$72 million investment, 73 more jobs, more tourism and bed tax, increased property tax revenue, more sustainable resort amenities and more. If they don’t want this, what are their approval criteria?
Palm Coast, FL – October 22, 2014 – The Flagler County Planning & Development Board recently fumbled the Hammock Beach Club's application to replace the resort's lodge and make other improvements to the resort.
I am almost always proud to be a Palm Coast and Flagler County resident. For instance, I was the official time keeper at the Flagler Votes Forum held a week ago at the Hilton Garden Inn. Federal, state and local candidates faced tough questions in a room crowded with interested voters. America the way it should be. A common theme from all the candidates was an understanding that economic development should be a major local focus. We need more jobs and a more diverse property tax base. This theme resonated with the audience.
If, instead, I had attended the Flagler County Planning & Development Board meeting a few miles down the road, I would have been disappointed. Lubert Adler, owner, and Salamander Hospitality, operator, of the Hammock Beach Club submitted a plan to replace the club’s ageing oceanfront lodge. The county’s Technical Review Committee had previously approved the plan and the Planning staff indorsed it.
The Planning Board’s role in the quasi-judicial proceeding was to provide their opinion on whether or not the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) should approve the Hammock Beach Club’s application. The P&D Board’s recommendation of approval or denial would be based on input from county staff, the Hammock Beach Club (the applicant) and from members of the public. Because of the size of the project, the BOCC will make the final decision.
Swayed by dissent from a few vocal local residents and from Scenic A1A PRIDE, the Planning Board voted 4 – 2 against recommendation. It was clear that some members of the P&D Board were predisposed to be against the project. After most of the spectators had left, Prem Devadas, Salamander’s president, reminded the Board that he had not had a chance to offer his rebuttal. After some discussion, the meeting was reopened for public comment. Devadas and a few members from the public then spoke in support of the project.
In the end, the original motion to deny approval was withdrawn and the item was continued to the P&D Board’s November 12, 2014 at 6:00 P.M. In spite of rumors to the contrary, the rescission of the original vote and motion to continue were done properly; no back room, outside the sunshine, deals.
The BOCC will still have the final say, but a P&D Board’s negative recommendation would be bound to carry some weight. Perhaps the P&D Board will get it right next time.
Not many people have followed the developments of Hammock Beach and Ocean Hammock more closely than has GoToby.com. For eight years, no one has written more about it; the good, the bad and the ugly. The 2009 attempt to replace the lodge and add more residential density to the golf course was one of the “Uglys.” Ginn-LA Riles Hammock Beach and Ocean Hammock Residents with Condo Hotel Plans.
The developer, represented by Front Door Communities at the time, not by Salamander, managed to do everything wrong. Their “Damn the torpedoes (residents, BOCC, members, sound land use principles, etc.), full speed ahead” approach took the issue all the way to Tallahassee on appeal, where it was ultimately shot down.
But the Hammock Beach Club faces real challenges. The Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson signature golf courses are expensive to maintain. So too are the rest of the amenities. New home construction at the Conservatory and Harbor Village Marina, while showing signs of recovery, were stalled for years by the Great Recession. Each vacant lot in these projects and those in Ocean Hammock represent years of lost membership revenue.
As presently constituted, the Hammock Beach Club is not attractive to corporate functions that would utilize the facilities during the mid-week tourist and vacation lull. A solution that increases the resort’s guest and service capacity without substantially altering the resort’s character is needed.
Salamander’s efforts to frame a solution have been as transparent and inclusive as Frond Door’s were obfuscating. They met scores of times with stakeholders and adjusted their application accordingly. Their plan is sound, from both a business and a land use standpoint. If the plan is approved, here is what Flagler County can expect:
- $72 million in capital expenditures
- Protection and preservation of existing jobs – 450 maximum peak season full-time, seasonal and on-call employees
- New hospitality jobs – 73 full time and 70 seasonal
- Increased County taxes – an estimated $3,880,457 in the first five years
- Incremental spending in the area outside the resort – an estimate of $55,144,457 in the first five years based on the Tourism Development Council’s impact summary
- Increased marketing expenditures by the Club – $2.3 to $3.7 million in the first year
- New hospitality visitors exposed to the area up 36% – including prospective Hammock property owners, new or relocated business owners or investors. Remember, the principals of both Moving Minds and Coastal Cloud moved here first before locating their companies here.
The P&D Board was prepared to shoot down this project that will provide sustainable economic development and more jobs. Meanwhile, just a few miles down SR 100, the Flagler Votes Forum was strongly voicing the need for exactly this kind of project. A substantial majority of Hammock Beach and Ocean Hammock property owners and Club members are in favor of the new lodge plans.
Four members of the Planning Development Board apparently think that their mandate is to hinder development, even well planned development. This project is a no-brainer. If they don’t want this project, what are their approval criteria? I expect that the BOCC will approve the plans for a new lodge, with or without a P7D Board endorsement. But for smaller projects, the P&D Board has the final say. It’s unfortunate that some of its members are so out of touch with the needs of the county and its citizens. Perhaps they should be invited to step aside.