The neighborhood meeting hosted in December by the developers of the proposed 1,200-home Eagle Lakes development at the south end of Old Kings Road drew only two dozen people. But their unanimity against the development as proposed–its smaller lots, its density, its variance with the ampler homes and lots proposed for the area a decade and a half ago–was prelude both for the larger crowd and the inconclusive outcome of Tuesday evening’s Flagler County Planning Board consideration of the developer’s rezoning application.
Tuesday evening there was the additional, not insignificant–and not subjective–concern about fire safety and fire infrastructure. There are disagreements over setbacks. The fire marshal wanted larger setbacks. The developer wanted lesser ones, which impede a more effective firefighting response. They were considering splitting the difference, but it wasn’t clear what that compromise would be.
The name change of the development, to “Radiant,” did not resonate much with the public. The developer is changing the name so as to disassociate with existing Eagle Lakes homes developed by a previous builder. In the end, there was too much unease for a recommendation for approval, so the matter will not head for the County Commission just yet. There, the same presentations and audiences will hit replay and a commission with two members seeking reelection will be voting.
“At this point, maybe there’s just too many things left on the table that aren’t resolved,” Planning Board member Mark Langello, a developer, said, making a motion to table the matter until March 8. He wants the county, the developer and the fire marshal to work on various disagreements. Jack Corbett, the panel’s chairman, tried to get a vote for approval, with conditions. But there was no consensus for that approach on a board that barely managed a quorum: only four members showed up for the meeting. They all voted for the delay.
The 611-acre development development spreads between Old Kings Road and I-95 east to west, and between Old Dixie Highway and past Steeple Chase Trail, south to north. The developer, the Kolter Group, split the acreage between a north and south sector–458 in the north sector, 760 in the south sector. “There’s been comments that we’re adding so many units, 400 to 500 units. That’s really not accurate,” Michael Chiumento III, the attorney representing Kolter, said. “This is the accurate way that we’d like you all to look at it.” The development had been entitled to so many homes. It shifted 149 homes from the north to the south sector.
The north end will be built in four phases, with pool, gazebo, walking trails, and open space. The south sector will be developed in five phases and will be restricted to residents 55 and older, with staffed amenities that’ll include tennis and pickle ball courts. “So we’re not only getting into a design of smaller lawns with lesser maintenance, that is what the market is asking for, according to Kolter, but because of that we now have more open space and are able to preserve more trees, have lakes and amenities for the community,” Chiumento said.
Robin Polletta, a homeowners association board member in Halifax Plantation, not far from the development, wryly set the tone of the numerous public comments that followed by reminding the board that it was Wilbur the Pig who was referred to as “radiant” in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. (“Well, you’re a good little pig, and radiant you shall be,” Charlotte tells Wilbur in the book. Polletta did not quote the next line, which may as well have applied to her: “I’m in this thing pretty deep now-I might as well go the limit.”)
“I know this developments is going to happen,” she said. “But I think there’s some so many issues here regardless of setbacks and clearances between the buildings. These are basically detached condos when you’re talking about a 10-foot clearance between buildings.” She referred to fire marshal concerns, and cited the number of homes as hitting the threshold that would require the development to be more rigorously regulated as a “development of regional impact,” or DRI. She had concerns about other neighboring developments, the need for a new traffic study–and the need for a continuance.
Nancy Dance, the former owner of the property, was also among the speakers, calling on the board to stick with the original Eagle Lakes planned unit development, which would alter the number of homes and their sizes. “I understand that I don’t own Eagle Lakes Phase Two property any longer,” she said. “But my family toiled on that land for years. I had significant input on the final design, the density, the location, and with buffers, and in limiting the abutting driveway access to emergency only. I still live on what remains of the cattle ranch. This issue is very personal.” She added, “please stick to the plan. The original plan for the eagle lakes density. I’m asking that if you tonight.”
Near the three-hour mark, one of the planning board members was looking for a breakthrough of some sort. He asked the developer if he’d consider reducing the number of homes to 1,000, or 900. “I know as a developer, you don’t want us taking anything away from you,” Anthony Lombardo, a Realtor serving on the board, said. “But can you make it work?”
Eric Morrisette, Kolter’s vice president for acquisitions, walked up to the podium and put it bluntly: “Short answer is–no.” He then talked about vested units, and talked about what the market is demanding: smaller homes built around a lifestyle layout, landscaping, berms, walls, “a lot that goes into this that makes it super upscale and super beautiful.” The design drove the numbers. And there are magic numbers: “You can actually fund that at a reasonable per cost basis per house per homeowner.” The sweet spot is the number of homes proposed, accounting for the split between the north segment and the south segment of the development. “As far as the lot sizes go, we’re seeing 40 and 50-foot lots in the market rate houses all day long.”
Lombardo retorted as a Realtor and a young parent: “I’m 41 years old. I have three kids. I’m not I’m not buying a 40 foot wide lot for my family on it,” he said. “I’m not saying that you your professionals are wrong, but I’m in real estate for a pretty long time. I have a pretty good idea what what the 40 year olds and what families want, and that’s probably not what it is. I mean, we want amenities. We want nice houses. But we want our kids to be able to play in yards and you know, run around the streets and all that stuff.”
What Lombardo wasn’t taking into account is the message the Home Builders Association’s top officials drilled into the heads of the Flagler County School Board and the Flagler County Commission, in the same chamber, just months ago, as the school board was proposing to raise development impact fees on homes to defray the cost of new schools: young people with families are not moving to Flagler. Overwhelmingly, and for the past decade, the population increase has been driven by older people–the people Morrisette was referring to, and is building for.
It so happened that Morrisette is represented by the same attorney who was at the homebuilders’ side, arguing their points, as he did Morrisette’s Tuesday evening. Morrisette listened to Lombardo, hands in pocket, lips pursed: the look of someone worn by a too-familiar refrain, being told how to do his job by someone telling him he wasn’t telling him how to do his job. Nevertheless, Lombardo, who ascribed his analysis to his gut, was just as certainly reflecting local sentiment. By definition, the people whose homes Morrisette is building aren’t here yet, and those who are would most likely be leaving larger homes to move into smaller ones.
Beyond that, it was up to Assistant County Attorney Sean Moylan to remind board members, if not in so many words, that they had to dispense with their gut feelings but to stick to “the standard that you have to rely on as you exercise your discretion.” In this case, the board could only vote on whether the proposed development “does not affect adversely the orderly development of Flagler County and complies with the comprehensive plan,” even if “a lot of that is in the eye of the beholder.” Board members can also consider whether the development will affect the health and safety of neighbors, or be detrimental to adjacent properties.