Prompted by an outpouring of support for Whispering Meadows Ranch, the equine-therapy non-profit that’s operated on a property off John Anderson Highway for nearly 14 years, Flagler County government and Whispering Meadows have been in discussions through the weekend to resolve the recent conflict that’s pit the ranch’s fate in jeopardy.
The county is delaying the hearing that had been scheduled for this evening’s County Commission meeting, where the commission was to decide whether to grant the ranch a special exception to keep its operation on John Anderson, or force it to end operations there. The five-horse operation is on a property owned by Mary Helene and Richard Davis, who have lived at the property for 22 years.
The talks are centering on possibly moving parts of the operation to nearby lands. The county is proposing two parcels to Whispering meadows.
“It seems as if multiple parties have been in discussions, the land owners, the adjacent land owners, and I believe the intent is to want to continue that item and move it forward a few weeks to a time certain,” County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien said at the beginning of an unrelated commission workshop this morning.
“We worked through the weekend with both parties, Al and I,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said, referring to County Attorney Al Hadeed. “We moved very close to an agreement. There may be an opportunity for public private partnership with the county to provide what’s a very needed service. We’re working on those details. We think we would have that resolved within a couple of weeks.”
The ranch provides horse therapy to veterans who suffer from such conditions at Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other ailments, and especially to children who suffer from a variety of disabilities. Whispering meadows is run by the Davises and their daughter, Kristine Aguirre, along with a corps of volunteers.
Both sides right now are speaking of the talks in positive, confident terms. “It was a good discussion and we want to move forward,” Aguirre said. The discussions took place between the county and Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach attorney who has long represented the ranch. “It would be for a very, very long-term lease.” Aguirre said the county has set a 30-day timetable to try to resolve the issue. “We would obviously have some terms that have to benefit us. We’re not going to do it just to appease the county.” (Monday evening, the commission scheduled the hearing on the issue for its June 7 meeting.)
Aguirre sought to assure clients of the ranch that in any case, “We’re not going to be moving in six months. We need time.” But, she noted of the county, “I get the feeling that they ant to work with us.”
The ranch has been adopted by numerous non-profits around the county, including Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, and has worked in close concert with the school district over the years as a place both for students to log community service hours and for special education students to visit periodically.
Late last year, as the next-door property was on the market, a small group of residents raised concerns that the ranch was operating as a business in a residential zone, and sought to shut down the operation, or have it move elsewhere. The county then required the ranch to apply for what’s called a “semi-use permit” that, if granted, would have allowed the organization to continue operating at 5011 John Anderson Highway. The county’s planning board in mid-April recommended granting the permit, with a few conditions. But the recommendation was not binding on the commission, where the decision could have gone either way.
At the planning board, attorney John Tanner, a nearby-neighbor of the ranch and a leader of the opposition to its continuing operations at that location, had, with others, suggested that the ranch could move to places such as the county fairgrounds or the Agriculture Museum at the north end of the county, proposal that the Davises consider unfeasible. The quiet of the location off John Anderson is integral to the therapy.
“We will make sure this is a benefit to our program,” Aguirre said. “We will not be pressured into anything.”
Percy's mother says
Please go to: http://www.myheroestherapy.com
Physical, occupational, neurological and emotional therapy with horses has a specific name. It is called “hippotherapy”.
Hippotherapy is very well-known (except for the powers that be in Flagler County apparently).
Go online and Google: CHASTAIN HORSE PARK THERAPEUTIC PROGRAM (Atlanta, GA). “Healing through Horses”.
There are 2 excellent videos on this particular website which will explain the benefits of hippotherapy, that is, using horses to help heal children and adults suffering from cognitive and physical and neurological deficits.
I volunteered at one of these organizations while going through my doctoral program, and so I am very familiar with the excellent benefits offered by therapy with horses.
So, what’s more important? John Tanner and his neighbors worrying about their property values? or continuing to help children with their physical, cognitive and neurological deficits?
FlaglerLive, is it possible to make sure one of these videos is played during public comments when this issue comes before the Flagler County Commission?
Speakers during public comment segments have on occasions shown videos, but the length of the video can’t exceed the usual 3-minute length of a public speaker’s allotted time.
Thanks for this Update. Does anyone know if the Commission Voters have all visited Whispering Meadows Ranch during times of operation? I believe they need to see how this works so to have fuller knowledge on this operation.
Concerned Citizen says
Thank you Flagler Live.
I don’t always agree with your writing but I believe you make a difference in this county. This county is the most corrupt and unethlically run county I have ever lived in. Our leadership is hell bent on running things in the dark. And over developing for every last penny. And they believe they can get away with it.
How many times have we seen your paper come in. Blow the lid off of something then reverse a decision that would have been made behind our backs?
@ Our BOCC and Mr. Tanner
Before you make ANY decision on this ranch I implore you to go spend a day out there observing. Learn first hand how they make a difference in peoples lives. Better yet why not volunteer some time?
With the meager resources our county has any outlet for mental health is a blessing. And we should support it fully.
FPC Granny says
Shame on the people who are more concerned with property value then all the positives this ranch has done for 14 years for a very special sector of our society! Shame on any council members that does “not” allow this ranch to continue to function for all the positive effects this ranch does for children/adults with disabilities. Thousand upon thousands of dollars was dumped into Holland Park where many of these people are unable to enjoy because of their disabilities. They do this work out of the goodness of their hearts volunteering! Amazing work the do! We should be praising them along with honoring them for what they do for our Veterans!! The council should be looking at ways to give this ranch grants to help them continue the good they are doing!!
Take the neighboring complainers property in eminent domain, and through them out, and leave their property abandoned for years because of their greed.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
HayRide has a great idea! How dare the commission even place this on any agenda without ever having set foot upon a property they are considering shutting down. We are facing a broken down, drug infested, abandoned hotel for over 9 years facing Plantation Bay and the county invents excuse after excuse to leave it be – now it has new owners so I guess we will have to look at this dangerous POS for another 9 years.
The most hypocritical, inept county attorney who leads the ignorant commissioners by their noses
TEAR DOWN the OLD DIXIE HOTEL then start on ranch. Hey Mr. Tanner how about lunch on me next to Old Dixie Hotel – just be careful you don’t fall into the green waterless pool – you are tall enough to fall over the cheap fencing. I’ll show you something which is DESTROYING nearby property values!
Lots of bleeding hearts in the comments section not really approaching this situation logically. The fact that these people are valued members of the community performing a “much-needed-public service” (a term jerry cameron uses liberally apparently) is totally moot. This issue is not about nosy neighbors, or autistic kids, or horses, or property values. This is clear cut, will the county enforce their own laws or not?
If you ran an business (nonprofit, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…) out of a residential area you’d get the book thrown at you, because you don’t have the media and the threat of public backlash behind you. If you sell hot food in this county you need to abide by guidelines set out by our health department. And guess what, when you try to throw your own Fall festival it’s going to get shut down by the sheriff, not attended by him.
You cannot have one set of rules for one person, and then another set of rules for everyone else, no matter how sad their story is. When they pressure Cameron into the bending the rules for this couple I hope we can all take a valuable lesson away from it: If you ever break the law, play dumb, raise a fuss on facebook, and be a victim. God willing you will wind up like the Davis’, above the law.
“You cannot have one set of rules for one person, and then another set of rules for everyone else, no matter how sad their story is.”
Errrr .. yes, you can. That’s why it’s called a “Special ” exemption (semi-use permit). Which is a perfectly legal documented procedure in this county.
The main issues here is whether the county will issue said SE, and it has been recommended that they DO allow it by their own Planning Commission.
“At the planning board, attorney John Tanner, a nearby-neighbor of the ranch and a leader of the opposition to its continuing operations at that location, had, with others, suggested that the ranch could move …”. Perhaps Mr. Tanner should be reminded of the legal concept of laches – the unreasonable delay in making an assertion or claim, such as asserting a right, claiming a privilege, or making an application for redress, which may result in refusal. Nobody had an issue for 14 years until money was involved – too late to complain now.
Regina Spivey says
Please keep Whispering Ranch. It’s been there a long time. No need to move when they have been established for 13/14 years. This is old Florida let’s keep it that way. We advertise “Mayberry” is Flagler! We Floridians would like to keep small old Florida. That’s why we are here! We don’t want what St. Augustine explosion. It’s ruined! Keep whispering ranch where they are. Someone will buy around them…no worries about that! Please consider request. Thank you!