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Court Injunction Sought to Stop Palm Coast’s Tree Removal Around Palm Harbor Center

| August 9, 2013

Close to 400 trees may be removed in and around the Palm Harbor shopping center. Many would be replanted elsewhere. (© FlaglerLive)

Close to 400 trees may be removed in and around the Palm Harbor shopping center. Many would be replanted elsewhere. (© FlaglerLive)

Two major changes are about to remake the heart of old Palm Coast, which used to be defined by the area around the Palm Harbor shopping center—if an injunction filed Thursday in Flagler County Circuit Court doesn’t derail the plans.

The city is about to widen 1.23 miles of Palm Coast Parkway to six lanes, from Cypress Point Parkway to Florida Park Drive. And the shopping center will be put through a make-over that will significantly reduce green buffers, remove almost 400 trees, demolish some buildings and erect new ones, increasing the commercial density of the 180,000-square-foot commercial center. The current owner of the shopping center, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based Inland Group (which also owns Imagine School at Town Center) may sell the property to a Jacksonville-based retailer that has plans for a Bath Bed & Beyond and a Dick’s Sporting Goods, both of which would change the complexion of the shopping center from its quaint if rundown character to a run-of-the-mill boxy, angular strip mall.

The city has received only three conceptual plans for the development so far, which you can see here. None is an official site plan, the city stresses.

But both projects are advanced enough that the trees on the property and its right-of-ways have been surveyed, some are already being moved, and some, or many, may be cut down, moved or replaced down the line as the shopping center and its parking lot are rebuilt.

That’s what prompted Dennis McDonald, a Palm Coast resident, former county commission candidate and perennial critic of city and county governments, to file an injunction against the city Thursday to stop the projected tree removal.

“One of the major contributing reasons my family and I chose to relocate with an eye towards eventual retirement in the city of Palm Coast in 1998 was the aesthetic environment created by the provisions in the [planned unit development, or PUD] creating privacy, green spaces and a canopy of trees visible from the road while driving through Parkway East,” McDonald wrote in an affidavit accompanying the injunction. “The removal of the trees and reduction of setbacks planned by the City of Palm Coast, or any other third party, would largely destroy the originally intended aesthetic environment, leaving strip malls, parking lots and other obtrusive and commercial features visible while coming into and traversing through the city, enjoying and patronizing its stores, offices and restaurants.”

Click to see the three conceptual plans for the Palm Harbor Shopping Center.

Click to see the three conceptual plans for the Palm Harbor Shopping Center.

The city acknowledges in its widening plans that trees will be removed, but also that more trees will be replanted than will be removed, albeit not all in the same area. For example, many palm trees being removed are to be replanted at Waterfront Park and at the Indian Trails Sports Complex, says Bill Butler, the city’s landscape architect, but many will also be replanted along the widened road, just as the Palm Harbor retailer—whoever that proves to be—will be required to replant trees.

McDonald’s injunction raises three central points: first, that the tree removal is changing the character of that older part of Palm Coast, a character that attracted many people to the city. Second, that the city is enabling the replacement of mature, stately and canopy-producing trees with much younger trees, defeating the purpose of the long-standing greening of the area. Third, McDonald argues that the city is violating covenants and restrictions it inherited from the ITT days.

McDonald says those covenants are still in effect. The city disagrees.

“Old ITT covenants are really not in effect anymore, as far as I know. We go by the land development code,” Butler said. The code supplanted the covenants when the city incorporated in 1999. Bill Reischmann, the city’s attorney, did not respond to an email and phone call Friday morning.

Dennis McDonald. (© FlaglerLive)

Dennis McDonald. (© FlaglerLive)

McDonald, Butler said, “is so off base” in his projections of what will take place in the Palm Harbor shopping area, because “we haven’t approved anything. We haven’t even seen anything,” other than conceptual plans. Once firmer plans are submitted, the city will review them formally, ensuring that as many trees as possible are protected (“we did tell them they should consider saving as many trees as possible,” Butler said). The city council does not have to formally approve development plans that entail tree removals. Those plans are reviewed and approved internally as part of the city’s development orders.

The white stripes that people can see now, around virtually every tree in and around the shopping center, are survey strips. They don’t mean that the trees will be cut down or removed, necessarily.

But several old laurel oaks in front of the Wells Fargo bank will be cut down, McDonald said. Butler acknowledged that they will, but noted that those trees are not a long-lived species, and that in an urban environment they develop stresses that aren’t always seen by the naked eye. “There’s just no way we can leave those,” Butler said, though he’s not happy about seeing them go.

The injunction’s legal argument is grounded on internal development orders the administration approved regarding two separate parcels, in February and March, that approved variances to setbacks allowing the cutting down of trees. The city’s actions, the court action claims, “was taken without the city council’s passage of variances following recommendation(s) from the Planning and Land Regulation Board or Architectural Review Committee, pursuant to the original Planned Unit Development filing, and in contradiction of the original CNRs.”

“CNRs” are the covenant and restrictions dating back to the ITT days. One such restriction forbids the removal of trees larger than 4 inches absent approval from the committee. But that committee no longer exists. The city disbanded it, and now has its own processes in place, though many other provisions of the covenant are still in effect—such as restrictions on exterior paint colors on houses, a restriction formalized by city ordinance. But McDonald claims the city is violating both its covenants and a 2003 Planned Unit Development enacted in 2003, four years after the city incorporated.

He’s seeking injunctive relief because he says residents of that area of town, who moved there largely because of its green appearance, will be irreparably damaged by the impending tree removal, and will see their property values fall. “It is in the public interest that this court grants preliminary and permanent injunctive relief the preventing [sic.] defendant from taking the arbitrary and unlawful actions cited above,” the action states.

“What we’re saying is that there’s no relief this court can provide, no monetary relief that can make us whole,” says Joshua Knight, the Palm Coast attorney McDonald hired. “The only thing to provide is to stop plans they have to tear down the trees or modify the roadways.” He added: “I’m hopeful that we can at least bring attention to what’s going on. At the end of the day the citizens are not being listened to. It’s the will and the need of a few who are being listened to, in my opinion.”

Download the Complaint for Injunctive Relief

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17 Responses for “Court Injunction Sought to Stop Palm Coast’s Tree Removal Around Palm Harbor Center”

  1. East Sider says:

    Take paradise and put up a parking lot. If all this goes through, we were had when we picked Palm Coast.
    We’re with you 100%, Mr. McDonald

  2. confidential says:

    Our home is just 4 blocks from the Palm Harbor Shopping Center and I can’t figure out how come the city approves the change in these development plans without the proper prior public meetings in something that will affect in such a negative way the value of our homes and the pleasure watch and walk under the tree canopy. Look at the non existing set back city allowed for the ABC Liquors also Walgreens, Bank and Racetrack in the median Parkway East of 95. Now they want to transform the rest as well in a traffic alley in total violation with the original ITT plan presented to us when we bought our homes here before 1999. Bill Butler says we told them to the new owners of the PH Center that trees should be preserved….Oh yes like they told Centex for the destruction of the original Palm Coast Resort and were words in the wind?Maybe we should rename PC Pkwy, Traffic Alley. City says they modified the PUD after 1999, based in what..? Those rigged meetings, were one plan was long discussed with the residents and approved and another one showed up in the files and implemented by the City Development Department officials? When did we, the surrounding residents ever approved the uprooting of all those half centenary Oaks and luscious tropical shrubbery cultivated and cared for since before 1975 to make room for the disgrace Palm Coast Resort barren parcel we see today? Maybe we are all to ask again to Mr. Canfield, then decider city Mayor of back then? We were present in all those meetings for Palm Coast Resort but the results were rigged too.
    Not only we lost our original Sheraton ITT/Palm Coast Resort Hotel, Restaurant, Bar and Marina we lost the 300 jobs for this city, that approved under wraps the current bunch of elite apartments and an unsightly square box of parking structure sticking up like a sore middle finger, to us all. How our elected officials can get away with it? Now I am learning that they quietly approved a bunch of condos to be developed in the called Raccoon Island of the overpass in Club House Drive. Now where their sewage is going to discharge? In the overloaded, overflowed in heavy rain days, insufficient, Club House Drive lift station?
    Best success to Dennis McDonald on his justified injunction we should all support him..

  3. Citizen says:

    Drive through the shopping center and look at all the trees that are tagged to be removed. Use your imagination on what this place will look like without those trees. Would you like this proposed development to continue and change the appearance of Palm Coast and make it look like other tacky Florida communities?

    • Nancy N. says:

      Note in the article that no actual trees have been selected for removal, because a site plan hasn’t been determined yet for the development. The white tags are survey markers, nothing more.

  4. Citizen says:

    All those proposed big box stores should move to town center and leave Palm Coast Parway area the way it is. The town center was built for this type of developments.

  5. Shocked, I tell you... says:

    Thank you, Mr. McDonald, for trying to save our trees. This City could not give a damn about what the community feels about this. The only people who matter here are developers and they have largely raped some of our best landmarks in this area. As I recall, when Town Center was developed the Mayor stated that it would be the site of all future development. We are not seeing that happen.

    I may be in the minority here, but our Palm Harbor Shopping Center is one of the early landmarks of this area. It used to have a beautiful fountain in the center with running water and shops and restaurants. I have been watching the shop owners leaving due to incredibly high rent. Was this a ‘force out’ so it could be sold? I understand that landowners have the right to build, but the community should have the say in maintaining the look of the neighborhood. This will ruin it, in my humble opinion. This is part of the historical end of Palm Coast; it needs to be preserved. The trees need to be saved.

    In my view, you should build your Bed, Bath and Beyond and Dick’s Sporting Goods over at Town Center where you promised you will build things like this. That last thing we need at Palm Harbor is any more empty big box stores.

    Just my 2 cents. Thank you, Mr. McDonald.

  6. Popo3984 says:

    Once again somebody trying to stop development in palm coast mr McDonald the old palm coast is gone we need more of a tax base in this county with more retail if you don’t like the city is doing there are 67 other counties in fl that I’m sure will fit your needs.

    • Shocked, I tell you... says:

      To Popo: As I read this, the issue here has absolutely nothing to do with the tax base and everything to do with property laws. We’re with you, Mr. McDonald.

      Citizens DO have rights.

  7. m&m says:

    People complaim because of the grid lock on Palm Coast Pky and complain when it comes to fixing the problem.. Come on folks give it a chance to work. I know you don’t trust Landon to do anything but give it go .. Live a little.. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

    • Margaret says:

      this is NOT small stuff. they r destroying beautiful Palm Coast. Let people slow down, that is the small stuff. If u do not like, move while u r still able.

  8. John Galt says says:

    Where is the Enviromental Protection Agency for Palm Coast. Go get them Dennis.

  9. trebor says:

    Good luck Mr. McDonald . . .unfortunately the profit line of out of comunity, county asnd state inteerests will always control Palm Coast until the residents wake up. I don’t see that ever happening.

  10. anonymous says:

    I’ve pretty much grown up in Palm Coast well over two decades to be exact. I don’t like seeing all the big changes myself. But come on? Unless this Gentleman lives in a treehouse and wears clothes made from Hemp and rides a bike everywhere I think he needs something else to keep busy with to fill the void in his life besides this issue. Unless I missed it no one seems to care about the retailers in the Plaza being displaced. From what I understand Publix is the only one with a secured space there after its all said and done. It’s more like “Old McDonald should buy a farm EE-I-EE-I-O”.

  11. Joey says:

    Get rid of the Red Light Cameras, not the trees!

  12. Shocked, I tell you... says:

    Very interesting to me that none of our local papers have covered this before today. The News Journal finally did a story, about the trees, completely missing the matter of the violation of the covenants and restrictions….valid property laws they are violating.

    Congratulations, Flagler Live, you are the only source of accurate reporting in Flagler County.

    Tony Holt, I would advise you to read the suit.

  13. dogman says:

    Bring back Henrys !!!!! This project is going to turn out just like the centex flop!!!!!

  14. Anonymous Resident says:

    I lived in PC…before that I grew up in what was the quaint Flagler County. We’ve lost a lot of trees and Precious Indian Burial grounds to PC development, now that you’ve installed homes in between trees and developed the beautiful surroundings; you want to cut down more trees. For the sake of development and the ever increasing development, build “around” them. Let us breathe! Bring in BIG industry to help our population prosper so our children will want to stay here and raise their families.

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