Technical understanding was shallow but emotions were not. Such might be expected from residents on either side of the HB lodge issue, but not from P&D board members themselves.
Palm Coast, FL – December 10, 2014 – COMMENTARY: The Flagler County Planning & Development Board last night, ignoring county staff’s strong support of the project, voted 3 to 2 against recommending approval of Salamander’s plan to replace the ageing Hammock Beach Resort lodge with a198-room lodge/hotel. The vote is a setback for the project, but the P&D board’s decision is not final. The issue will go before the Board of County Commissioners on January 12, 2015 for a final decision.
The vote was not unexpected. The P&D board’s lack of thoughtful deliberation on issues with environmental overtones was once again on exhibit. The board is decidedly "developer unfriendly."
Board members Michael Boyd and Pam Richardson voted in favor of the plan. Board members Thad Crowe, Michael Duggins and Russell Reinke were opposed. Board member Robert Dickinson was not present. Board member Laureen Kornel attended but left the meeting prior to the vote.
There were two issues on the agenda, both associated with the Salamander application.
- Approve or Deny reclassification (rezoning) of four parcels to allow the construction of the proposed 198-rooom lodge/hotel, including restaurant, conference, clubhouse, ballrooms, and associated golf and retail facilities.
- Approve, Deny or Approve with Comments the site development plan for the lodge and conference facilities.
My opinion on the Hammock Beach project is well documented in past GoToby.com articles (see ‘related stories’ above), but in summary, this is a “no brainer.” (I resist the temptation to infer a linkage between my characterization of the issue and certain members of the P&D board.) Apparently, Adam Mengel was the only county-associated individual in the room with a complete grasp of the technical issues. He laid out a compelling technical argument from a planning/land use perspective.
Michael Chiumento and some members of the audience argued that the current proposal was simply a warmed over version of the one that was shot down in 2011. That is simply not true. That argument sounds a lot like the anti-City Hall folks who are still saying, “We voted it down once (a decade ago). What is it about the word ‘NO’ that you don’t understand?”
Chiumento implied that he represented the Hammock Beach Condominium Association. In fact, there are four separate condominium associations and a homeowners association within the private community. It turns out that Chiumento represents only one of the four condo associations. I’m told that the association’s board bent its own rules to engage Chiumento. The majority of the members voting were against bringing him in, but the board chose to interpret the non-voters as “YES’ votes. (And why was Chiumento allowed to talk for 15 to 20 minutes when other public speakers were limited to three minutes?)
The difference between this proposal and the 2011 rendition is as pronounced as the different between Salamander, representing Lubert Adler now, and Front Door, Lubert Adler’s 2011 front man.
The P&D board ignored county staff’s recommendation. They ignored the fact that a majority of club members and residents favor Salamander’s proposal. They also ignored the positive economic impact on the surrounding area, most of which is within Flagler County. There was no thoughtful deliberation.
Their vote was not about the county. It was about how they felt individually about developers and about development in general. To paraphrase one board member who lives in the Hammock, “When I look north and I see the Surf Club Towers. When I look south, I see the Hammock Beach towers. I don’t want to look at any more towers.” That is not a thoughtful deliberative comment. Nor is it germane.
There was a strong sense among attendees with whom I’ve spoken that the three ‘NO’ votes were locked in prior to the onset of the hearing.
The P&D board failed on two levels. On the first level, they didn’t approve an eminently approvable project; one that would have a greater impact on the much sought-after goal of economic development than this county has seen in some time.
It’s not over yet. The BOCC has its chance to make up its own mind, which leads to the second level of the P&D board’s failure. There were two opportunities for the P&D board to vote. They voted against reclassification but elected to not vote on the site development plan.
If the BOCC approves the reclassification, they will not have the benefit of any P&D board input when they tackle the site development plan. The P&D board should have anticipated this. But a vote on the site development plan would suggest thoughtful deliberation by the board prior to a vote, a process that was unlikely to happen. Plus it was getting late. One of six board members had already left, skipping out before the vote.