The Flagler County Planning Board in a 4-2 vote Tuesday night rejected a development application for the proposed 1,218-home Eagle Lakes project at the south end of Old Kings Road, near Old Dixie Highway. The development since late last year has been drawing sustained and significant opposition from neighboring residents who decry the smaller lots and feared traffic impacts on the two-lane road. The application is for a rezoning of the Eagle Lakes planned unit development, or PUD, affecting nearly 600 acres.
But big differences between the developer and the county looms. The two sides don’t agree on how many homes may be built under existing land-use language. Assistant County Attorney Sean Moylan explained that the developer interprets the language as entitling 126 more homes than the way the county interprets the language. The county revealed for the first time Tuesday evening that Flagler and Volusia interpret traffic and traffic-impact numbers very differently. Neither difference has been resolved. And the county and the developers disagree on impact fee credits, with the developer seeking credits for building an entrance to the development. As the county sees it, that’s not what credits may be granted for. The entrance serves the developer only. Credits ay be used for, say, widening a road, adding turning lanes at an intersection or building similar improvements that benefit the neighborhood as a whole, not the development specifically.
The Planning Board’s vote is not binding. It only means the board is not recommending approval of the development application. The application is headed for a hearing before the Flagler County Commission on April 4 at 9 a.m. (The commission will take public comment on the issue at the March 21 meeting should anyone choose to speak then.) Commissioners will see the same presentation by the developer and the same opposition by residents that took up nearly six hours in a pair of hearings before the Planning Board.
Commissioners’ vote will be binding. There is a wrinkle. Commissioner Andy Dance’s family used to own a substantial portion of the land in question, and still owns some property there. He has not disclosed whether he will participate in votes on the matter, only that he has taken counsel from the Florida Commission on Ethics and will formalize his decision–on whether to vote or not–by the April meeting. If he does not participate, the commission would need at least three of the remaining four commissioners to vote for approval if the project is to go forward. A 2-2 vote means the proposal fails. Dance himself has not spoken publicly on the issue. His mother and his brother have, and spoken decidedly–and, in his brother’s case, vehemently–against the proposal.
Residents’ opposition is focused on the development’s smaller lots and higher density, what they see as a poor fit with its surroundings, and the traffic they fear it will add to Old Kings Road. Some also pointed out the “sloppy” documentation (in Robin Polletta’s word)that shows discrepancies between acreage and density numbers between the developer’s documents and county documents, enabling the developer to squeeze in more homes per acre.
Dance family members this time were represented by Dennis Bayer, the seasoned land-use attorney who also spoke on behalf of other neighbors. “When you look at the staff report, this is being rushed,” Bayer told the board. “You hear issues, discussions tonight, loose ends, clarification, confusion. Developers, attorney and assistant county attorney don’t even know how many units are being allocated on the southern parcel.” He said even setting aside the differences over traffic interpretation between Flagler and Volusia, the data itself has been changing. “I don’t think you’ve got the data in front of you tonight to make an informed decision,” he said. The application, in sum, was incomplete, he said.
Nancy Dance spoke a little later–as did her son John Dance–repeating her preference for the proposal to be limited to its original intentions, at lower densities. Another resident noted that 85 percent of the people in the full chamber live on Old Kings Road, and would be directly affected by traffic emergencies. “I guarantee that traffic should be increased like a champ over there,” another resident said, before putting it more bluntly: “We don’t need more developing over here, folks.”
Michael Chiumento III, the land-use attorney representing The developer, the Kolter Group, quickly dismissed claims of inconsistencies in acreage between various documents then turned to traffic: “I know there will be a change in traffic than what’s been there for the last 50 years. And so I don’t know how to address it other than there will be more traffic but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a traffic problem from the perspective of a traffic impact fee study,” he said. The issue between Flagler and Volusia is between the two counties, not with the developer.
As for the accusations of a “half-baked” proposal, Chiumento said, “to suggest that every project that comes before you that we agree 100 percent with staff on everything, that doesn’t always happen, and so we do have a disagreement on a couple of things, and that’s fine. That’s something the County Commission is empowered to interpret.” The commission may also decide on whether to include a roundabout or not. “But I remind you that the community needs to know that we began discussions and planning with county staff, engineers, planners, fire traffic in June of 2021. It is 10 months later.” He summarized the public meetings along the way, including technical review committee meetings. “So these things aren’t just done on the back of a napkin like may have been suggested to you. This thing is ready to go in front of the commission.”
Those big differences remain, however, starting with the number of homes permitted.
The first phase of Eagle Lakes is already built, with 111 homes. The new development would be divided into two sectors, the “northern lands” consisting of 458 homes, all on 40- and 50-foot lots, none on 60-foot lots, and the “southern lands,” which would be age-restricted, would total 760 homes, 220 of them on 40-foot lots, 351 of them on 50-foot lots, and 189 of them on 60-foot lots. There would be four traffic access points from Old Kings Road, the southernmost of them reserved for emergency access.
As the county sees it, citing the 2005 ordinance that first permitted Eagle Lakes, 760 homes in the southern lands include the 111 homes already built in phase one of the development, leaving a net 634 new homes to be built. The developer disagrees. The 760 homes are in addition to the existing 111 homes–a difference of 126 homes.
That ordinance, Chiumento argued, “no longer applies to this property.” He elaborated: “The aggregate for the project, even under Mr. Moylan’s interpretation, is 1,218 [homes]. However, what we have said to you tonight is that policy doesn’t apply because aggregation is not at issue now because we don’t own all those other parcels.”
The board’s Mark Langello was looking to recommend approval of the application, but was outvoted. “I don’t I don’t know if we’re prepared or not to make a decision you guys might be. I don’t think I am,” the board’s Anthony Lombardo said. “It would be an incomplete package” to hand over to the County Commission, he said. “The density scares me, the traffic scares me.” Heather Haywood, another member of the board whose work has tied her to Halifax Plantation for several years, had issues with traffic and “the fact that there are 600 homes going into Halifax plantation right now.”
“All of this land being developed in new way, I want us to do it responsibly, and I want us to do it the right way, and I want us to serve our community,” Haywood said. “I don;t think this should be passed tonight at all. There’s not enough due diligence done, in my opinion.” Board member Fernando Melendez went further: “I’m not going to be part of voting on anything tonight that’s going to be ruining the future of a beautiful community.”
There were three votes in all–one to recommend the application, which failed, one to table it to a future meeting, which failed, and one to reject the application, which passed.
Tuesday’s hearing was the second before the Planning Board, which in February had tabled the matter pending the resolution of differences between the county and the developer. Those included issues over setbacks and buffers, traffic questions, impact fees and density. From the developer’s perspective, those issues were resolved.