The Palm Coast City Council is not yet ready to approve Old Kings Village, a planned 205-home development on 60 acres on Old Kings Road, 2.5 miles south of State Road 100. The proposed development is within a short distance of Polo Club West, an equestrian community significantly less dense and more lush than would be its neighboring “Village.” Residents of Polo Club West are objecting to the Village, absent wider buffers and other safeguards.
The development requires a two-step regulatory change: the approval of a comprehensive plan amendment, then a rezoning. The council approved both on first reading in mid-October, but has since faced strong objections from residents of Polo Club West, whose attorney, Dennis Bayer, made a forceful case against approval as the proposal currently stands.
The council agreed to delay consideration of both steps until jan. 2, hoping that the developer, who is represented by attorney Michael Chiumento, and Polo Club West residents, represented by attorney Dennis Bayer, work out their differences. Attempts to resolve those differences previously have not been successful, with a Polo Club West resident involved in those attempts describing them as “little contact on return calls, no substantive progress,” and Bayer describing them in no more encouraging terms.
He had some communications with Chiumento, but no response on the buffer. “We want a 25 foot vegetative buffer. they’re proposing a 10 foot vegetative buffer,” Bayer said. “They said we’ll have a 25 foot buffer, but their 25-foot buffer includes swales and other infrastructure. It’s not a true buffer. A buffer is a visual, opaque, vegetative process that there needs to be a design. We haven’t even seen how many trees they’re talking about per linear foot as part of this buffer we’ve asked for.” A 25-foot buffer is standard statewide, whether for wetlands or next to higher, incompatible uses, Bayer said.
He also put little stock in the fact that a state review of the proposal generated no question. “Just because this process went up to Tallahassee and came back with no no comments really has no significance,” Bayer said. “Tallahassee stopped giving meaningful review to comp plan amendments years ago, so I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on that.” (The state agency that used to review comprehensive plan amendments is a shell of its former self, and the reviewing process is itself all but meaningless: comprehensive plan amendments are now routinely approved.)
City policy requires attention to buffers when the density between two areas is significantly different. “You have a tenfold increase in density on the proposed project and the properties and Polo Club west,” Bayer said.
City Council member Theresa Pontieri said the extra buffer would help with the compatibility, but she turned to city staff to define that compatibility. Ray Tyner, the city’s chief planner, said the proposal as submitted fulfills the compatibility requirement.
To Chiumento, the project was approved years ago by the county as a larger development, which is now being scaled down slightly. “There have been issues of buffers along old Kings Road,” he said. “It’s one of the concessions that we’ve made. We too would like to maintain the natural landscape rather than a finished landscape buffer, so that when you go down Old Kings Road that old Florida style is still there. So that is in the plan, too. As it relates to the buffer between this development the other, the actual buffer has been increased and improved.” For example, he said, a fence will be installed, with landscaping.
The county is concerned about accessing the northern boundary of the proposed development, for an eventual trail. Chiumento said that has been addressed as well.
Chiumento also strongly disputed Bayer’s characterization of the proposed development’s density. “This project is less than what was approved by the county, more than I think 15 or 16 years ago, before anything was developed out there,” he said. But Bayer did not pull back from his characterization.
John Duncan, a property owner whose land is immediately adjacent to the proposed development, said the negotiations between the Polo Club residents and the developer have been unsuccessful. “No substantive good faith progress has really been made on the necessary issues that we feel is required to bring these two vastly incompatible developments together,” Duncan said, referring to months of such attempts. The 25-foot buffer, he said, had been spelled out in the previous Planned Unit Development.
He was also concerned about access roads from the proposed development that would connect to Polo Club West’s private road. “That’s the equivalent of a city or a county coming to your house and saying we need to put a 20 foot gravel access road through your front yard to access your neighbor’s property. It’s like, no, that’s your property, no easement,” Duncan said.
Bob Atack, another resident of Polo Club West and an attorney, said his community has not fought the developer’s process or vested rights. “All we have looked for are the protections that were granted to our shared property line as part of that original PUD. That PUD was in place when people invested millions of dollars in the Polo Club West,” Atack said. “These are existing residents of Flagler County. It’s a point that’s been made. But you sat here as a council and you told the developer to start working with us and get that buffer figured out. And they told us they were going to do that on September 11. And it’s just not a hard thing to work out.”
It hasn’t been worked out. It’s not clear how the council’s latest directive to the developer and Polo Club West once again to work things out will lead to a more satisfactory resolution, which worries the residents. “It is concerning because every time we come to one of these meetings,” Atack said, “these issues are brought up, direction is provided, and nothing happens but approval is still granted and the process continues to move forward.” That, he said, means residents “are being discounted.”