The Palm Coast city administration is pledging to residents that it is taking a case-by-case approach to address concerns about flooding on quarter-acre properties seemingly caused by new construction. It has created what it calls a “task force” to address the issue, while staffers also work on updating technical construction guidelines that may address the issue in a more systematic way.
But residents are skeptical, claiming their calls or emails go unanswered, or that the city’s response is to sue neighbors, or that they’re having to shoulder their own costs of drainage improvements.
For the past few months existing residents in increasing numbers have complained to the city and in media accounts about new homes rising adjacent to theirs–rising not in a metaphorical sense, but in a literal sense: the fill for those new homes is rising several feet higher than the elevation of existing lots. Residents are seeing their back yards or front yards fill with standing water as a result, which they blame on the elevations of new, adjacent construction.
There are no rules limiting how high the fill of a new home may be. That has startled residents, who assumed that such a regulation was in place. But Chief of Staff Jason DeLorenzo last month said the city is working on updating its regulations. One such regulation would require the fill to be no higher than the drown of the road in front of a property. But city officials have also argued that there is not necessarily a direct cause and effect between higher homes and flooded yards. Rather, those flooded yards may themselves be at fault for having poor drainage, they say–an explanation that has not sat well with existing residents who had no such issues before the new construction.
Week after week residents have brought their complaints to the council or filled out formal review requests, prompting the city on Tuesday to issue a release outlining next steps. Among them, city staff will work with residents who have issues to attempt to resolve them, and do so through lengthy site visits if necessary. And the stormwater department on Dec. 12 will summarize to the council where the matter stands, how many complaints have been received, and “outline a comprehensive plan of action to review all residential cases that have been submitted,” as the release put it.
“It’s really important that we hear from the resident, the owner and any adjacent owners that have concerns,” City Manager Denise Beavan said at the beginning of a City Council meeting Tuesday evening. “So it’s going to take us a little while to make sure we can schedule those inspections and we want to make sure we have ample time to listen to the residents so it could be anywhere from an hour or two hours on site.”
Moments later, Carole Brasfield, a W-Section resident–on Weymouth Lane–requested a building moratorium until a fill height limit is in place. “The builders and workers next door that are starting a new home told me that they would elevate the lot next to us from 4 to 8 feet higher than my home,” Brasfield said. “This particular lot has five houses on its perimeter and all five have a big chance of flooding. When I addressed this as wrong I was told ‘too bad, that’s what’s happening in Florida.’ My home was built in 1994, and it is full of memories I don’t want wet. The week we had 9 inches of rain flooded our yard front and back because the home to our south is elevated and we get the runoff now, and we have a home being built and it’s going to be elevated next to us, so we will be stuck in the middle of two elevated homes.”
Another resident, Jeff Dunn, said his family’s house was built in 1985 on Parkview Drive. Before 2022, there’d been no flooding issues in the backyard. Since then, adjacent houses have been built at higher elevation than his own. The yard flooded. Stormwater inspectors came out and, he said, suggested to him to sue his neighbors in civil court, because it’s not the city’s responsibility. (Council member Ed Danko said it wasn’t city staffers’ place to be encouraging neighbors to sue.) He was disbelieving. He said he’d spent $10,000 “on landscaping and drainage to hopefully solve this problem because we do not want to have to move from this city.” And he cast doubt on the task force the city is touting: ” my wife has sent them an email with pictures weeks ago. No responses.” The city is asking for patience.
“I’m glad they’re taking care of their property,” Danko said of Dunn, with whom he’d spoken last week. “But at some point, we all may have to figure out something to help everyone in our community that’s dealing with this unfortunate situation.”
Others spoke along the same lines, including a Perotti Lane resident who described a house on her street where flooding makes it look “like it’s on an island. It’s a little cartoon house. It’s obnoxious. You can drive by people are driving by looking at it. It’s that bad.” She said she sent several communications to the city before getting an email telling her city staff was not avoiding her emails, and that she’d been “connected”
Peter Johnson–who is running for mayor–spoke, he said, on behalf of one particular resident who could not be there and “on behalf of hundreds of other residents” experiencing flooding issues similar to those Brasfield described. Assuming that there are still 8,000 unbuilt infill lots in Palm Coast, he said (the number is closer to 9,000), and “if we take a conservative approach and assume that at least two of the three or four properties that are in direct proximity of the now-vacant lots will be affected, either to the side or located in the rear, then this flooding issue will have the potential to impact at least 16,000 existing homeowners who have built their lives here,” he said. (The rest of his remarks tended toward more conspiratorial allegations.)
Jeffrey Seib, referring to the part in the release that proposed modifications to stormwater regulations are circulating among “stakeholders for their feedback,” said “in other places the stakeholder groups are known as special interests.”
“City Manager, city staff and city council, you are looking at the stakeholders for the city of Palm Coast,” he said (the meeting had drawn an audience). “We residents that have come here to petition our government have more than just a business stake in our city. We have a life stake. I am here for the duration as are many.”