Neighbors and current residents of Eagle Lakes, the development at the south end of Old Kings Road near the county line with Volusia, are not thrilled about a proposed development that would significantly increase the number of homes there, and diminish lot sizes for many of those homes. They took a stand at a neighborhood meeting hosted by the developer last week, deriding and opposing the project and leaving little to no room for compromise.
The project was before the county’s Technical Review Committee in November, where it will return in January. It’s would go before the county’s planning board in February, then to the Flagler County Commission.
Eagle Lakes is a development of long date on the southern portion of Old Kings Road, but of still limited build: since the County Commission approved what was to be 725 homes on 535 acres in 2005, just as the housing bust was gathering pop and the Great Recession followed, only 111 homes have been built.
There were plans in 2018 for a development that would have consisted of manufactured homes–the industry doesn’t like it when you call them mobile homes or trailer parks–but the developer withdrew that application even after the commission increased the number of entitled units on part of the land.
The Kolter Group, which has been developing homes, apartments, high-rises, hotels and condominiums across the Southeast, now intends to buy the property and develop it further–and larger. It probably will not be called Eagle Lakes by then, to distinguish it from the current development. The current allowance is for a total of 824 homes. The developer is seeking a rezoning and to increase the number of allowable homes to 1,215.
The property is now divided into two sections–southern and northern, delineating two subprojects. The southern portion is going to be age-restricted. The northern portion will not be.
At the beginning of a neighborhood meeting at Palm Coast’s Hilton garden Inn last week–Palm Coast government requires those meetings; Flagler County does not, so it was voluntarily hosted by the developer–Michael Chiumento, the attorney representing the developer, told the gathering of about two dozen people: “80 percent of the time your concerns or questions can be addressed by the developer. And in those situations where they can’t, there’s usually something that we can do to compromise. And then there are situations sometimes when they can’t be addressed, such as ‘don’t build anything.’ But feel free to be honest, feel free to be assertive. We’ve been doing this a long time. So we have thick skin.”
Assertive, the audience was, some more than others.
The audience included Nancy, John and Andy Dance. The Dance family used to own the whole southern portion of the land in question, and John and Nancy still live on a portion of the land. (Nancy and Andy served on the school board for many years, Andy serves on the county commission, so he will be hearing the more formal presentation of the rezoning application; John was a long-time member of the Florida Highway Patrol. Andy Dance did not speak. Or rather, the only time his voice was heard was when he told his brother to give other people a chance to speak.)
“The original PUD by Scott Delanoy,” John Dance said, referring to the planned unit development designation on the land, “was designed to mimic Sugar Mill and Plantation Oaks, single family, custom-made homes, beautiful, beautiful homes on a decent piece of property.” That’s no longer the sort of development ahead, he said. He described the current ecology of deer, bobcats, coyotes and space, suggesting that ecology is now threatened.
He called the plan for 55-and-up residences “BS,” saying the claim that older, retired people don’t increase traffic “is a myth,” and that Old Kings Road is “already maxed out” (traffic studies don’t concur). He raised the prospect of flooding: “I look at this,” Dance said, looking at the oversize maps, “and I don’t see anything that is going to take that water from the north and send it to the same ditch that has been sending it to for centuries.”
John Dance concluded: “I know something’s going to happen. I knew it when my dad sold the ranch. But what he wanted was high quality, custom-made homes with nice large lots. I know something’s going to happen. I don’t know what it’s going to be. But it cannot be this.”
One of the neighbors’ concerns is the size of lots. Chiumento showed images of proposed homes, 1,700 and 1,900 square feet homes on 40-foot lots, and homes on 50-foot lots and 60-foot lots. Those would include homes of 1,800 to 2,800 square feet. The northern section would include 40-foot lots with homes of 2,000 to 2200 square feet. “They’re narrower lots but they’re deeper,” Chiumento said.
When asked how the houses would be priced, one of the Kolter officials said: “The smaller 40-foot lots would be in the fours,” meaning in the $400,000 range, “the 50s [foot lots] will be in the fives and the 60s will get up into the 6’s–for now. But who knows where the market will be in 18 months. But that’s our best guess.”
“We don’t want to see another Grand Haven,” another member of the audience said. “So the concerns that I would say for all of us are the noise factor, the increase in traffic, potential flooding, the removal of deep rooted trees, the detrimental effect of the max concentration of houses that small–in this case, they’re not that small–would have on homes and surrounding communities. The property values are going to go down on our houses. Sugar Mill Plantation is mostly upscale, expensive. And now we have to compete with all the other houses that are going to be across the road. Part of the appeal living in the Plantation has been that country-like feel. I guess the bottom line to all this soliloquy is that we don’t like the idea that you came in, you wanted one type of approval to build, and now all of a sudden, that goes out the window. What changed your mind?” Why, she said, go from the original plan to an “extravaganza.”
Chiumento was not familiar with what the original developer, more than a decade and a half ago, had in mind. “I don’t have an answer for you as to what changed,” Chiumento said. He could only address what the current developer’s vision is.
“It’s too much,” the resident said. Or, as Jane Gentile-Youd, a resident of Plantation Bay and a candidate for the County Commission, put it, “Why do we need people flocking here?” Like others in the room, she argued for building under the previous, more limited plan. “Where is the need? I see greed. I don’t see a need,” she said later.
One element that has changed since 2005, and that developers repeatedly speak of at similar meetings and before local government boards–and that a Kolter official outlined at the Hilton meeting–is that consumers are seeking smaller homes, smaller lots, smaller responsibilities.
“They do like that backyard space for their grandkids,” he said. “The market’s shifted to not only on the active-adult, where they want this very upscale house, they want all the options, they want all the amenities, but they don’t want the big yard to maintain anymore. And we’re seeing this consistently across the board from the active-adult buyers. And then on the market-rate side of things, on the other primary housing, the moms and the dads and the families, what we’re finding there, the bigger lots, the more road frontage that’s in front of that lot, the more expensive it gets. And with the housing costs, the construction costs, it’s getting unaffordable.” So lots are shrinking. In return, “they’re getting these parks, these giant pools and these resort style pools and cabanas. And that’s kind of where the buyer is gravitating to.”
Two Realtors in the room said they were not seeing that trend locally.
From a broader angle land-use regulations are beginning to move away–slowly, and much slower in some places than others–from the concept of the single-family home hogging large tracts of land. But listening to the audience at the Hilton meeting–an audience of established residents of single-family homes built on the pre-Recession model–that’s not what they’re looking at, or wanting to see. John Dance complained about having to find the “smallest excavator on the planet” to do some work at his daughter’s house in Oviedo, where he said, exaggerating for effect of course, you could stretch your hands “and touch the walls on both of those houses,” the lots were so small.
The response from the public in the 90-minute meeting never got confrontational or belligerent, as such meetings can get, even with the exception of one resident claiming somewhat arbitrarily that the developers “don’t give a shit” about the environment. At the same time, it did not appear as if either side had made headway toward the compromise Chiumento had spoken of at the beginning of the meeting. The consensus from the crowd was not so much “don’t build,” but “don’t build that development, that many homes,” a distinction that may lack difference.
“A lot of this stuff is in your backyard. This is how you feel. It’s opinion. Some of the opinion is based on fact and I get that,” Chiumento said, by way of summing up. “There’s just some things I can’t address at this moment. So, again, going back to why we’re here, we’re writing down all the comments so that we can come back to the table and address those that we can deal with, modify the plan to accommodate or come to address, hopefully, a win-win. And if we can’t address your concern, then that’s what the process is called: you go to the planning board, and you go to the county commission, and that’s the process. Sally is very familiar with it as is Robin.”
Chiumento was referring to Sallee Arnoff and Robin Polletta, two leading voices in the group called Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, a non-profit organized to oppose The Gardens development on John Anderson Highway–which Chiumento also represents. Arnoff and Polletta were in the audience. “They have a wonderful history with a project called The Gardens,” he said. “I’m not making light of it. So we’re here to hear your concerns.”
Almost two years ago Chiumento was in the same room addressing a different audience–with perhaps some overlap–about a proposed development just north of Eagle Lakes, also long in the works–a projected 2,250 homes or apartment units with 1.7 million square feet of commercial and office space on Old Kings Road south of State Road 100. A member of the audience asked about that project at the meeting. Chiumento said it’s been put on the back-burner for now.