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County Seals Final Approval for Sea Ray Parking Plan, This Time With a Caution

| August 3, 2015

sea ray boats

Sea Ray’s victory Tuesday evening before the Flagler County Planning Board was less intense than its previous appearance before a local government board. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Commission’s unanimous vote approving Sea Ray Boats’s request for a zoning change went through as expected this morning, on second reading of the land use ordinance. But in contrast with their silent applause two weeks ago, commissioners this time appended a note of caution to Sea Ray with their vote.

“I feel that in the future, after this issue is settled,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said, “that I hope to be a part of a group of people that will be able to have discussions with Sea Ray about their future plans for expansion, and how they operate. And I hope that they’ll be a good corporate citizen in the community, and sit with citizens to talk about that and move forward.”

“I will be the first to say,” Commissioner George Hanns said, “if Sea Ray Boats attempts to do anything other than what the county and our county staff may approve, I will be the first one to bring that up. I’m not going to allow things to happen if approved that aren’t within that.”

The zoning change approves Sea Ray’s plan to build a large parking lot and possibly an office building south of its current property, a plan Flagler Beach as a city and property owners along nearby Lambert Avenue have opposed on several grounds. Opposition is centered on the largely unsubstantiated assumption that Sea Ray plans to do more than build a parking lot there. That it plans to expand its industrial capacities, an assumption Sea Ray has repeatedly denied. Opponents also cite the plant’s emission of styrene, a known carcinogen, and the noise that is expected to be generated in the parking lot, which will also be used as a turning area for large delivery trucks.

The company has sought to reassure neighbors that buffers will be in place to muffle sounds and sights, protecting property values and quality of life.

“I’m going to tell those folks that oppose what’s going on here, you had not a stronger ally than myself on this board,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said. But he went on to say that even as he met with the county administration to “see if there was some things we couldn’t do for you,” he spoke of great disappointment when he found out that one of the same members of the opposition was on a committee that had approved the zoning change, and had “moved closer to the plant that existed when he bought his first home.”

Previous stories are below.

County Commission Skips Discussion and Unanimously Approves Sea Ray Parking Plan

July 23–The deal is done. Ground can break and asphalt poured.

Less than a week after the Flagler County planning board reversed its earlier opposition and unanimously embraced Sea Ray Boats’s plan to expand its footprint through a vast parking lot south of its property off Colbert Lane, the Flagler County Commission did likewise Monday night, though the commission had never shown an inkling of opposition to the manufacturer’s plans.

Monday evening’s scenario was the culmination of a months-long process that involved land-use and zoning changes to enable the company to build a lot, and possibly an office building, on acreage that had previously been zoned for conservation. That was the heart of the controversy as residents along nearby Lambert Avenue in Flagler Beach protested that their quality of life and property values were being jeopardized by the county changing zoning that property owners thought was set in stone: that’s why they had bought their homes, or expanded them.

Lambert residents alone were not the opposition: the Flagler Beach City Commission passed a resolution opposing the plan, and city commissioner Jane Mealy, as impassioned this evening as she was last week before the planning board, made the case for that opposition.

If the county commission had any thoughts about the opposition’s arguments, it did not voice them. It took the vote immediately after public comment was over, without discussion. The measure passed, 5-0. (The commission must again approve the same measure in two weeks.)

Unlike previous public meetings on this and related issues, the public comment period was reduced to just a few supporters and a few opponents of the project, a concession to what one of the opponents, Roseanne Stocker, put in words: “Everyone in this room knows how you’re going to vote today.” The commission itself had made that clear weeks ago when it first approved Sea Ray’s land use change, speaking enthusiastically of the company, its economic force in the county, its large corps of well-paid employees (some 650, making Sea Ray the second or third-largest private employer in the county).

The vote was followed by related hearings on the company’s site plan for the planned unit development, but similar results: unanimous approval to two related measures. Since this was a vote on an ordinance, a second reading, and a second vote, is required, but that will be a formality in two weeks.

The previous story is below.

This Time Planning Board Gives Unanimous Yes to Sea Ray’s Zoning for Parking Expansion

July 14–In a sharp switch from its previous opposition to a planned parking lot expansion  by Sea Ray Boats at its plant off Colbert Lane in Palm Coast, the Flagler County Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to grant Sea Ray’s request for a zoning change. Though merely advisory, the vote is the next-to-last regulatory hurdle for Sea Ray, with the measure going to the County Commission next, before the company can break ground on the 24 acres south of Sea Ray’s plant.

It was a more low-key and moderately attended hearing than Sea Ray’s last appearance before a Flagler Board—in March, when hundreds of people packed sections of all three floors of the Government Services Building to watch and address the Flagler County Commission ahead of a unanimous vote in favor of Sea Ray’s plans.

Then as now, the issue was a technical step in land rules Sea Ray had to clear. In March, the commission approved changing the county’s land use of the parcel in question and conveying that change for approval in turn from the state, before the commission again ratifies the measure at its July 20 meeting. Tonight, the application the planning board was faced with regarded a zoning change, though it was oddly phrased, at least on paper: from planned unit development to planned unit development. In more laymen’s terms, the change affecting much of the land was from low density residential or conservation to high density commercial.

A dozen people addressed the planning board, evenly split between supporters and opponents of the proposal. Proponents included Flagler County Chamber President Rebecca DeLorenzo, who described the proposal as a “simple, straight-forward request without hidden agendas,” and Jan Reeger, the Realtor, who spoke of the proposal as an additional endorsement of economic development that’s working—as opposed to development that’s promised.

Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy conveyed her commission’s opposition, formalized in a resolution, in the strongest language of the evening (she at one point said the county’s chief planner was sounding as if he were “talking from both sides of his mouth”). Mealy focused on quality of life matters, claiming the boat plant’s emissions of styrene foul the air and damage the city’s mission to ensure ecotourism and clean living, a focus a Sea Ray official later criticized for being misplaced, as it did not address the parking lot and the company’s stated intention not to increase production.

That disagreement between opponents and proponents of the Sea Ray plan was a recurring feature of the evening’s statements, as it was in March. The parking lot is needed for the convenience and safety of employees, Craig Wall, the Sea Ray plant manager, said. “No manufacturing expansion,”  he stressed, recalling the time when Sea Ray was situated on an expanse of industrial land, only to now be “an industrial island.”

“We didn’t ask for that,” Wall said.

Opponents of the plan, namely residents of nearby Lambert Avenue in Flagler Beach, said they didn’t ask for a neighboring operation that was changing the land use in place when they’d bought their homes—a change they fear will affect their quality of life and the value of their homes. Planning Board member Mark Langello raised questions about property values before the vote, though Adam Mengel, the county’s planning director, said buffers will ensure protection—environmentally and for values.

“I am concerned about the neighborhood here,” Langello said, but he said “you really can’t tell” that the plant is nearby. He predicted that the project will be more of a positive than a negative in the future, with the natural tree line in place. That tree line would disappear if homes were built there. He was almost in a hurry to motion for a vote to approve the application before he was reined back by Russ Reinke, the planning board chairman: other board members still wanted to have their say.

It didn’t take much longer. Most board members spoke of their previous opposition to project, but explained that they were opposed to the land use change, which has since been approved by the county and the state. That being the case, they were not in a position to deny the zoning change absent compelling reasons, which none of them found in the documentation and presentations by the county planning staff.

Roseanne Stocker, a leader of the opposition, had argued that the project “does not meet the definition or the criteria of a PUD,” referring to a planned unit development, because it’s an industrial expansion, not a commercial expansion, she said, citing contradictions in the county’s staff report to the same account and describing the planned parking lot as one “two and a half times the size of a Walmart parking lot.” She cast doubt on Sea Ray’s word that all the expansion is limited to a parking lot, not to production. “We can’t keep violating our own comprehensive plan. We have to live by our own letter of the law,”  she said.

But the planning board proved unconvinced by that line of thinking. The vote was taken just after 8 p.m., some two hours into the hearing, triggering a faint smattering of applause. The Sea Ray matter wasn’t entirely over for the evening, but the next measure, approval of the site plan for the parking lot, was more a formality.

The planning board’s vote is advisory rather than binding. The binding vote is that of the county commission, later this month.

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3 Responses for “County Seals Final Approval for Sea Ray Parking Plan, This Time With a Caution”

  1. Jan Reeger says:

    I actually felt a sense of relief when I left the Chambers. We must preserve and support our large employer who was effectively making an innocuous request. Sadly, our County has failed to bring in any other similarly significant business or industry. Sea Ray is a vital asset.

  2. Dwferg says:

    Sanity and reasonableness meets prudent support of the County’s most responsible corporate employers who add considerable value to the manufacturing , commercial Tax base so desperately lacking in this area !
    The issue is JOBS , you know the thing we need here to progress beyond retiree $ and construction dependency/ real estate transactions…

  3. Jt says:

    Most local politicians are influenced by Corporate groups who wave perks in front of them for the taking …warning that jobs, taxes will be lost if they don’t approve their project. The COC ‘kids’ join the party, and after the citizens are betrayed….some Corporate pseudo executive thanks the ‘Commissioners’ for being a Corporate leader. Do they vote?

    Another recent case, a hotel in the Hammock, no water, sewer, plus terms of original sale to residents here breached. Deed and platt restrictions ignored. Yet despite this some Commissioners say…it’s about time we did something there and they approve it. All such terms and conditions of this fiasco are now being watched very closely by the Community, we can’t rely on most of the BOCC.

    The PUD banner is much too discretionary….and it is clear this County does not know how to manage it.

    It’s time our CA and his job lieutenant do their jobs and get additional employment diversity and tax revenues here following a consistent process in the County.

    Cheers to new facility expansion and jobs, jeers to the existing process , it’s loopholes and those who not qualified to manage it.

    I am appalled at such

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