In a victory as major for the developer of future phases of Eagle Lakes as it is a blow to existing residents of Eagle Lakes, the Flagler County Commission this evening cleared the way for a 1,200-home development on 612 acres at the south end of Old Kings Road, a development one commissioner likened to Palm Coast’s Grand Haven, at least by size.
The development cleared its last major hurdle by a pair of 3-1 votes, with an abstention each time.
Opponents, who consisted of residents of the first phase of Eagle Lakes, Sugar Mill Plantation and other neighboring developments, objected not to the development specifically, but to the density of the new project, which will be built by Kolter Homes and be known as Radiance, to a lack of a traffic study, to the development’s incompatibility with the Old Kings Road region, to a proposed roundabout that would form the main point of entry and exit onto Old Kings Road, and to an absence of written conditions in the so-called Planned Unit Development. (A PUD spells out a developer’s obligations.) They acknowledged some additions to the plan that have improved the proposal’s profile, such as certain amenities, sidewalks and buffers, but found those insufficient.
The county’s own planning board had rejected the plan because it found it wanting, with too many questions unanswered. But the county’s development director presented the proposal as vested, if not inevitable, and at one point bristled at the suggestion that existing homeowners somehow could either shut the gate to development, or at least narrow it, behind them. “There’s an implication, and it does offend me quite a bit, that your small house size means, those people,” Mengel said. “We have the wrong mindset of saying, even in the old 1,100 square feet, being those people. I think if people looked at it and thought about it, every one of us bought [here], we were those people to somebody else. We came in and that developer that we’re saying now is the bad developer–what do you think did Halifax? A developer.”
The developer’s attorney repeatedly rejected claims that traffic would be an issue. “Our project as proposed with all 1,200 units will not increase the vested amount of traffic that we’re entitled to,” Michael Chiumento III, the attorney representing the developer, said. “Theoretically and actually, we are generating less traffic than what we are vested for, generating less p.m. peak traffic than what we’re vested for.” He said the proposals this evening were the culmination of a year-long process that included numerous amendments to the plan, in answer to residents’ concerns. It would be built over seven years, he said, as a gated community.
“The development looks like a beautiful development, there’s no question about that,” Robin Polletta, who had been a critic of the proposal, told the commission. “I don’t think the citizens here are opposing the development per se. What we are saying though, is that we’re kind of putting the cart before the horse when we’re rubber stamping these PUD agreements without putting more amendments or qualifications on it.” She asked for a continuance pending an independent traffic study so residents “know exactly what we’re in for.”
The meeting segments could at times seem complicated. There were three items on the agenda related to the Radiance development. It could be confusing, but not intentionally so: the measures have to be considered independently of each other, on their merits.
One of them was a land use change, which means changing the county’s comprehensive plan–the blueprint that defines long-term development. That item affected 200 of the 611 acres: acreage would change from agricultural and timberlands to a combination of conservation, residential and water bodies, with the bulk of the acreage (170 acres) in the residential category.
The second–the heart of the matter–was a rezoning and an amendment to the PUD that affects the entirety of the 612 acres, enabling 1,200 single-family homes split between a northern part of the land with 458 non-age restricted homes, and 775 age-restricted homes on the southern part of the land. The rezoning will not become effective before the land use amendment becomes effective.
The third, more pedestrian item won’t affect anything other than the governance of the development itself–the creation of a community development district, much like the Grand Haven or Hammock Dunes CDDs, which are like mini governments within the large developments, with representatives elected by residents in the development.
Commissioners Don O’Brien, Greg Hansen and Joe Mullins voted for the land use amendment, with Dave Sullivan in dissent and Dance abstaining. O’Brien, Sullivan and Mullins voted for the rezoning and planned unit development amendment, with Hansen in dissent and Dance abstaining. The third item was approved 4-0, with Dance abstaining.
Chiumento pointed to the several developments along Old Kings Road–planned, under development or developed–to show that “it’s been very consistent with our community to allow at a minimum two units per acre in this region.” All the area is low-density residential, high-density residential and mixed use, he said, making it consistent with those other developments. “We’ll be asking for 1,200 units on 611 acres, so at the end of the day you will see in the next round that this project, although it is a very large project consisting of 600 acres, it’s really a low density” project, he said.
Dennis Bayer, the attorney representing Nancy Dance–the land owner who sold the land in 2004 for development, and who opposes the proposal in its current form–sees it differently. “This is really two pieces of property that we don’t know exactly what’s going on this parcel and what’s going on that parcel,” Bayer said. “It may be age restricted on the north side, it may be age restricted on the south side, we don’t know.”
“My clients, the Dances, do not oppose the amendment of the future land use map amendment to low residential, low density residential,” Bayer said. “The additional detail and analysis needs to be done, particularly concerning traffic,” and whether the development will be age-restricted.
Nancy Dance, who used to own the acreage, recalled her reasons for selling, when her husband had gotten to be 75, but in an arrangement with the buyer to commit to a low-density development. “I’m not here standing in front of you saying no to any development. I am saying that’s a low density development that comprises the current. I am saying that’s a low density development that comprises the current Eagle lakes PUD behind my property and behind the existing Eagle Lakes Phase One should be respected.” She said the commission was not obligated to grant the net increase of 165 homes on the south part of the development.
Another asked: “Why can’t we just stay with the way we are, the way things have been over here?” But that’s an argument against property rights, which even more development-cautious officials would not (cannot) embrace, since it would very likely trigger lawsuits–at least regarding the planned unit development. Commissioners can load PUDs with conditions, but not deny development rights. They have more room to maneuver with land use changes: they are not obligated to approve such changes, though they rarely deny them, and this particular commission’s membership never has.
Mark Bines, regional vice president president of Kolter Homes for mid-Florida, eight pickle ball courts, two tennis courts, maintenance-free lots or yards, on 40, 50 and 60-foot lots (40 feet wide, 130 feet deep, that is), for homes between 1,300 and 3,500 square feet. He said the residents will be made up of boomers with plenty of money to spend, and showed a rather long marketing video for Kolter’s Cresswind developments.
“We’ve had beautiful pictures for a Margaritaville-type development that is not compatible with the Old Kings Road corridor,” one resident said.
Dance recused himself from voting because his family sold the land in 2004 for $4.8 million and Dance’s mother Nancy still owns adjacent property. She hired Bayer to represent her on the issue. But Andy Dance was not barred by ethics rules from commenting, presenting his perspective or asking questions, and he briefly did. But as soon as he did, Joe Mullins, who is chairing the panel, said Dance “could could be biased or swayed to that side, So keep that in mind.” The statement was not merely vulgar, for being out of keeping with commission norms–no chairman or commissioner has ever upbraided a colleague for “bias” before–but because of what could be perceived as hypocrisy on Mullins’s part, since his possible bias was more often in question this evening.
A few times at the beginning of the segment, residents objected to Mullins not recusing himself from voting because of his relationship with Chiumento. “Mr. Mullins, you should abstain from voting based on your well publicized, close friendship with Attorney Chiumento, who is also your personal attorney,” a Sugar Mill Plantation resident told the commissioner, “and according to your social media postings is one of your three favorite people, quote unquote. Everyone is free to choose their own friends. But in this case, it becomes a clear conflict of interest in the minds of many of us, and you should not vote tonight.” But that line of criticism died down as the nearly four-hour hearing wore on.
Some commissioners had considerable concerns.
Commissioner Dave Sullivan was worried about the traffic flow to the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and Old Kings Road–in Volusia County, just south of the county line, giving Flagler no control over that. “There is no mention to improve this intersection,” Sullivan said, basing himself on Volusia County documents. “I guess my recommendation at this point is that the old Dixie Highway-Old kings Road be included in any documentation prior to final plat approval,” Sullivan said. “What we’re really looking for is an updated traffic study for this for this area.” He stressed that that needs to be done at every step in the process.
Dance was uncomfortable with the lacking analysis of the development’s potential impact on facilities and services. But that doesn’t apply in the case of a land use change, Chiumento said. “Mr. Dance, you’ve been doing this a long time,” Chiumento said, “two units per acre is low density residential.” If that was true regarding the future land use of the acreage, it was less true regarding the PUD, where the county could add more conditions. dance, for example, cited the “flaw” in the site plans that does away with stately old trees “that very easily could have been designed around, but we didn’t get the tree survey done, and here we are at PUD approval. Once it gets past this stage, we don’t have anything to hold them accountable.” He also called the development’s sign “obnoxious” for its 20-foot size.
“This is 1200 homes. How do we know we’ve got enough water and enough sewer capacity, because there’s just a package plant down there now,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said. The answer is: there isn’t at the moment, Mengel said, but that would be negotiated in the future: 50 to 80 homes would be built each year, he said, at least at today’s development pace. Hansen was also concerned about te fate of the acreage’s trees. “I was pissed off when they clear-cut Jungle Hut. That was uncalled for,” Hansen said, referring to a 50-home development there he had voted against, and that would would change the complexion of the area.
Other than asking one speaker whether he was addressing the issue as himself or as a representative of his homeowners’ association, O’Brien said nothing throughout the three-0and-a-half hour hearing, except to offer up the two motions that led to the project’s approvals. Those who’d opposed the proposals and were still in the chamber past 9 p.m., when the commission took its two votes, stood up and walked out, some of them hectoring commissioners who voted for the development.