At the end of October Ormond Beach sued Flagler County government and a developer in Hunter’s Ridge, the large development at the south end of the county, after the developer granted an easement to the county, without Ormond Beach’s permission. Hunter’s Ridge straddles the Volusia-Flagler County line. The easement partly runs through Ormond Beach. The city is worried that Flagler County will one day turn the easement into a paved road.
Ormond Beach is asking the court to void the easement.
Flagler County hopes that doesn’t happen. When Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed explained why to the County Commission, he laid out the legal reasoning he’ll present in mediation to Ormond Beach as the county attempts to hedge off yet another legal battle: Ormond Beach could itself settle the matter by acquiring conservation land on its side of the border, by setting aside unreasonable fears that Flagler will build a highway–and by upgrading Durrance Lane, the road that runs across the northern boundary of the Hunter’s Ridge development.
Ormond Beach sued the county because in the city’s view Flagler did not follow protocol when the developer conveyed an easement in the form of a logging trail called 40 Grade. That trail runs from Ormond Beach to the north end of the 2,000-acre conservation land that Flagler County owns. The only way to enter that conservation area is through Ormond Beach and that trail.
Attached to that conservation expanse is another 200 to 300 acres of conservation land on the Volusia County side of the border, in Ormond Beach. But there’s been no easement granted there by the city to the county, only by the developer. That acreage remains in the developer’s hands entirely.
Flagler County is responsible for managing the 2000 acres on its side of the border. (Flagler County’s Princess Place Preserve at the north end of the county, in comparison, is 1,700 acres.) “We were facing problems of illegal logging, illegal hunting, removal of dirt from the area, uncontrolled access to the area, because there were no controls to keep people out,” Hadeed said. “The first rule of conservation management is you must control access. You can do all you want with your management. But if you don’t regulate and control access, all your efforts may be totally undermined.”
So the county needed that physical access to address the problems. (The county managed to recover money from people who illegally timbered the land.) To do that, the county had to go through Ormond Beach–and got the easement. Hadeed explained the county’s approach in legalistic terms: “It was an easement of necessity,” he said, which benefited the residents of Ormond Beach as well as Flagler County residents who live in Hunter’s Ridge, providing access to the conservation lands. “So while it may have seemed to them that it was a snub of some sort, it wasn’t. We had to do it by necessity.”
Flagler County could very well dig its own access road without relying on Ormond Beach’s. “But we would have to bulldoze those conservation lands to be able to get there,” Hadeed said. When the county acquired Princess Place, it relied on existing logging roads for access, rather than dig new ones. Otherwise, there could have been “a ripple effect of impacts” on a conservation area that by definition is meant to be conserved.
Hadeed said that until Ormond Beach gets possession of its own 200 to 300 acres of conservation land, Flagler County has to continue accessing its conservation zone through Ormond Beach. In essence, Hadeed threw that responsibility back onto Ormond Beach: “The keys to the resolution lies in Ormond Beach securing the 2 to 300 acres, which as you all know, has nothing to do with our responsibility,” he said.
That, and convincing Ormond Beach that the county has no grand designs for using that trail as anything more than an access, management road. “They fear that Flagler County was going to pave the 40 Grade and create a thoroughfare and new traffic loading that would come in to Ormond Beach and further clog State Road 40,” Hadeed said, addressing the County Commission last week.
“I know all of you, it’s not anywhere in your minds, it’s not even in your nightmares that we’re going to pave the 40 Grade with all the demands we have in our road system. So why is all the concern there with Ormond Beach? Because the problems with Durance Lane forces traffic at times to come down 40 Grade.”
Durrance Lane runs east-west through the Hunter’s Ridge development.
He added: “If they wanted to remove that anxiety, fix Durance Lane. That takes the pressure off of the need for those people to use the 40 Grade.”
At first glance the lawsuit is 195 pages long. But it’s in fact a 12-page complaints and 183 pages of supporting materials and exhibits, including the entirety of the Hunter’s Ridge Development of Regional Impact document. There does not appear to be monetary damages sought. But the county is not eager to get into another protracted and legally expensive court case just as it extricated itself from a hugely expensive one after settling with Captain’s BBQ at Bings Landing.
When Flagler County obtained the easement, it gave Ormond Beach notice through the DRI (development of regional impact) process. The city raised no objections. Now Flagler has filed for mediation with Ormond Beach. “Hopefully, we can resolve this without both publics, both publics paying the freight for litigation,” Hadeed said.COMPLAINT – Ormond Beach v Flagler County, October 2023