SeaGate Loses Bid for Approval of Ryan’s Landing Project. Palm Coast Loses Free Land for Park

Palm Coast City Council manhandles local developer. City council tries to extort free park equipment in return for city approval of proposed development.

 March 25, 2007 – A locally owned and family operated developer came before the March 20 Palm Coast City Council meeting as applicant for a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) amendment and zoning approval of the associated Planned Unit Development (PUD) application for a 69 home master planned community. The final hearing of the petitions concluded a process spread over two years, costing both the developer and the city thousands of dollars. Based on the results of recent meetings in which the city grew more and more intransigent, SeaGate did not expect a positive vote. But they did expect to be heard – to present their case one last time. In what appeared to be a scripted performance lasting less than 9 minutes, the council denied the FLUM amendment, making the PUD application moot. SeaGate was not allowed to speak.


Ryan's Landing parcelThe real story has not been told. In the final meeting, SeaGate could only listen while city staff mischaracterized SeaGate’s position. The mischaracterizations carried over into the local print media. SeaGate is portrayed as the uncompromising developer who would not bend to the demands of the council. The city is portrayed as benevolently seeking a nice park for its voters. In the previous council meeting Seagate was told that their PUD would be acceptable to council if:

  • It did not include a gated entry, though there is no zoning or code regulation prohibiting or discouraging gated entries. No local resident was present at the hearing to speak against gates.
  • It provided a second paved road for ingress and egress, although SeaGate had provided an unpaved second emergency exit required by code and local residents had spoken out against the second paved road due to safety concerns.
  • SeaGate agree to pay $90,000 toward the construction and equipment of the 5 acre park. Yet during neighborhood meetings, local residents were ambivalent about wanting a park in the first place.

But here’s what the city did not get:


  • The city did not get a planned community of 69 homes (less than 2.5 homes per acre) on 27.79 acres of land, once zoned to allow 12 housing units per acre (which could include apartments). 
  • The city did not get a FREE five acre park – SeaGate was prepared to give the city the land, valued at $250,000 – $500,000. Further, they would provide rough grading as well as free engineering and planning services toward the development of the park. In return, the city would wave the developer’s park impact fees ($82,531.59). During neighborhood meetings, local residents did not exhibit broad support for the park.


Although city staff incorrectly portrayed to the council that SeaGate did not agree to the second road, SeaGate, in fact, had agreed. They also agreed to leave the entry gates out of the plan. The ONLY thing they did not, and will not, do is give the city $90,000 simply because the city demanded it as ransom for the project.


When city staff suggested that it was not advisable to reopen the hearing to further comment, thus excluding SeaGate’s input, a motion for denial was asked for. Councilwoman DiStefano instantly provided it by moving for denial of the FLUM amendment request by SeaGate because “the proposal is not entirely consistent with current goals, policies, and objectives of the city comp (comprehensive) plan and there is no compelling reason to change.” I couldn’t help but notice the promptness of councilwoman’s motion and finely crafted language, which exhibited a level of articulation not previously demonstrated by the her. It suggests to me that the motion may have been authored by another person with a written copy provided to DiStefano.


SeaGate Communities was left holding the bag. As far as the city is concerned, the matter is closed. But the land maintains its greenbelt status which is, by city admission, a mistake (the city initiated the FLUM amendment). SeaGate is evaluating their legal options, which is their right. They mentioned possible action under the Burt Harris Act and concerns with possible sunshine law violations. This will cost the taxpayers more money.


Ryan’s Landing was a small project in the scheme of things. It would have enhanced the surrounding neighborhood. The city would have free land on which to develop a neighborhood park. There was NO public outcry against it. But the city council, nervous about looking bad in the wake of the problems surrounding Centex and the Palm Harbor Resort, and the new city manager, eager to mark the trees in his new back yard, demonstrated arrogance, greed, and showboating. They acted like bullies. This should never have happened. It should never happen again.


Read on if you want further background in the story.


The 27.79 acre property was purchased by SeaGate Communities in 2003 for $230,000 from Palm Coast Holdings. At the time of the purchase, the property was zoned residential. The property surrounding the site in the above map illustrates the type of density typically found in an area zoned residential. Subsequent to the purchase, Palm Coast rezoned the property from residential to greenbelt. Meant to be used for golf courses, parks, preserves, and low density housing, greenbelt permits only one dwelling per acre vs. 12 per acre in the previous residential zoning.


There may be some question as to whether the city performed all the notification and hearing steps required for the greenbelt rezoning. The engineers at SeaGate responsible for being aware of proposed changes missed the notification. As a result, SeaGate did not find out about the rezoning until after the fact. They went to the city, pleading that they had not been properly notified and further that the greenbelt designation was not appropriate for their parcel. The city agreed that a mistake had been made and the city initiated the process that resulted in the application for a FLUM amendment (back to residential). SeaGate wanted a PUD (planned community). The city wanted to rectify the zoning error but did not want to return the land to residential zoning. In August ’06, the parties agreed and the FLUM amendment passed city council 4/1 on the first reading, subject to SeaGate presenting a PUD agreement acceptable to council.


State law requires that a FLUM amendment pass through several state entities for review and comment. This FLUM amendment sailed through all the state agencies without comment.


SeaGate proceeded to develop PUD plans, working with city staff. Realizing that it was in the driver’s seat, the city pressed for a park. SeaGate offered two plans; one with a wide buffer surrounding the 69 homes, the other with a narrower buffer and 5 acres for a park. The FLUM amendment was presented to city council in January ’07, along with a PUD agreement signed by SeaGate, who believed that city staff was in concurrence. For reasons unknown to SeaGate, then City Manager Kelton pulled his endorsement for the PUD. Since the FLUM amendment was conditional on the PUD, both were continued till the February meeting. Enter the new City Manager, Jim Landon, who was not satisfied to get the park for free, he wanted site development and engineering work for the park provided by SeaGate. Further, he insisted that SeaGate provide $90,000 toward the purchase and installation of park equipment. The FLUM amendment was again continued.


At the March 6th council meeting, the city addressed the FLUM and PUD as linked issues, to be discussed at the same time. They passed the PUD agreement on first reading (both require a second reading) allowing both the FLUM and PUD items to be at the same level for the next meeting. SeaGate argued that paying for park equipment was the city’s responsibility. Councilman Peterson added two new conditions, no gate and second access road, to which the other council agreed, leaving three unsatisfied issue:


Ryan’s Landing could not be gated. (SeaGate heard about this only a few days prior to the meeting).


SeaGate must modify the plans to include two access roads into the development.


SeaGate must pay $90,000 for playground equipment. (1/3 the total assesed valuation of the property.)


Let me point out that only three people spoke during the public comment period. All three lived in Palm Harbor, far from the project. Their comments were driven by the Centex work stoppage at the Palm Harbor Golf Course and Resort and had no bearing on Ryan’s Landing. Not a single resident from the development area spoke, either against the development or for the park. SeaGate had previously surveyed several residents about their plans. They learned that:


Residents were ambivalent about the park, neither strongly for nor against.


Residents were very concerned about the second access road for safety reasons.

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