“Treasured, Embattled Whispering Meadows Ranch Has New Home as County Seals Partnership Deal,” went the headline a little over a year ago.
It does not.
The plan collapsed in January when Brad Richardson, chief of the division of state lands at the state Department of Environmental Protection, informed the county that the department would not approve the lease arrangement.
That leaves Whispering Meadows, the equine therapy ranch operating as a non-profit off John Anderson Highway for the past 16 years, again in limbo at that location, where neighbors are objecting to its presence. The ranch is looking for a home of its own elsewhere.
Flagler County officials and the ranch’s attorney had kept the collapse quiet for the last four months in hopes of finding a new location and announcing the development then, as positive news, and also in hopes of not again riling the small but acrid group of residents who have objected to the ranch’s presence, among them John Tanner, the former state attorney who lives on John Anderson.
All along, the county had cautioned that the move to the county fairgrounds, which are owned by the state as public lands, was contingent on the state signing off on the lease arrangement. The county thought it would be more of a formality than a hurdle, though county attorneys qualified their statements even then.
It was not a formality. The state objected to the ranch’s religious component and to the fact that the facility would essentially privatize a section of the fairgrounds. The only alternative would have been for the ranch to operate as a public park, open to all, including during its lessons for the disabled, when privacy is at a premium. The ranch could not compromise its mission to that extent.
“We are looking for a piece of property to purchase on our own and then be able to be a little bit more independent,” Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach attorney representing Whispering Ranch, said on Monday. “The recommendation of staff was they didn’t think the lease should be approved, we just decided it wouldn’t be worth pursuing at this point.”
In fact, it was what Assistant County Attorney Sean Moylan described as a “hard no” from the state that forced the county to pull back. The proposal was to go before the governor and the Florida Cabinet for approval. There were three attempts to schedule it for a hearing there between late 2022 and December.
“Once it gets on the agenda with the governor and his cabinet, it’s basically slated for approval, but we couldn’t get to that point,” Moylan said.
On Jan. 27, Richardson wrote Mike Lagasse, the county’s land manager, referring to the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees public lands: “The Department will not be moving forward to approach the Governor and Cabinet with the proposed Lease Amendment to revise the purpose. Given the fact that the premise for which the lease was granted, it is important to maintain said purpose to just public recreation and not revise in any way.”
Whispering Meadows, a Christian-based non-profit open to all denominations or non-denominations, had operated on the 5.4-acre property of its owners, Mary Helene and Richard Davis, for almost 14 years without an objection by the county, without issues with neighbors, some of whom did not even know of its existence. The ranch is in back of the house on the property, nearer the Intracoastal side, buffered by woods and kept immaculately clean. The ranch has innumerable relationships with local schools and non-profits, providing equine therapy to children and adults with disabilities, and to veterans or others suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions. Therapy sessions are quiet by necessity. The birds are louder than the horses. Passing motorboats on the Intracoastal are louder than the birds.
In 2021, what started as a whisper campaign against the ranch, through anonymous letters, raised objections to its presence, citing deed restrictions and its lack of a special exception from the county to run the non-profit there. Both objections were accurate. While the county had never raised an objection, it hadn’t done so by negligence, not by allowance. The ranch did not have the necessary legal documentation to be there. But it operated there on the same principle that a couple together for a certain period of time is recognized as married by common law, especially absent objections.
The whisper campaign soon solidified as a more in-the-open opposition led by Tanner, with references to a failed real estate sale in the ranch’s neighboring lot that was blamed on the ranch (the real estate agent is married to Jay Gardner, the property appraiser, a couple that also lives on John Anderson).
The ranch applied for a special exception. In the run-up to that hearing before the County Commission, the county’s planning board unanimously recommended approval after a wrenching hearing that included some of the ranch’s clients testifying before the board. The commission was not interested in a repeat–or in being put in the position of saying No to disabled children.
Pre-empting the special exception process, the county in May 2021 tabled the commission hearing and came up with the proposal of donating land at the county fairgrounds, enabling the ranch to have more room and to operate without neighbor issues. The county was to prepare the way legally and physically, to some extent. It looked like a resolution all sides could embrace, and did. The fairgrounds idea soon gained momentum.
Behind the scenes, things weren’t going as well.
“They did mention the religious thing I think once,” Moylan said, “but it was more about their concern that we were privatizing a portion of public property. They wanted it to remain open to the public. More so basically at all times, it being public land. And so all along our lease with Whispering Meadows was conditioned upon getting that approval. When we finally got a hard No, we had to figure out what do we do now.”
Bayer was surprised by the state’s rejection. “There was no legal determination, but we working with the staff sent several letters to the state agency people saying, we don’t proselytize, we don’t preach, we don’t push, we are a non-profit, we are a Christian organization but we don’t push our faith on anyone. We are open to any person that may have a disability that qualifies for our program.”
No one is blaming the county. “We’re on good terms with the county, we think the county pushed for us,” Bayer said, “it seemed like it wasn’t working out with the state and everyone thought it was best to look elsewhere.”
Two years ago the county had also offered Whispering Ranch a parcel off of Old Dixie Highway that the county owns outright. But it’s low-lying land that would have required a prohibitively expensive amount of fill to bring up to standard. The county proposed the K2 Ranch in western Flagler as another option. But it’s remote, and it rents out space to all comers, which would make Whispering ranch’s work difficult.
Where does that leave the ranch now? It’s operating from its John Anderson location on a scaled back schedule, Bayer said, and it’s looking for land.
“We are in a little bit of a limbo, honestly,” Moylan said. “We held any code enforcement in abatement while we were waiting on the approval from the state. When that was denied, we then said hey, we need to find an alternative. And that’s when we looked into the K2 ranch. When they told us that didn’t work for them, we called a meeting and said okay, what are you doing, because the status quo can’t go on forever. There are some neighbors who are not happy about them being there. I don’t know the extent of that opposition. But we do know there’s at least a few. So we haven’t given them some sort of ultimatum. But we did we did say okay, well, you do need to find something, and we had a meeting I think maybe two weeks ago, somewhat recently. And we’ve got another one scheduled I think in June or July as a follow up to say okay, where are you now, because they have to actually purchase land, depending on what they purchase. They’ll probably have to make improvements and get it up and running. It’s going to take some time.”
Contacted on Tuesday, Tanner said he would not be unleashing the opposition again, exactly, but he said he didn’t want to leave the impression that the ranch should take “an unreasonable amount of time” to find an alternative. “It’s been three years now,” he said (it’s actually been closer to two).
“Everyone that was in opposition is all for what they do, and in fact some of them had even contributed it, others had worked there or had family members that worked there, like I did, and wanted them to succeed,” Tanner said. “We didn’t want to break the protection of the residential zoning here. Once you break that for any business, it opens the door for such things as halfway houses, congregate living, things like that. The concern was that they not make an exception that opens the door.”
Tanner said the county was likely to soon own land that would be very suitable for the ranch. “There’s a good likelihood it will in the reasonably near future become available, and if so, it’s even better suited than the fairgrounds,” Tanner said, without elaborating. In the meantime, however, he said it’s the ranch’s responsibility to lease land somewhere, it the purchase is not readily available. “It’s really up to them, they shouldn’t depend upon the county.” He said the land the county may soon own would enable to ranch to grow considerably. “There’s not a person who is in support and who is opposing this that doe not want this business to prosper and to grow and to serve even more kids,” Tanner said.
For the county, there are no plans to re-start the special exception process.
“We want to avoid having a public hearing,” Moylan said, recalling the planning board hearing. “It was it was awful. I mean, it was raucous. It was everything a hearing should not be. It was rowdy and loud. And there were cheers and applause and they were parading the disabled children up to the dais and it didn’t leave me with a good feeling, and we certainly don’t want to put our commissioners in an awkward position where they’re going to have to either allow these poor kids to have some therapy or not based on legalities and things like that. We’re trying to work with them. We’re hoping they they find something.”
Is there a web-based donation account setup anywhere for the hoped-for purchase? GoFundMe or the like?
If anyone knows, please post.
Also, please stop quoting Tanner … it’s nauseating.
So people moved there and found out afterwards about the ranch? What is the objection? What does the ranch need to do to comply with any code issues? A web based fund could solve the cost.
But I have a feeling that the complainers are simply entitled libs who don’t want to associate with us common folk.
Just a thought says
Nice try but John Tanner was a republican State Attorney and I would bet most of his neighbors are republican as well.
Nephew Of Uncle Sam says
I’ll guarantee those complainers are not “libs”, as you put it.
Entitled Boomer Right wing wackos
Truth Justice and Hope says
The article states that the main compaintant is former state attorney John Tanner. Tanner’s record in that position is conservative, not liberal. The article also states that the reason for Tanner’s complaint is due to a real estate deal falling through partly due to the ranch’s presence in the area
Celia Pugliese says
You are wrong as people were living there long before the ranch arrived…I know some of those neighbors. One family already sold and moved away already given the way John Anderson is going. Please do not make offensive comments about those neighbors is not fair. The ranch will find out a new location sooner or later.
busy body neighbors- just shut up!
To bad, hope they find a location.
As a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, you can donate at https://www.whisperingmeadowsranch.org/donate/
Please do so – this is an invaluable resource for anyone with special needs!
And if you know of available space, please let the staff at Whispering Meadows know –
Thank you, Lynne. Done and Done! I can’t offer a lot, but what I can, I did :)
They mean “privatize public land” in the Captain’s BBQ sense of that phrase?
Excellent point !
The truth says
Or as in graham swamp where select individuals can operate a “non profit” for personal gain. There is one guy up there under Heidi petito named frank barbuti who has zero concept of what public land is. And if you look deep enough his name is behind all this…. He likes putting people that can profit and business such as Captains on public land.. this guy has a history of stepping in it with zero accountability. the controversy over princess place with the conferderate flag where he ok’d that. Info was brought to him about scroupulous practices and he acted bothered by the facts that monetary gains were being put ahead of citizens access and accessibility. And I’m not sure it’s malicious as much of him and his crew not having to do the work and maintain these parcels of county properties that he pawns off to others. Regardless it’s bad business for the county and this issues keep happening with a select department. Parks and rec. and the worst part is. Heidi knows how crooked this county is. Ask her about the paramedic program that was closed down under don petition due to cheating and falsifying document under one of there instructors. The good ole boy system is in full swing in Flagler. And has been for decades. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news..
Allen Rush says
Religious outreach programs are (usually) positive experiences for participants, but they are NOT therapy programs. You have to be a licensed healthcare provider to offer therapy of any kind. Would you go to – or take your child to – a very nice but uneducated and unlicensed person who called themself a doctor?
There is an example of HORRIBLE, GREEDY lowlife neighbors! They should be FORCED TO MOVE instead of a horse ranch that does God’s good deeds for the disabled. May God punish them for their evil ways.
“…and also in hopes of not again riling the small but acrid group of residents who have objected to the ranch’s presence, among them John Tanner, the former state attorney who lives on John Anderson.”
Shame on you people, I would rather have a horse ranch as a neighbor, than you, especially a bottom feeding lawyer. The best part is, some developer will buy up the land, build a bunch of homes, make a lot of noise, create traffic problems and take a couple of years, if not more, to complete the project.
How does Tanner, sleep at night, let alone look at himself in the mirror ?
Celia Pugliese says
The complainers have also a fair case as the ranch in spite its large parcel iis located in a residential zone (thought its work is commendable) will open the can of worms for any other commercial entity to have the right to be approved. Yesterday I had to negotiate a large semi transport the type 40 foot container in my narrow residential street unloading boxes on a home, something that happens often as looks like they run a business from the house who’s garage does not contain cars but packed boxes from floor to ceiling left and right! Is that also a fire hazard? And of course using the garage for storage their visitors parking is in the swales/street.
After the semi left an incredible number of empty folded boxes line up the front lawn for all of us to enjoy and I am wondering if given the amount, Waste Pro will pick up as they are using residential collection , for commercial density and if not collected for how long will remain the eyesore? Then they may unfairly complaint against Waste Pro. The problem with these in house businesses is that they then do not abide by the rules of non or minimal commercial traffic vehicles or customers among other restrictions and the adjacent residents have to endure the abusive traffic, noise and the eyesores. Besides the fact that a semi huge transport as was mentioned by Carl Cote in the streets resurfacing lack of funding, add additional deterioration to the asphalt. The residents around the ranch, political membership if so, should not be a reason for derogatory naming as Mr. Tanner and the neighbors are correct as they have residential rights as well. Is like the city intending to install a 150 ft tall 5G radio wave emissions tower 150 feet from our homes and we had to spend in attorney to stop it, to preserve the value of our homes, our health and safety and the pristine area were bought our homes! Simply because our residential zoning needs to give the tower owner Diamond and ATT an “special exception to our residential zoning” and we say NO. Move the tower location and problem solved. The excuse of better cell reception do not fly with us as is not proven just a commercial blabber to get their way and satisfy greed! So Tanner and adjacent affected neighbors are correct… Maybe the ranch should have kept a low profile regarding traffic, parking and events noise and then could have remain with a quiet unassuming operation , like in the case above with the house business with often large 40 ft semis on our narrow residential cracked asphalt road and the eyesore to be discarded in the front yard, they push the envelope too hard for the neighbors! In spite of the outstanding work the ranch does for the disable there are rules and codes to comply. Like councilwoman Carli Pointieri said when 3 to 2 vote for rezoning the Harborside contentiously passed; -we all come here to build or live but we have codes an rules for a reason!- I will add do not special exempt , rezone orspot zone to satisfy greed! Now you can kill the messenger!
Celia Pugliese says
I forgot to wish the ranch all the success to resolve its location issue as their work is commendable. I think is a great idea also the GoFundMe opened for them so those in the community willing to help can for a very good cause, other than some, using derogatory naming for the adjacent residents rights!.
Don’t understand what the problem they own land they keep it nice what is the problem somebody wants that property
One word “neighbors”. Ah they moved there and knew about the farm, now they want it gone. I say maybe these neighbors who know freaking doubt came from somewhere up north maybe they should move. Just another example of IF YOU DON”T LIKE IT, WHINE and it will be gone. I say the county is at fault for even letting this go this far. If the ranch was so ‘bad’ why didn’t the county do something 14 years ago, because the ranch was not hunting anyone and the good was noted. But NOOOOO ! in 2022 some neighbor whined and here we are.
Chris Conklin says
I say they need to find a way for you to stay but before you stay let the horses go s*** in front of their front door. They’re useless people who I’m sure do not give back to the community. They can kiss my ass one at a time and I’ll glad we smack him back
That private use of public property prohibition is applied pretty randomly.
I requested to run an exercise class at Wadsworth or Wickline and was told NO use of public property by a private business is allowed.
Yet every single day tennis instructors or pickle ball instructors give lessons and yoga teachers use the pavilion for weekly classes. I guess it’s who you know.
The Geode says
I wonder how many of you would be complaining if this was in YOUR neighborhood… #nimby
Beautiful facility and mission. What a shame unnecessary complaints ruin it for those who so need this facility. Mr. Tanner should be ashamed of this accomplishment.
Entitled Boomer Right wing wackos
Allen Rush (in these comments) says so on, and so forth — and helpfully links his name here — to his business in Texas:
Uh er, why is this good man from Burke, Texas, advertising in Palm Coast, Florida? Who does he know, and vice versa?
Just wondering — are you too?
“All you need to do is pay upfront with cash or your debit, credit, HSA or FSA card, and we’ll give you an invoice. You’ll send the invoice to your provider, and they’ll issue your reimbursement. Fill out the inquiry form below for additional information about the insurance process.”
Ahhhh, religion. Always helping out. Got half the crowd crying.
Jeannie Richards says
The horse therapy should be grandfathered in. This is BS, the neighbors need to get over it.
Wow so they can make profit on building on ranch they are pos Ron’s boys
Like buying or building next an airport. HELLO did you not know this? Did you not think there would be noise or smells? When I moved here White View was a sleepy street. Now it is an interstate. I just smile and pray I can move someday before I die.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN says
Brien: The community was NEVER told that they would have China and other authoritarian countries students learning to fly and us teaching them over our homes, you conveniently leave this part out as all the other Flagler County officials sneakily do and did, performing low flying dangerous touch and goes and stalls over peoples homes so that the aiport manager and officials can stuff their greedy pockets.
Celia Pugliese says
Brian you are so wrong…when we bought here the airport had normal operation until they invited the several (mainly foreign kids ) pilot training schools to use the Flagler Airport so hundreds of daily roaring noise , pollution and illegal flying 300 feet over homes were added to it. Are you aware of the danger we are exposed too overhead and over greed? https://www.oregonaviationwatch.org/articles/OAW-ChinaPilotTraining.php?fbclid=IwAR2tWG24bRnlelZZXGEUUnCCZ8tgQgu7WQtERwp50Omj0jy2DX-0V6clHAI. I am glad that you see the reality in your area off White View parkway as most the residents that bought near the airport, including us 10 miles from it are experiencing the same as you, now with these rich brats flyboys and their instructors that ignore the Flagler airport “Fly Friendly” displayed policy courtesy of the airport director and the county commissioners that look the other way!
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN says
Celia Pugliese: Maybe this is little bald headed Donnie O’Brien who lives in that section, you know the seated commish on the FCBOCC , the one who also owns an insurance company and close mullins crony, the one who thinks that he is going to get Renners seat in the senate so that he can pass more agendas for developers like he has in the past but who we ae not going to vote in. Good ole Donnie has helped to contribute so much of Palm Coast demise including that flight school diaster plan of which they did not have to vote sneaky on . All these and the likes of him and his buddies could not give a rats butt about our communities as they hid in their greed but don’t worry Donnie you and your cronies are all going to be voted out, people all over Flagler are fed up and are onto your sneaky ventures diasterous ventures to fill your pockets.
Samuel L. Bronkowitz says
Maybe some local churches can donate land to help this religious organization
Sam: Maybe, and they can be exempt too!
Law abiden you are so right! These Maga totalitarians we have in control today inn the county and city need to be booted. They have the audacity to attack thru social media ND, FB, etc. the very residents that pay theirs and their six figured useless administrators salaries while destroying our beautiful county and cities with rezoning, spot zoning,, special exception and amendments to the original ITT zoning and do it over greed to satisfy their fellow developers. Then they have the nerve to blame ITT of bad planning while they are making themselves shamefully rich on our backs and taking away our safety, health, value of our homes and the pristine original areas we bought our homes. For worst their Tallahassee accomplices year after year fund their campaigns and keep on hacking away gradually the share of our taxes, to the schools, counties and cities while increasing the pollution of our coastal water killing our beloved manatees by the thousands, other marine life, commercial fisheries and shell fish we need to consume! Ahh lets do not forget that also now try hard to kill jobs( Disney etc.) How Floriduh is that? https://www.cbsnews.com/news/red-tide-florida-fish-kills-human-health-heres-what-to-know/. Enough is enough.