Conditioned on design alterations to address serious concerns about drainage, the Flagler County Commission late Monday evening approved a 56-home subdivision on the barrier island, some 1,000 feet south of Marineland’s town limits and south of the River to Sea Preserve. The subdivision, to be managed by a property owners’ association, will be called Scenic Cove.
The 19-acre site is on the west side of State road A1A just south of already-developed Deerwood Street and Beachside Drive, two parallel parcels north of tightly-developed Hidden Treasure Drive. It stretches from A1A to the Intracoastal. All but four of the lots will be 50 feet wide, oriented north to south on the two sides of street on lots of approximate depths of 125 feet, or one-seventh an acre. (That compares with 100-foot-wide lots in Maritime Estates to the north, and is a reflection of developers increasingly favoring smaller lots in response to market demands.) Four lots oriented east to west at the western edge of the development, around a cul de sac, will front a small vegetation preserve.
There was sharp opposition to Scenic Cove’s drainage and environmental plan, but after a 70-minute hearing, the commission approved the project, with conditions, 5-0.
It was a much easier time for Ken Belshe, the developer of the 335-home Gardens subdivision on John Anderson Highway that the commission approved in 2020, but that, facing continuing opposition from Flagler Beach and John Anderson residents, had to clear several hurdles in court before construction started in earnest. But Belshe had to ease the way to approval by assuring commissioners–and assuring Commissioner Andy Dance in particular–that concerns were heard and will be addressed. Dance at one point seemed unwilling to approve the [proposal, though he ended up making the motion to do so, with his conditions.
Dance and residents raised deep concerns about flooding and drainage, with recent history in mind.
The developer’s consultant, Clint Smith, noted that “the first 40 percent or so was pretty well inundated by the flooding from Hurricane Matthew” in 2016, when the ocean in parts washed over the barrier island and devastated vegetation there. An easement along the north and south property lines would pick up water that would “run into the backyard or could run off from the adjoining property and get it to the stormwater system,” Smith said, dumping into the Intracoastal. To protect against flooding, homes will have to be built on a base elevation of at least one foot above the road level. Smith compared the “character” of the streetscaping on Beach Haven Drive, following “a common architectural theme.”
Still, Dance was not convinced that the drainage system will be sufficient, or that the lots should include the drainage easements, which would narrow buildable areas. And he pressed for a tree survey before development, especially the way the drainage system is designed. “We see what happened at Beachwalk,” he said, referring to an intensive 50-home development the commission approved in 2019 in the Hammock. “By the time you put in houses on a 50 foot lot there’s nothing left. There’s no room for a tree. Even on the property line, you have to have drainage going forward and back. The reality of it is nothing’s going to be left on a 50 foot lot and the tree survey needs to be done now before the clearing goes through and we find out that nothing’s there, because then we can’t replant based on the mitigation.”
“So I don’t see this as ready for approval tonight,” Dance said at first, pressing the point about drainage and its effects on neighboring properties. “I don’t think we want to end up with a Marineland Acres on those two private developments to the north,” he said, referring to the flood-plagued subdivision the county has spent years and millions of dollars to address. “I think at this stage, not just the fact that you can say the [water management] district’s going to make sure that doesn’t happen, but for those homeowners they need a reassurance at this stage that that’s not going to happen. And I think that bit of extra design work or presentation to help alleviate their minds that they’re going to be held harmless, is helpful for us moving this forward.”
Smith said the more specific drainage design would be clearer at the next step in the development process, when the final site plan is submitted to the commission. “At this level right now, without knowing if we even have a project or not, we’re not going to spend the money to do final design, it just isn’t feasible to do that,” Smith said.
“But we’re held hostage to the language within the [planned unit development] that we approved tonight regardless of that site plan that you’re talking about next time,” Dance said. “So if everybody here is 100 percent confident that they agree with every word that’s in that PUD, and all of our comments here are reflected in that PUD, then they can approve it. I’m not confident yet. I think this needs more time working with staff to make sure that every bit of our concerns–we haven’t heard three other commissioners yet–that all of our concerns are going to be reflected in the in the PUD.”
Dance ended up conceding: the tree survey would be added “at the time of the PUD site plan,” Smith said, even as it was left unclear whether Dance’s point about setting easements back from property lines would be part of the design. “I just think if we if we do the trees and the five-foot setbacks, I just think you’re going to come back with a significantly different drawing than what you’re showing us,” Dance said. “And to the people that are out there, the drainage issues after tonight, this isn’t the final step. This is approving the PUD and the language that’s in there. They’re going to come back with a more detailed PUD design document, and then the preliminary plat which is the final engineering construction drawings. Those will both come back to us at the next step. They have a lot of engineering to do and the commission is aware of some of the other drainage issues we’ve had in the other neighborhoods, which is what we want to avoid.”
Dance was explaining what the developer must demonstrate to put the commissioners’ minds at ease when Commissioner Joe Mullins interrupted him, calling for a vote. “You’re giving a lot of direction, and we haven’t even voted on this,” Mullins said.
“I was talking to the public,” Dance said.
“I feel like we’re micromanaging here a little bit. And that’s not appropriate,” Mullins said.
“It’s what we do,” Dance said.
“That’s what you do,” Mullins snapped. “That’s not what everybody else does.”
“It’s what we’re supposed to do.” Dance corrected.
“I disagree with that,” Mullins said.
Mullins was, in fact, wrong, as he often is in matters of governance and regulatory roles (or when he talks about swales, as he did Monday): especially with a planned unit development project, it is the role of commissioners to ensure that the county’s–and residents’–interests are protected and balanced along with those of the developers’. Mullins, who does not usually show much familiarity with the thick background material that comes with every such proposal (Scenic Cove’s adds up to 136 pages), has been more inclined to get votes over and done with, his allegiance primarily with developers’ wishes.
Other commissioners who presumably know better could have come to Dance’s aid. Instead, Commissioners Donald O’Brien, Greg Hansen and Dave Sullivan kept mum, as if still loath to challenge the lame-duck Mullins (he will be off the commission in early November). It was a member of the public who singled out Dance to say: ‘Thank you for standing up for us.”
Dance made the motion to approve the application, as long as a tree survey was conducted and a five-foot buffer was built into the design between the drainage easement and the property lines.
Residents’ concerns only amplified Dance’s. Even if at the expense of a lot or two, increasing lot width to 60 feet and increasing drainage width easements would “mitigate some of the concerns that the public and neighbors have on the property,” Joe Reitzer of Christopher Court in Palm Coast told the commissioners, echoing other public concerns. (“Increasing the lot size is critical,” another resident said, if only to increase permeable ground for water to draine through.)
“These are concerns that really bother us,” another resident said. “If the houses are so close together we can’t have a drain, now where are we going have the power people go in to service the pole?” He imagined floodwaters turning his neighborhood into a lake. “I know you fallows wanting to build them and I’m not against any kind of building anything, but I don’t want it destroying the property or making it to the point that I can’t live there when it rains.” He said the plan was not ready for approval. A Marineland Acre talked of her own experience with flooding over the years, and not wanting to see the same issues plague another subdivision. “I just want you to take into consideration the water that these people are going to be dumping on other people,” she said.
James Fisk of the Flagler Beach Museum addressed the “pre-historic activity that was all along that area,” and the Timucua and other Indian activity that took place there. “An archaeological study will not cost that much for the particular area that we’re concerned about, which is down by the intercoastal,” Fisk said.
Belshe–a local developer whose capacity for compromise was in evidence throughout The Gardens’ saga–sought to address Dance’s and the residents’ worries.
“We hear your concerns and we certainly will address those,” Belshe said. “Certainly we are required by state law and other laws probably federal as well, to not push water off onto property that we don’t own. All of that will be addressed in the in the engineering process, and we do not want to be bad neighbors. We don’t want to cause any of these kinds of problems.” He pledged that there would be “a lot more granular presentation” ahead, and even agreed to an archeological study. “I don’t want to get our project shut down in the middle of construction because we didn’t figure out what was out there first. So I have agreed to that.” He also agreed to a tree survey as Dance asked.
But he said by building a PUD, the development is already taking away “a lot of the developable portion of the property and would create a financial hardship if we had to widen them out,” he said. “And frankly, you know, we’re building beautiful homes on 50 foot lots. In fact, in Marina Del Palma, we just sold a house in there for $1 million. That’s on the 50 foot lot. And that happens throughout the county. So anyway, I heard your comments. We will take those into consideration.”
The application was for a rezoning from residential and limited commercial uses to single-family residential homes as a planned unit development. The change lowers the allowable density (from seven homes per acre to three) and eliminates the possibility of any commercial development. It also lowers expected traffic generated by the new homes from nearly 700 daily trips to 528. The subdivision would increase the area’s population by 138 people.
Samuel and Betty Hatcher of Boynton Beach have owned one of the parcels in one form or another since 1981, when they and another couple bought it for $251,000. The property appraiser gives it a just market value of $1 million today. The owner of the second, parallel parcel is Hunjan LLC., owned by T. Kaur Hunjan of British Columbia, Canada, and represented by the the Chiumento Law firm in Palm Coast. The parcel is also valued at $1 million by the property appraiser.
Significant upland Oak Hammock habitat borders the Intracoastal Waterway. A minimum of 10 percent of existing vegetation will be preserved. “The native vegetation preservation area will be located within a dedicated tract along the westernmost portion of the Property where the most mature hardwood trees on the Property exist,” the agreement states. Each home is required to provide at least one tree per 3,000 square feet of lot area, not including road and infrastructure areas.
The four lots at the western edge will, like the rest of the development, have access to a shared boardwalk-like path and dock by the intracoastal to limit environmental impacts. There will be a 40-foot buffer between the subdivision and A1A.
According to a Sept. 1 letter by Dennis Clark, chair of the Scenic A1A Pride committee, Belshe “committed that every effort will be made to honor the following commitments”:
• Provide a kiosk with Old Coast Guard Road historical information near the beach access.
• Conduct an Archaeological Study since this area is rich with artifacts.
• State that wildlife corridors will be provided in the native vegetation area and around the stormwater ponds (not blocked by walls or fences) in perpetuity.
• Provide a recreational/picnic area near the ponds.
• Work with Scenic A1A Pride on the entryway and what the landscape buffer will look like.
• Notice to lot buyers that they must preserve or replace 40 percent of tree caliper removed. (Caliper refers to the diameter of a tree’s trunk.)
• Specify Oak “street trees” requirement as one per home. 25’ setbacks allow for this.
• Sidewalks will be designed and engineered and built when the homes are constructed. The agreement specifies that the sidewalks will be five foot wide concrete, built on both sides of the internal road and cul-de-sac, to provide access between homes and amenities, and for access and recreation.
In a telling side note that will likely become a standard part of all development agreements from here on, the PUD document includes this wording: “The Developer shall grant the County an easement over its property lying East of the existing dune line for beach
renourishment and repair. The form of the easement shall be agreed to by the parties as a condition of Preliminary Plat approval.” Securing those easements has been an epic battle for the county in Flagler Beach, where the Army Corps of Engineers ie preparing to rebuild 2.6 miles of dunes south of the pier. The county had to secure the easements one by one from property owners. One owner is still holding out.