Progressing toward actual development for the past five years has never been routine for Veranda Bay, the big development planned for the two sides of John Anderson Highway that was previously known as The Gardens.
“It is now June of 2022,” Michael Chiumento, the Palm Coast attorney representing Ken Belshe, the developer, told the Flagler County Commission this morning. “Mr. Belshe and his company purchased this with the intent to develop it in May of 2018. So you can see this process is pushing half a decade to get to the point where we’re going to start having vertical construction.”
But despite public, regulatory and legal hurdles, including a civil lawsuit filed against the developer (he prevailed in county court and on appeal, twice), the development has nevertheless moved slowly toward construction, and did so today with another key vote from the Flagler County Commission–an almost-routine 5-0 vote this time. The vote approved the final plat for the first 56 lots of a development that’ll eventually number 334 homes.
The commission also approved a required $11.7 million performance bond, meaning that an insurance company would step in and fund the construction consistent with the final plat should something happen to the company’s development plans.
There was still some opposition, but compared to previous steps, it was more muted–as if losing the court case had taken the wind out of opponents’ sails–and more focused on specific conditions that concede that the development will go ahead. Sallee Arnoff referred to the still-lacking details on what trees will be saved and which won’t. Robin Polletta called the hearing at a morning meeting–as opposed to an evening meeting, when more people can attend–“blatant pandering to to the convenience of the developer.” (Both were part of the opposition from a Flagler Beach group called Preserve Flagler Beach and Bulow Creek, the group that filed the lawsuit.)
A Halifax Plantation resident noted the identified gopher tortoise burrows that would have to be matched with proper relocations of tortoises. The fourth and final speaker addressed flood concerns that have been a recurrent worry in the Flagler Beach neighborhood next to the proposed development.
Six parcels need to be platted within the 824 acres of the proposed development. Today’s vote applied to 90 acres and two of the six parcels, with others to go before the commission at a future date. The acreage is at the northeast corner of the development, all of it on the east side of John Anderson. It abuts Flagler Beach’s Custer’s Palm Harbor subdivision.
Some of the concerns resonated with two commissioners. “Mr. Belshe stated that they’ve got a plan and it’s all going to contain it and it’s not going to leave their property,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said of potential flood waters. “I personally don’t believe that, because I’ve seen other developments and the water goes where water goes, and it’s kind of downhill, and downhill goes right to Palm Avenue and Palm Drive. So that bothers me. And I think there needs to be some way in this whole negotiation that we can hold this development’s feet to the fire on drainage, because I just I don’t see it.”
The last time the development was before the County Commission for a substantial vote goes back to November 2020, when it approved the development in a 3-2 vote after hours of public comment and debate. The comments had included a request from Flagler Beach government to approve the development only with a set of four conditions (formalized here). The commission declined to append those conditions on the approval. One of those conditions Flagler Beach officials wanted had been precisely what Hansen was referring to: documented evidence that alterations to the grade in the construction zones will not alter water flows.
“The city of Flagler Beach has done their study to look at what’s causing the flooding on Palm Drive and it’s not us,” Chiumento said, “it’s a dysfunctional stormwater system that they have on Palm Drive that has not been maintained by that association.”
Hansen in November 2020 had voted against the development, but was now prepared to vote for this next step. “There are rules and we follow the rules. We do, and so does Mr. Belshe,” Hansen said, even though he said he was still concerned about the water, “but as far as I can see this is a good development, and we follow the rules.”
Arnoff had concerns about old, stately oaks on the property. Commissioner Andy Dance was concerned about whether some will be saved or only “may” be saved. “You’re correct, commissioner, the language was very much a permissive ‘may,'” Adam Mengel, the county development director, told Dance, but noted that the majority of those oaks are not in the two parcels getting their final plat approval, and that the county would still pursue efforts to preserve the oaks. Dance was not convinced.
“The preliminary plat would have taken into account those trees,” Dance said, referring to the step before today’s, when negotiations resolve such issues. “So they’re either coming out or they’re not at this point because the ‘may’ was part of their design decision that was reflected in the preliminary plat.”
“I don’t want to interrupt you but I also don’t want to say that all hope is lost,” Mengel said, “that your final plat can still vary from the preliminary plat, and that some of that ground truthing that’s yet to happen.” The developer, he said, will still evaluate some changes–perhaps not within individual lots but around the subdivision’s larger infrastructure.
“there’s discrepancy on the trees,” Dance maintained, but like Hansen, he was ready to support the next step. While he conceded that the plan has been through county review and meets land development and planned unit development regulations, he suggested that the application could have used a more thorough review at the preliminary plat step. Once it reaches the final plat step, the commission’s role is more ministerial. In other words, its hands are tied.
“This plat match[es] what you approved two years ago, and I think staff and ourselves will assert that it matches and meets all the criteria and essentially checks the box,” Chiumento said.