In early December Palm Coast developer Alex Ustilovsky unveiled his planned 300-home project for the long disused Matanzas golf course snaking through the L Section at the north end of the city. The reaction from most of the 200 people gathered at the Matanzas High School cafeteria for the neighborhood meeting Ustilovsky was hosting was not favorable.
Neighbors of planned development generally are not too friendly anyway. But this was different. The opposition was intense, at times bitter as Ustilovsky and his attorney, Michael Chiumento III, outlined how various portions of the 278-acre course would be transformed into homes, some townhouses, ponds and green space, and some acreage would be developed commercially.
Two issues rankled residents especially: the smaller size of the lots Ustilovsky was proposing, and, for many residents along different swaths of fairways, the disappearance or reduction of their golf-course view.
Fallow for more than a decade, the golf course has been a recurring sore point for the residents lining its fairways. They’ve complained of the previous owners letting it fester and turn into an untended, overgrown little jungle even as the city pursued the previous owners in court and levied steep fines. Residents hoped at different points that the city would take over the land, or that another golf course operator would. Ustilovsky’s proposal turned into the latest sore point, which festered before city council members as recently as the end of January.
Earlier this month Ustilovsky submitted his plans to Palm Coast planners. (The project is termed a Master Planned Development.) It’s part of the regulatory process. The city’s planning department goes over the plans, ensures that they match up with existing regulations in the Land Development Code–that the project is compatible with development regulations–write up a set of formal comments where the project may need alterations, explanations or clarifications, and send those back to the developer.
The city had 15 days to produce its analysis. It has done so, and the city’s top two development officials, Jason DeLorenzo and Ray Tyner, met with the developer today. They outlined what amounts to a vast scaling back of the scope of the project, formalized in written, analytical comments and a more technical but more detailed document. The city’s analysis finds large swaths of development impermissible because they would obstruct existing residents’ golf course view. It requires minimum, 10,000-square-foot lot sizes in several places where the developer had planned smaller lots. It requires town houses no smaller than 1,000 square feet, even though the city’s code elsewhere makes 650-square-foot town houses permissible. And it puts the brakes on the commercial-development segment pending a separate evaluation of a land-use change.
In sum, the city’s response makes it all but impossible for the developer to proceed along plans even approximating those he submitted to the public at the December meeting. What development would still be permissible would be restricted to a few pockets along L-Section streets that are already well developed, and to a large segment of the acreage, at the north-northwest end of the golf course, where there are no existing homes or platted lots, and where Ustilovsky could build as he wishes. The city has not calculated the net reduction in homes resulting from its analysis. “I hate to say it’s going to be only 150 houses when we have no idea what it’ll be,” DeLorenzo said. It appears that perhaps (or at least) a third of the planned development is affected by the city’s restrictions.
The city administration’s analysis is not necessarily binding: the developer could take his plan directly to the city’s Planning Board for a hearing, then to the Palm Coast City Council, where two hearings are required before the development order is approved. Negotiations could take place at those levels, too, and council members could in whole or in part override administrative or Planning Board recommendations. But generally, developers work with the administration before getting to public meetings where officials are more often than not loath to override their planners’ recommendations–especially when the recommendations rest on analyses based on the city’s own land regulations.
The city in this case is concluding that Ustilovsky’s plan in significant parts is not compatible with the Land Development Code.
“As always, we are working with the City and homeowners to improve our original proposal,” Chiumento said in an email this afternoon. “For example, we are meeting many residents on a regular basis and are receiving positive feedback. What we want to avoid is false information being spread by some who do not want anything built here or anywhere else. Again, we are trying to create a win-win both for the property owner and the community.”
At the root of the city’s analysis is one section in the Land Development Code: “Existing golf courses communities located within the former Golf Course Community (GCC) District seeking to add residential units must comply with the standards established for the Master Planned Development District.” The even more salient part of the code, as far as the Matanzas development is concerned: “Existing direct golf course views from the rear yards of all existing, platted lots located within any residentially zoned districts directly abutting the site shall be maintained.”
In simple terms, that means no developer may build in fairways, blocking the backyard views of residents or planned homes along those fairways, because those who bought homes there did so on the expectation that they’d be living along a golf course. The fact that it is no longer a golf course is not relevant, as the code makes explicit: the rule applies even to “former” golf course communities. “You have to apply to still-existing guidelines,” DeLorenzo said.
The code does not define “direct golf course views.” It does not assign an actual distance. A fairway could be quite wide. “A view is subjective,” DeLorenzo concedes. “We took a pretty strict interpretation of view.” Strict or expansive: the end result is no homes on fairways abutting any existing of planned homes, no matter how wide the fairways. That’s taking out a considerable number of homes from Ustilovsky’s plan.
The development is broken down into nine “areas.” Some of them amount to just green space or planned ponds and are not likely to be in contention. For example, significant acreage in one area sits near I-95 at the north-east end of the planned development. Ustilovsky was planning to leave that as wetlands and an existing pond. The city is willing to acquire it–in exchange for what? City officials did not say, other than that they are not asking for the land. That particular segment adjoins a canal important to the city’s stormwater system, and stormwater officials consider the segment potentially useful as part of its flood-control system. But there are no existing homes near it and no access road or the possibility of access, city officials say, even if Ustilovsky found a way to turn the land into developable acreage.
The city is willing to “accept” that segment a few other smaller areas from the developer and maintain them itself, reducing the responsibility of the eventual home owner association (or HOA) that the city is requiring of the development. It’s the HOA that will be responsible for maintenance of all green areas within the developer’s acreage, whether it’s taking care of dead or dying trees or keeping the green zones relatively attractive, though those zones will not be required to be kept anywhere near golf course standards. They will be considered fallow, but the city is hoping some tree-planting will take place.
One sizeable area of the planned development, at its north end, is less affected than others by the “view” requirement: though homes and properties line London Drive and Lake Success Place, there are large swaths where Ustilovsky planned some of the homes, and still can, unimpeded, because those homes’ backyard views are woods, not golf course. A wood buffer would remain, beyond which homes would be built.
That’s not the case along the north stretch of Lakeview Boulevard, which straddles fairways, and where the fairways are very much part of the view for homes and properties on Lee Drive, Lee Place, Leeds Place, and so on.
The area designated for town houses is also subject to city requirements: the town houses must have a minimum of 1,000 square feet, be no taller than 40 feet (to accommodate pitched roofs, which will also be required), have a garage per unit, and be fee-simple. “The most they can have is 49 units because there’s only one entrance and exit,” DeLorenzo said of the acreage designated for town houses.
Ustilovsky was also planning a stretch of commercial development along the west end of the development, along U.S. 1. That segment is currently designated as greenbelt in the Future Land Use map.
“Greenbelt does not permit commercial in our comprehensive plan,” Tyner said. “So basically right now what our comments are, you need to get the commercial out because the comp plan does not permit commercial, now. So they have a separate application they submitted just for this piece for a comprehensive plan future land use map amendment, from greenbelt to mixed use.” That application parallels the Master Planned Development application, but is autonomous from it for now, and will have to go through its regulatory steps independently. If the re-designation clears the council, the commercial segment may then be folded back into the MPD and proceed.
“So when they resubmit the MPD this will have to come out or be contingent on the map change,” DeLorenzo said.
There are also environmental concerns with the old golf course which the developer will have to consider, assuming the ground contains pesticides or other deposits from its golf course days that exceed state and federal regulatory standards. It will then be the developer’s responsibility to clean up the grounds.
The next step is for the MPD, minus its commercial segment, to go before the planning board, then to the city council for two hearings. But there is no deadline: at this stage, it’s up to Ustilovsky to decide how and when to proceed.
Just me, but if I bought into Matanzas Woods from inception or along the way as a golf community. Nothing short of restoring the golf course to it’s original golf course community feature of exclusivity would be acceptable. If they’re going to develop any of it commercially, they better be coming with a payment plan that goes to existing homeowner’s for having been shorted & sold a golf resort community. And that isn’t forthcoming there. Those homeowner’s are going to have to eat that loss from the Bush era of leadership/politics. Since the area is so pro Republican Trump MAGA, well, here’s Trump’s opportunity to make America Great again. Everyone got a bailout under Bush/Obama, except these invested homeowners. I would be bitter too over the lies of prosperity. Bet nobody went to jail for it, not that Trump wouldn’t have let them out with pardons anyway.
Views? Are you kidding me? What a joke ,the course is trashed. People built homes on a dying golf course and now they want to protect their “views”!? Thats insanity, hey maybe we should plow threw some virgin ground and distrupt the wild life so these people can stare out the window at an over grown nothing. Its not like they live on the intra coastal or some protected environment. Such non sense
Mike Martin says
Dave, you might be interested to know that both a Florida Circuit Court and an Appeals Court have found that a homeowner who buys property that abuts a golf course has been promised an amenity, to wit, the undisturbed view from their property across the course. It is established law. Disagree if you will, but that is the law. There are people in the L section who bought their house when this course was the best one in the area. The law protects their view.
Name (required) says
Imagine: you retire and build a home in Florida on a golf course and retire. You play a few rounds of golf and the economy takes a dump, (thanks banks, govt, and corps; the “new Protected class”) only to leave you with your beautiful $500k home on a Dead, defunct golf course. A weed patch. For years. You hope that some golf management company will bring things back, but no. You now get another unwanted neighbor planting itself right on the Very fairway that you once shot your first 72. Welcome to Florida. Nobody cares about you, only thing anybody cares about what you can do for their own profits. Speculation is the key, wrong or right. It’s pure speculation. The American dream is dead. Quit trying to lie to everyone and say it hasn’t died. The middle class has no place anymore. Been bent over time and time again like a prisoner with Stockholm syndrome. Invest, or be invested. The irony will be not at least, a dead course, but eventually the potential dead housing development In your back yard. (Check your markets, reset coming.) Greed and hope in false prosperity Is The poisonous mindset that creates complacency; the opiate for the masses. Good luck. We can’t even finish what’s been started before we pave it and trust these charlatan outsider profiteers that know not what they are doing.
My God, how many new homes need to be built in Flagler County? There must be thousands of them planned. When is enough, enough? We are already plotting our move to a smaller growth area away from here. If I wanted to live in Orlando, we would had bought here. You are destroying the area out of greed for tax dollars
20 years in the making, this fuster cluck of building for the sake of it will as they say come around again 07,08 style. Already two Spec homes on my street that wont sell. Had two empty 8 years last Real Estate downturn, one was Repo.
So coming up on the tail end of decade long Economic expansion Housing, Markets, Economy could and will roll over sooner than later.
PC infrasture is falling apart, water is a problem in many ways,Education, Employment, local Govt it goes on . Add to that the County is broke with poor leadership past present and maybe future?
Good luck but I gotta go.
Tyner, are you wrong.
Let the developer, develop. End of story.
The current owner of the property purchased it for development and he should be able to. As long it it meets all code and ordinances and the city can support what is needed for environmental etc… He didn’t own it when it was golf course nor did he purchase it to restore it back to one. As I drive through the area, like most of palm coast, I see a lot of new houses being built. I own a home in the L section that I rent to family. So It’s ok for these people to develop their land but no one else?
Those people who say NO to any development in that area are the people you need to worry about. What they should be doing is working with the developer and the city and work on what will work best for the area. Open space, playground/park that doesn’t exist in the entire area, larger building lots (10k sqft) etc.. Lets make the area nice for EVERYBODY.
Mike Martin says
The developer purchased this property, and it is zoned as greenbelt. That zoning allows one house to be built per acre. The developer is trying to change that zoning. That is what we are fighting: the zoning change. Also, there are restrictive covenants that forbid developing on the course. These were filed with Flagler County in 1979 (the city was not created until 1999). We are not against development, just against this development plan, and the city’s planning and development department has agreed with us
Land of no turn signals says says
Maybe someone can explain this to me,lets say a thousand vacant lots pay average of $500 a year in taxes.They all get sold and houses are built on them now they pay of an average of $2600 a year in taxes plus impact fees.Why do our property taxes go up every year?Wait until new schools have to be built boy watch your tax bill.Where does all that money go,times that by 5 in the next 24 months.
No one Is telling the developer they can’t build they are simply being told to abide by the Land Development Code. They should have known what the code was before they bought the course. If no t then shame on them.
We are out of here says
Palm Coast was nice 20 years ago. Its now a ….well let’s just say, its not the old Palm Coast. I have 5 families of relative’s now living and working in and around Palm Coast. During a family get-together last week, we are ALL planning on selling our homes and moving to another area of Florida that’s less populated. Hopefully, that will take another 20 years to get crowded….
C’mon man says
If you build it they will come.
As I read through the comments there is a lot of misunderstanding and many who do not realize the far-reaching effects this particular issue has on other neighborhoods and property owners in Palm Coast. To put it in simpler terms to understand. Say you live on a street and two vacant lots exist between you and the next home 3 lots down. The lots are zoned for single-family residential development and according to the Land Development Code commercial uses such as a restaurant can not be used on those lots. So I come down and decide I think a restaurant would be perfect on the street on those two lots. So I buy the lots knowing the zoning. I have every right to apply to rezone the lots to move forward with my plan to open a restaurant. As neighbors, a restaurant and parking lot will negatively impact the value of your home dramatically and you are opposed to it for good reason. The City not only has a right to say no, they have a responsibility to say no. And if they were to overlook the Land Development Code, and Future Land Use designation for the lots, and allow the restaurant development to go through then they must allow it to happen everywhere else someone wants to do that in neighborhoods.
If you are saying this is not the same thing, you are wrong. Those of us who bought property along the former golf course paid more because of the open space behind our homes and the sense of privacy, and view for the most part, that comes with that. The zoning of the property behind us protects us whether the property is used for golf or not. The land is zoned multi-planned development and the land use is designated according the Future Land Use Map as ‘greenbelt’. That land use designation restricts the building of residential homes on the former golf course. Furthermore the Land Development Code Chapter 3.03.04 was specifically written to explain what the guidelines are for properties that were in previously aoned “Golf Course Community Districts” . . . “Existing direct golf course views from the rear yards of all existing, platted lots located within any residentially zoned districts directly abutting the site shall be maintained. Peripheral (i.e. side) views from these existing rear yards may be impacted by new development and new development may be visible from existing development.” The Land Development Code and zoning codes not only serve to provide guidelines of what can and can not be built, but they also serve to protect property owners.
IF the City were to approve the rezoning and allow homes to be built on the former fairways and commercial development behind existing homes, us owners along the former fairways would all lose value. This is not speculative, it’s a fact. Go look for homes for sale that are similar and look for one that has space behind it that is green or has water and is un-buidable. The one that has that un-buildable space behind it will always be able to demand, and get, a higher price. Likewise, it would set the precedent for what is allowed to happen on any other golf course that may close in the future (which is not all that unlikely) and what the protection are, or are not, for existing owners around those courses. Imagine if Pine Lakes closed, should those owners along that course give up their right to the quality of life that they bought into just because a developer buys the golf course property knowing the restrictions just wants to build on it?
This is not about being unfriendly or not wanting development. It’s about wanting responsible development that does not negatively impact values but rather maintains them, or preferably improves them. Alex Ustilovsky knew the restrictions when he purchased the property. Within his rights, he applied to have it rezoned with the intention to build a massive number of homes and create a commercial parcel behind properties. All of which would negatively impact values. The City did what the City is expected to, and has a responsibility to do, and reviewed the application to see if the plans complied with the Land Development Code and Future Land Use designations. The application did not so the City is rejecting it as they would, and should, in any other application situation.
The original course developer, ITT, sold land in the city with the courses being listed as an amenity. Now while this course has changed hands several times, it does not negate the fact that the property was developed as a common ownership course. If you look at the original covenants and restrictions on this course there was to be an HOA which Bob Cuff, the ITT attorney, and now city councilman, was supposed to develop in failed to do so. he even went as far as to create a corporation for that HOA that is listed in many foreclosures as a defendant to this very day. Common ownership courses where golf courses were presented as amenities for purchasing land are nearby, typically should never be re-developed into anything but open space, Because by marketing land that had access to this amenity, they did what they would call Indirectly restricted The course with But they called easement by Platte. If this city rules any other way on these particular courses they are in for a major court battle that will not and pretty. These are very unique courses and they are not like privately held courses.