” currently be there with specific plans or justifications. Just simple opinions and assumptions on what someone “MIGHT” do on that land in the future with the current zoning.

    I don’t disrespect the developer, the facility seems very functional and he seems to have respect for the environment in his plans. But no matter how nice they build it and how much they conserve, they CAN NOT minimize the negative impact bringing that high amount of people and traffic to that relatively quiet area of Palm Coast. We have hundreds of acres all over the city cleared and currently zoned ready for this type of project already.

    Rezoning conservation is a dangerous and slippery slope, especially for the Woodlands, Grand Haven and surrounding areas. Conservation land is the main attraction to that area of Palm Coast.

    The bottom line is that is seems clear in order to build ANYTHING feasible or justifiable on this particular piece of property, the conservation land must be rezoned. They obviously know this, or we would not be having this discussion and someone would have built on that land already.

  12. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Reply @Magnolia:

    Psychosocial Pollution

    At Palm Coast we persist in a design that is almost a fiat: 2.7 dwelling units per acre. Thus, as was earlier stated, we will have a city larger than Detroit or Philadelphia, with the density of , say, a Beverly Hills, California, rather then the malignant densities characteristic of the asphalt and concrete jungle. Why? Because ultra high density is cancerous.

    1972, Page 144, ‘…An Approach to a New City: Palm Coast..’

  13. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Reply @ Magnolia Addendum:
    ‘…Palm Coast will be neither a “sudden city’ nor an ‘instant’ one but will grow in accordance with a pre-planned program, no matter whether it flourishes twenty, thirty, or forty years from now. Palm Coast is a strip of land thirty miles long at its longest, ten miles wide at its widest, covering approximately 160 square miles. It is a fact that under the controls we will institute, despite its being larger in extent than Detroit or Philadelphia, it will have a density of say, Beverly Hills, California. But more on this later. Palm Coast has about six miles of ocean front, approximately twenty miles on the Intracoastal Waterway, and will have significant man made water areas. Again, these will be reviewed in the main body of the text.
    Now to a brief description of the terrain. Like other areas along the east coast of Florida, the property was formed primarily by sand dunes that have been build up by the interaction of winds, waves, tidal cycles, and ocean currents. This continued accretion of land as a repetitive process has caused the creation of lagoons between the new dune and the existing land mass. It is from these lagoon that the present salt water lagoons and marshlands evolved…’
    Page 128, ‘…An Approach to a New City: Palm Coast…’ 1972

  14. Clint says:

    Why is it this city can build 100 bike paths and big expensive “Welcome signs”, but can’t seem to bring in JOBS ? …………. Please let me sell my house and get out of here before the “Highrises” start filling the night skies. Palm Coast…Gods little waiting room is going to get a lot more seating and a lot less scenic !

  15. gator fan 4ever says:

    heaven’s waiting room.

  16. Magnolia says:

    Did anybody read the Observer this morning? This facility would consist of SEVEN four and five story buildings, including two commercial buildings and a smaller sales center.

    All this for 216 units? Who are these people trying to fool? Sorry, but this one doesn’t pass the smell test. This developer is not being truthful, not even close.

    How many more EMPTY buildings do we need in Palm Coast?

  17. Magicone says:

    This is needed for senior citizens, as well as employment for the citizens of Palm Coast.

    • Magnolia says:

      Magicone, how many more EMPTY buildings do we need in Palm Coast? We are giving up this beautiful, natural place to developers who put up concrete and empty buildings. For what? $$$$$$$

  18. PJ says:

    We can use the construction work and the low paying jobs here.

    However the most important thing you all in Grand Haven should really really be happy about is that at least it is not low income housing or cheap rentals like what was proposed up in the “L” section…….

  19. Ben Blakely says:

    The planning board screwed over Flagler Beach by putting a section 8 housing on the very border of PC and Flagler Beach.

    So why shouldn’t the planning board screw Palm Coast citizens as well?

    • Magnolia says:

      why should we let them get away with it? Come to the council meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 6:30pm, Community Center. This is going to be on the agenda.

      • ryan says:

        This happens because people are afraid to give reality based, not political arguments, at community meetings. It is called embarassing and exposing these politicians who sell out to redevelopment agencies. We are dealing with these arrogant, New York city attituded officials who have that “if you don’t like it, than tough” attitude, and have only contributed to this “not welcome” atmosphere in the town.

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