Old Kings Village, the proposed 205-home subdivision on 60 acres just west of Polo Club West, went before the Palm Coast City Council for approval for the third time in four months Tuesday, and went away without final approval yet again. A fence is almost literally preventing a resolution.
But not just a fence: tree-protection and compatibility remain obstacles, if not to an approval by the council, then certainly to acceptance by residents of Polo Club West. Those properties each lush and lounge over 5 acres, while Old Kings Village’s properties will be a grid of comparatively tiny 6,000-square-foot lots, or less than a fifth of an acre each. The typical ITT-style lot in Palm Coast is a quarter acre.
The clash, in other words, has as much to do with the opaque minutiae of land-use regulations as it does with something anyone in Palm Coast and Flagler County can relate to: what kind of community do residents want for themselves, and how far should the city go to change zoning and land use designations that result in two vastly different subdivisions–one densely packed with homes, one not, with a rapidly increasing population adding its own pressures on diminishing green spaces.
It is also a clash of castes and cultures: Polo Club West is a well to do if very sparsely populated subdivision of homeowners–many of them recent, some of them not so much–clinging to an Old Florida feel, though most of the lots have yet to be built up. Old Kings Village’s homes would sell to fixed-income middle class retirees looking to downsize, cashing in on a previous home sale and moving into something and somewhere convenient: stately trees and mossy vistas are not the priority: Perhaps many of its residents aside, there’ll be nothing old about Old Kings Village.
Old Kings Village would be built on land owned by Geosam Capital US (Florida), land recently annexed by Palm Coast. The developer is requesting a change in the acreage’s land-use designation, both through the comprehensive plan and the city’s zoning. A comprehensive plan change must meet certain standards. Among them: the change must be compatible with surrounding areas.
When the land was under the county’s jurisdiction, a previous version of Old Kings Village had, in 2007, already won approval as a so-called Planned Unit Development of 159 houses on 50-foot-wide lots and 72 town homes, 231 homes total. (A small portion of the acreage–36,000 square feet–is reserved for commercial uses.) So in a sense, the proposal had already scaled the compatibility obstacle.
It’s in play again because now that Palm Coast has annexed the land, the developer wants it to approve a comprehensive plan change from low-density residential to mere residential, and to change from a PUD to a straight residential zoning, which lessens the sort of conditions the city could impose, and could potentially erase the conditions the county had imposed.
Polo Club West had made its peace with Old Kings Village as a PUD because that agreement came with a very long list of conditions. In a letter to Palm Coast City Manager Denise Bevan, County Administrator Heidi Petito last October said the proposal has a “complex history,” and that the county “has an expectation that the requirements from the Old Kings Village PUD will be substantially identical in the City’s iteration of the project,” even though, Petito conceded, it is “doubtful” that can be the case with straight zoning. But, Petito wrote, if the county entitled the project as a PUD, it was because of those conditions. “Removing the PUD from the project–like any PUD zoning–would significantly limit the entitlements within the County.”
What that means to Polo Club West and the subdivision’s attorney, Dennis Bayer, is that the Old Kings Village developer cannot claim that the same compatibility that existed in 2007 exists now–not if the developer doesn’t abide by strict conditions. City Council member Theresa Pontieri has kept the Petito letter under everyone’s noses. “When we annex property in from the county we just want to make sure we’re not undermining the county or in any way clashing with them. We want to make sure we’re working with them,” Pontieri said.
For the most part, Senior Palm Coast Planner Bill Hoover said, the two sides have worked out their differences. A draft agreement is in the works that “would take care of some of the other issues” in the county’s PUD. Putting it optimistically, he said 75 to 80 percent of the issues would be addressed. He did not say what remaining 20 to 25 percent would not be addressed.
But those 20 to 25 percent proved to be a persistent sticking point, as Bayer and Polo Club West residents made clear to the council Tuesday. They, too, thought all issues had been resolved, especially after a community meeting with Old Kings Village’s representatives on Dec. 17. That turned out not to be the case.
“We had an agreement. We all walked out of there with an agreement,” Dave Dixon said of the Dec. 17 meeting. “And then we come here tonight. And that agreement is no longer on the table. [The Old Kings Village attorney] pulled the fencing and put in some other verbiage in the agreement. So we have to postpone this another two weeks.” Others echoed Dixon’s interpretation.
“We seem to have taken one step forward and two steps back with us,” Polo Club West resident John Duncan said. Since the last time the matter was before the council, when a postponement was decided to give the two sides time to talk, a seemingly productive community meeting took place, but communications then stopped cold, until the developer produced a new proposal on Tuesday, with a retreat a key issue: where the Old Kings Village developer should build a fence separating one Polo Club West property from the village. There are also remaining disagreements about buffers and the preservation of trees.
Bayer got the revised agreement only Tuesday afternoon, with that fencing issue unresolved. Two deaf children live with their parents at that Polo Club West property. The homeowners there naturally want the subdivision’s developer to build a protective fence. “We had an agreement that the fence would go up and around the corner of that lot. And today we found out that that was not going to be the case. So we think that’s still a significant issue,” Bayer said.
“There’s a couple of other language issues that Mr. Chiumento and I talked about this evening, that we do not have an agreement. And if we don’t have an agreement, I’ll reserve my additional comments as to why we think that the future land use map Amendment should be denied.” Michael Chiumento is the land use attorney representing the developer.
Council member Ed Danko wondered why the existing property owners couldn’t build the portion of fencing that the subdivision developer will not. “You’re putting in a development that is 10 times more dense in lot size than my clients’ existing five-acre lots. So they’re the ones that are creating incompatibility,” Bayer said. “So the onus should be on the person that’s creating incompatibility to provide the buffering and provide the fencing.”
And Hoover himself cautioned that the city cannot rely on its land development code to enforce conditions the council is not willing to impose. “I’m not sure if they sold the property to somebody else,” Hoover said, “then worst case scenario, would that new person have to meet those standards on a subdivision master plan? Probably not.”
Nor could the council approve the land use matters Tuesday conditional on the lawyers working things out later. Either the matters are approved, or they’re not. Conditions are inapplicable.
Bayer thought there’d be an agreement with Chiumento on Tuesday. There wasn’t, reviving incompatibility problems. If the hearing was not postponed, “then you’re going to be hearing quite a few comments on compatibility and other issues that will take this meeting on for another few hours if that’s what you want to do,” Bayer told the council.
Chiumento put it this way: “There is a legal document that was being drafted between the parties and we are wordsmithing that, so yes, there were some changes as it relates to the fence issue. I’m not sure. I can’t tell you with certainty whether my client agreed to what they thought they agreed to, or whether it was any question, but remember there has been great efforts to provide fencing along there to protect residents from our community from entering into their community. One resident doesn’t like its location. The developer proposed an alternative location. But remember, there’s also been many, many other concessions in this agreement.”
Chiumento said the land owner “has committed to solving their issues. But they have to recognize that they may not get 100 percent of whatever they may have wanted or everybody in that community, but we’re willing to stick it out and work through this.”
It’s not just the fence. The 60 acres have 245 specimen oak trees: how will they be protected? That’s still a mystery. The current, submitted plan for the subdivision, showing the layout of the tightly-cropped lots, leaves no room for those trees. “In good faith, given the seriousness of the issues, it’s not just about the fence. There’s a lot of other issues here that need to be addressed,” Bayer said. When Alfin challenged Bayer on the claim that the trees would be eliminated, Bayer pointed him to the subdivision plan, to which Alfin curtly replied: “so that’s your opinion.” But it wasn’t: the subdivision plan is a fact, in the city’s hands, as submitted by the developer.
As if in counterpoint to Alfin’s dismissal, Kara Dixon, a Polo Club West resident, shortly afterward read an unsourced document describing her subdivision: “The Polo Club charter dictates that the natural environment has been immaculately preserved to retain the beauty of Old World Florida, the abundant forest with towering oak trees and natural vegetation has created a setting uncommon in the local community. These features combined with waterfront home sites along Bulow Creek make the Flagler Beach Polo Club West one of the finest environmentally sensitive communities in Florida. So when our attorney was talking about trees, those trees are really important in our area.”
Polo Club West residents were appealing to council members not to atomize their decision into parts that, while legally defensible within themselves, at least according to the letter of the law (or the comprehensive plan), would still violate the spirit of the plan.
Bayer had requested the item be delayed until January 16. The council granted the request unanimously.