Hammock Beach Lodge Approval Vote Ends Marathon 8 ½ Hour Meeting
This BOCC meeting began Mon. at 5:30 and didn’t adjourn until 1:50 Tuesday morning. If you weren’t one of nearly 400 people attending, you missed some great theater. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Palm Coast, FL – February 4, 2015 – Shortly before 2:00 A.M. Tuesday morning, the Flagler Board of County Commissioners approved Salamander Hotels & Resort’s Application #2962; a Site Development Plan Review and Rezoning (Reclassification) that will allow them to build a 198 room beachfront Lodge and Conference facilities to replace the deteriorating Hammock Beach Club Lodge. If you weren’t one of the nearly 400 people attending, you missed a marathon 8 ½ hour meeting and some great theater. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
In the final half hour of the marathon session and following presentations by county staff and Salamander and hours of public comment, Commissioner Barbara Revels moved to deny Salamander’s request. Commissioners George Hanns, Nate McLaughin and Chairman Frank Meeker remained silent (Commissioner Charlie Ericksen was in the hospital). Revel’s motion died for lack of a second.
A motion to accept the staff’s recommendation to approve Salamander’s petition was made by McLaughlin and seconded by Hanns. The vote resulted in a tie with Meeker and Revels voting NO. The motion needed a majority to pass. The tie vote amounted to a denial.
A subsequent modified motion containing concessions by Salamander passed on a 3 to 1 vote. Revels voted “NO.” The project will go forward. Salamander will pay the county $500,000 and donate approximately one acre of land to expand Old Salt Park, which is adjacent to the project at the end of 16th road. In addition, there is a sunset clause requiring Salamander to start vertical construction within four years.
1. Most importantly, the project was approved. The new Lodge/hotel, bundled with a host of improvements to the main structure at the Hammock Beach Resort, will help transform Hammock Beach into a world-class Resort and Convention Center. The county will receive additional revenue from sales tax, bed tax, property tax and a special donation earmarked for the environment. Flagler residents and businesses will benefit from the economic impact of having a world-class resort in the county. The project’s total capital investment is expected to be $72 million.
2. Robin King, president and CEO of Career Source Flagler/Volusia provided the BOCC will the organization’s estimate of the local economic impact of the Lodge project.
- There are 400 individuals employed at Hammock Beach Resort. Based on the average income of hotel workers in Flagler County, their earnings total $11,538,634. Because those 400 people have jobs, another 92 are employed in the county with estimated annual earnings totaling $3,358,397.
- With Salamander adding 150 (75 full time and 75 part time) jobs after the renovations, the economic impact is an additional 26 jobs in the community. With a 1.29 multiplier, this equals an additional $4,208,411 in earnings.
- After the expansion, the 550 employees at Hammock Beach Resort will generate and sustain an additional 119 jobs in Flagler County. The total economic impact of the workers alone in $19,068,200 annually.
- During the proposed renovation, up to 300 construction jobs will be created.
The new visitors to the resort will have an estimated $55 million economic impact on Flagler County. Flagler County will receive an additional $10 million in combined tax revenues.
3. Visitors attending group meetings at the expanded resort and convention center will be introduced to Flagler’s unique setting and lifestyle. Many will return with their families as leisure travelers. Some will decide, as many of us did, to relocate their lives, and perhaps their businesses in Flagler County.
4. Most Hammock Beach residents, club members, Flagler residents and the business community, including this journalist, viewed an approval decision as a no-brainer. Salamander has an impressive track record of creating and managing world class resorts. They worked closely with all stakeholders throughout the planning and approval process, often overcoming concerns by modifying their design; an approach unprecedented in Flagler County.
But the Lodge was not without its detractors who looked on the Lodge as an intrusion upon the Hammock’s pristine environment. The gulf between proponents and detractors over the past month was wide and passions ran high. Petitions were circulated, opposing facebook pages (“Save the Hammock,” and “Hammock Beach Lodge Facts”) were spawned and the BOCC was bombarded with hundreds of emails, letters and lobbying material.
5. I was impressed. In my 15 years as a Flagler resident, I have never seen the business community (led largely by the Chamber of Commerce) coalesce as it did in support of Salamander. Likewise, I was impressed with the support efforts of Hammock residents, led by local entrepreneur Tim Hale. I was also impressed by the ability of a rather small number of detractors to successfully mount and sustain a well organized opposition.
Both sides turned out in impressive numbers at Monday’s BOCC meeting. Total attendance was estimated to be nearly 400. Advocates identifying themselves by wearing white shirts and seemed to outnumber the opposition who wore blue. Individuals who could not be seated in the packed chamber were directed to second and third floor overflow rooms. The meeting was carried on local radio station WNZF and broadcast live on the county’s cable channel.
Board Chairman Frank Meeker opened the meeting. He and county attorney Al Hadeed let everyone know the serious nature of the quasi-judicial proceeding. No spontaneous outbursts would be allowed. Each segment of the meeting would be timed.
The process began with a presentation by county planning director Adam Mengel. Adam was followed by Salamander as applicant. The proceedings were then opened to public comment. Those speaking in favor went first, followed those opposed. Proponents slightly outnumbered opponents. In total, about 65 individuals waited in line for as long as two hours for an opportunity to speak for three minutes each. All those who commented were polite, well prepared and generally stayed on point without pushing the time limit too far.
It was a wonderful example of citizens becoming engaged in a governmental process. And Commissioners Hanns and McLaughlin performed as we expect our representatives to perform. They asked good questions and provided explainations for their positions.
1. In the end, Commissioner Revels was the lone dissenting vote. Revels based her objection on her 60-year residency in Flagler County. She recalled unfettered public access to Flagler beaches, sinced curtailed by subsequent development. She recalled a time when Flagler was a paradise, where residents could do pretty much whatever they wanted, including driving on the beach and building bonfires there. She seemed to project that her local tenure elevated her to a position superior to others at the proceeding; as though she was super-qualified to make a decision.
There was no question that Salamander had the right to file their application. The response was to be based on a land-use and Comprehensive Plan exercise. Revels failed to provide sound land-use reasons for her vote.
Revels vote was ironic on two levels. The opposition was based primarily on environmental and preservation arguments. The vision of lodge visitors mobbing the beach and trampling on turtle nests and the vision of hotel lights disturbing and misleading turtle hatchlings were invoked. Yet Revels lamented the loss of uncontrolled beach driving (perhaps over turtle nests). I assume that some of the driving might have occurred after dark, necessitating the use of headlights. And then there were the bonfires too.
Second, Revels chairs Flagler’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s Advisory Council. I find it ironic that she failed to consider the Salamander project from its economic development perspective. After all, Flagler’s Comprehensive Plan contains language and a graphic recognizing the importance of economic development. It is, after all, one of the plan’s three pillars.
2. Over the past few months, Salamander has offered to replicate a program that has been tremendously successful at the Sanctuary on Kiawah Island; built and managed by Devadas. That program collects a $2 voluntary donation from guests for each guest night. The monies collected are paid to a local conservation organization.
Somehow, that Salamander-designated recipient language did not find its way into the Flagler agreement. Hammock Beach Resort’s donations, estimated to be $100,000 annually, are to be paid directly to the county, who will direct its disbursement. Sounds a lot like a tax.
I recall the promise that Florida Lottery profits would go towards education. We all thought that lottery proceeds would augment existing education funding, only to learn that lottery proceeds replaced existing funding. Of course what used to go toward education is now used to plug other budget holes. The county should make sure that same thing does not happen to donations collected by Salamander.
3. Attorney Michael Chiumento III, spoke during the public comment portion opposing the Lodge development as a representative of a few Hammock Beach community associations. He requested additional time beyond the allowed three minutes. When granted only five minutes by the chair, Chiumento became petulant, tossing his notebook on the floor after returning to his seat.
1. Commission Chair Frank Meeker’s behavior was an embarrassment to the county. If he were opposed to the project, he would have seconded Revel’s motion to deny. By not seconding, he signaled his support. But when McLaughlin moved to approve the application, Meeker joined Revels with a NO vote, producing a tie. Approval requires a majority vote, so the application was denied.
Meeker justified his NO vote citing Salamander’s failure to mitigate the effects of the new Lodge on Old Salt Park, a 2-acre public beach access at the end of 16th Road. His explanation was disingenuous. Salamander’s plan calls for repaving the parking lot at the park lot, creating additional parking, replacing the existing restrooms, adding a storage facility and removing existing retaining walls to restore a more natural slope to the dune line. Additionally, Prem Devadas, Salamander’s president, had stated during his presentation that he had proffered to the county additional land adjacent to the park. The proffer had been ignored.
Had the meeting adjourned at that time, the application would have died, but Devadas rose and asked if there was anything that Salamander could do to modify their plan in order to overcome Meeker’s objections. Meeker’s response was a demand for a cash payment to the county of 1% of the project’s estimated cost, or $720,000.
Following a huddled discussion with a representative of Hammock Beach Resort owner Lubert-Adler, Devadas countered with an offer to the county of $500,000 plus a one acre parcel contiguous to the park. Note the hand-drawn rectangle on the aerial graphic locating the offered parcel.
We expect a give and take process to occur along the road to final plan acceptance. The past year’s progress was the result of continuous modifications by Salamander. But Meeker’s blatant extortion when the ball was on the one inch line was out of order and highly objectionable.
I have been openly supportive of Salamander’s proposal. I should have walked out of the meeting feeling pretty damned good. Instead, I was embarrassed for my county. I reside in Meeker’s district and felt somehow soiled by his behavior.
I am not alone in my reaction. One individual memorialized his feelings in a letter to Commissioner Meeker in which he says, “Dear Mr. Meeker, I was a fervent supporter of yours until last night’s meeting. I'm glad that you're doing what you can for the County, but I think I witnessed you committing extortion last night.” The letter concludes, “I'm embarrassed for my County. I'm not sure you will ever earn my trust and vote again.”
Apparently, Commissioner Meeker thinks that political self interest is somehow nobler than economic self interest.
Saddened by the Circus
How horrible to have watched that political circus. I’m embarrassed I voted for Mr. Meeker and gave him a check toward his re-election. The apparent blatant bribe made me cringe.
According to Mr. Hadeed’s directions, economic interest was to play no part in the vote. He was very clear about that in his instructions to the Commissioners.
Next up is the transient rental issue. Unfortunately, the vacation rental industry has deep pockets…
Question on Conservation Contribution
I have a question regarding the commitment made by Salamander about the fee to be collected for each room rental which would go toward conservation efforts. The Palm Coast Observer article stated “The resort could also, he said, charge a $2 per night donation from each hotel guest to fund local conservation initiatives”. The “he” being Prem Devadas, Salamander’s President.
I thought this was an already agreed to tenant of their proposal. The verb used, “could”, leaves interpretation to the fee being an option. Can someone clarify? Thank you.
Mr Meeker & Commissioner’s
I have to say living in this city and county has been an eye opener. I have never seen such a display of our City Commisioners riding on their titles thinking they run the show and no one else matters. I have heard repeatedly why retailers will not build in Palm Coast… They feel they are dealing with people from the country with no sense.
They are the worst to deal with.. This city and county will not prosper until we change the mind set they have now. We can’t even bring in big anchors for the new Publix shopping center.
If you want to open a business, you will need to go to another county. They are just too hard to deal with is the consensus of most retailers.
I voted for Mr. Meeker, you showed your true colors. I feel if you try to run again, you will realize just how you ended your career in one night.
I’m glad for the new venture in Hammock.. Too bad enough people did not fight to keep the Palm Coast Marina out of the Commissioner’s greedy hands from Centex. The hotel they built is a shell of a useless building.
Palm Coast & Flagler County… Take heed… You are ruining the future of growth. Pull back the reigns on your own self inflicted worth.. Voters are fed up.
Pay more attention to the crime and gang related happenings going on under your nose.
Disgraceful Exhibition by Chaiman of BOCC
It can no longer be a wonder why Flagler County can’t get the economic development that it so despertly needs. The public display by Frank Meeker, current chairman of the BOCC, to blatantly extort funds from Salamander for the development of the $72million hotel that is so despertly needed to turn Hammock Beach into a 5 Star resort and start the revitalization of Flagler County was despicable and has no place in local County politics.
Other potential businesses that would ever consider moving here will be taken aback by this dastardly approach. The actions at this meeting will reverberate for years to come and will reflect poorly on not only the BOCC, but, the County and its people, in general. I doubt that Salamander and its President, Prem Davadis, although, I’m sure they won’t admit it,will ever speak well of this process that they were subjected to!!
Unfortunately, Frank Meeker can’t be recalled from his recent election win, because Commissioners, by law, are immune to that, but, if he thinks that people will forget, he is sorely mistaken. I hope that he enjoys his last term and doesn’t screw anything else up!!
Commissioners Hanns and McLaughlin performed admirably, asked probing questions and, even though it was a tough decision, given the division amongst the attendees, made the right decision for the future of this County and its current and future residents. I applaud them both!!
As for Barbara Revels, she must still be in “Outer Space”, as she obviously didn’t understand what her responsibilities for this decision were and to vote NO, based on her memories of her childhood and naustalgic trip through the 60’s and 70’s, was a terrible misuse of the power of her position. Hopefully, she will be challenged by someone who really understands the duties of a Commissioner at the next election!!
New investors….China? really! Good luck with keeping all those promises and maintaining our beaches….Unbelievable!
I’ve been searching for a word that would best describe the reality of the public meeting concerning the Salamander proposal to pour $ 72 million dollars into the Hammock Beach Resort facility. That word came to me in Toby Tobin’s report on the meeting and unfortunately but accurately it is EXTORTION. Shame on the Chairman of our BOCC to resort to EXTORTION and demand another $ 750,000 from Salamander in return for his vote to approve their already watered-down and already negotiated proposal. Is there not some kind of ethics violation here. “Give us a handful, of cash and then I’ll vote for your proposal” reeks of a bribery attempt to me and certainly should be illegal on the books somewhere in this county and should be opened to an investigation.
This sends a message to other companies that might want to do business here that this county is closed to your business unless you have deep pockets with lots of bucks to hand over to the local boys.
Up until the Salamander meeting my impression of Frank Meeker was positive, but this view has been seriously tainted and I, for one, will be paying a lot more attention to
local politics and my voting will be more knowledgeable in the future.
Is it any wonder that Americans are fed up with the political process? It’s one thing for the Staff to make recommendations to the plan to insure beach access at Old Salt Park. Apparently, the Staff was satisfied with Salamander’s plan to upgrade the park. It’s another thing for the BOCC to negotiate payments and land in exchange for a favorable vote. Whether you were in favor of, or in opposition to, the Salamander Proposal, you based your opinion on conviction and the proposal merits. As citizens, we applaud debate; however, we are also disgusted when votes are “sold” to the highest bidder. What happened Monday evening only reminds us of the political adage “follow the money”. It’s too bad that the Flagler County BOCC is now part of the problem. Some Commissioners, but not all, made ethical decisions and voted on the merits as instructed by the Flagler County Attorney.
YES leaders accountable
All, we will now witness the cause and affect of this vote and those similar in nature. (one coming next week)
I would guess YES leaders will engage and manage this contractor and its new owner to assure that all the promises are delivered.
Same applies to the Chamber. I assume they will put all these benefits in future tax calculations driving our taxes down. I’m sure they have a scorecard, progress reporting structure and penalties in place for non-performance.
Intead of just listening to a Sales pitch, and nodding YES, one would have hoped we would have learned from the ‘one star’ performance of Salamander over the last 3 years.
And for the Hammock Community, let’s hope intelligent decisions are made moving forward.
Time to get on with it….
Back room dealings
It used to be when you wanted to extort something from someone you used what was referred to as back room politics. That’s where all the ILLEGAL wheeling and dealing was done. Now we have gone one step further, we just do it right out in the open.
Very happy the vote turned out the way it did. Very UNHAPPY with
the way the vote got there.
Shame on you commissioners (you know who you are). So glad I do not
live in Flagler anymore. Your politics will be a laughing stock for
Human Nature Exposed
The basic tenet of human nature is that we – each and every one of us – are basically flawed individuals. The primary urges of pride, greed, and envy gnaw at us, as we navigate our complicated lives. During this stressful proceeding, we saw both displays of these flaws… and suppression. We saw inflexibility and we saw patience and restraint. We saw those, who would call prideful attention to themselves for political exposure. We saw those who would want to put a fence around Flagler and keep others from enjoying our bounty. We saw those whose envious disdain for “those rich people” boiled over. We also saw those who were thoughtful, patient, and reasoned in their approach to bring something beneficial to our county. As a Director of our Flagler County Association of Realtors (FCAR)… and as a Member of the Flagler County Economic Opportunity Advisory Council (EOAC)… I’m of the belief that this was the right outcome.
How about adding this to the discussion in full, w
I’m sure that most elected officials would just let your comments roll of their back and not argue back on some of your conclusions and statements. Tobi, you and I have had some great discussions before and so as you know, that’s not really my style as I like a good discussion when it is coupled with respect from both sides.
I didn’t spend hours reading this stuff, nor days, but rather weeks working through a number of very complicated Legal positions, reports, emails, letters, legal cases, past board positions, past agreements, and of course, the ever important Land Development Codes (LDC) and Comp Plan issues.
Land Development Code requirements are black and white. Comp Plan issues not so much. Many of the goals and objectives of the Comp Plan rely on judgment calls which is our role in our quasi-judicial role as the Commission. Those decisions are not made by commissioners meeting with the applicant and cutting deals in smoke filled back rooms but rather in the “sunshine” at a noticed public hearing. It would have been highly improper and would have called into question the entire process to “cut deals” as suggested or implied in the comments before the public hearing.
But here is what is missed and is the biggest misunderstanding about quasi-judicial hearings on land use decisions. In order to get an approval, a project has to demonstrate it meets every element of both the LDC and the Comp Plan. In my judgment, this project fell short of the mark on a couple issues. For that reason, I voted against it on the first motion. Two other commissioners disagreed feeling it did meet all of the LDC and the Comp Plan, Ms. Revels agreed with me (but for different reasons) and the first motion to approve ended in a draw, with no decision reached. To the best of my knowledge, we cannot leave something that has been publically noticed and placed before us on the agenda without taking some affirmative action and that is why we need a quorum of three, but rely on a commission of five. You get a decision. That couldn’t be that night with Commissioner Ericksen out of commission.
Here is something else important to know. A draw is not an affirmative action to approve or deny, and for that reason, we had to keep going to reach a decision. How long would you suggest we should have sat there to come to an affirmative action without further negotiations? Would you expect the vote to change just because the hour is late (or in this case, past 2 am)? So instead of just caving in and going with the flow, and coming from a generation where you work together with your other board members to resolve differences of opinion, I stood up and voiced my objection as to what in my judgment was still lacking and worked with the others to bring consensus to those concerns so a new motion to approve or deny could be brought forward.
You may not be aware, but back in 1984, ITTCDC’s and Admiral Corporation’s protections for Flagler County residents addressing beach access for the Hammock Dunes DRI went out the window when the golf course was allowed to be built along with the current lodge back in 2001. The tradeoff for allowing 33 acres of the 35 acres of public land to be converted to the golf course and the “great lawn” was the exchange of what once was public lands for 306 acres of Live Oak Hammock, a reduction in residential units, 47 acres added to Malacompra Park, and a new park at Johnson Beach. But things didn’t stop there and you’ll remember the Notice of Proposed Change (NOPC) that was hotly debated back in 2011.
Four years later, the proposal under our review for 198 rooms considerably increased the value of the beach front lands for the developer, but further reduced to some extent the value and the public’s equity and enjoyment of the remaining 2 acres of Old Salt Park. In my mind, consistent with well-established principles of land use law, this loss needed to be mitigated. Nothing had been offered consistent with the plat language or Comp Plan as a replacement for this loss and if you can find where it was in the volumes of material I reviewed and somehow I missed it, please let me know. What little was offered (paving the parking area, a pavilion, rehabbing the restrooms and a $2 room charge) may have met your standards because of the importance this project offered for economic development you have espoused, but they didn’t meet mine. So to repeat, for that reason, I voted against the first motion of the evening to approve the project.
I will add that similar concerns were reached during the NOPC hearing by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on page 26 of his write up back in 2011 when the NOPC was denied, although under a different set of facts. He concluded with respect to 16th Road and beach access that activities around the public park would “…..adversely impact the public since they will no longer have the ease of access to the beach and use of facilities the current park and beach access provide (the loading dock issue, large trucks blocking access came to my mind during my review, a denser collection of guests and visitors to the beach that will be added to this location was another concern I had,…but he continued…). Collectively, these considerations support a finding that the proposed development will adversely affect the orderly development of the County, and it will be detrimental to the use of adjacent properties and the general neighborhood. “
In short, that project wasn’t consistent with the Comp Plan back then, and he upheld the county denial as did the Governor and Cabinet sitting as the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission (FLWAC).
I thought concerns of the type he wrote about still existed for Flagler residents and, therefore, at the request of the developer to clarify my concerns, I spoke out on the subject, instead of blowing them off by voting to approve something that again, in my judgment, based on weeks of review and discussion, didn’t meet the rules. We can’t take our responsibilities that lightly. I made it clear that they should have offered some form of mitigation other than paving the parking area, building a pavilion and rehabbing the rest-rooms to offset those impacts discussed, and they agreed, originally offering $200K. I countered with 1% of the project construction costs (about $720K), and they countered back with $500K, plus contributing an additional acre of land to be added to the already diminished Old Salt Park bringing the total property owned by the public back to around 3 acres from the original 35. Coupled with the $2/night stay room charge for environmental preservation and a four year hard hammer on the start of construction (or this approval goes away), I thought we had finally brought what concerns remained into compliance with the LDC and the Comp Plan. Upon a new motion to accept these changes, I joined a majority and it was approved by a vote of 3-1.
In short, I took my fact finding very seriously. This project had divided the community. Things were said, posted, printed, blogged and written that crossed way over the line of reason, courtesy and professionalism. It may be a high standard, but I expect the business leaders of the community to support and insist any project needs to comply with our rules and not jump on board a project solely on issues such as economic development that is only one slice of the Comp Plan pie. My judgment call was, for the reasons discussed above, this project didn’t hit the mark. I’m not going to pass something that doesn’t meet all of the rules. If not, why have them? I believe if asked, the developer would agree with that sentiment as the one thing all developers want is a timely decision, but most importantly, a decision. If they can demonstrate they do meet everything, the rules and the law says they get approved. But part of that deal is if they don’t, they don’t get my vote.
Frank J. Meeker, C.E.P.
Flagler County Board of County Commissioners