News / Events

State: Volusia went against own rules


September 15, 2010

DELAND -- State officials kicked off a two-week hearing Tuesday on the proposed Farmton development plan by trying to show Volusia County failed to comply with its own guidelines for planning roads and schools and protecting the environment.

The county approved the plan, floated by the Miami Corp. for 47,000 acres it owns in southern Volusia, earlier this year.

David M. Maloney, an administrative law judge with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, is overseeing the hearing to determine whether the Farmton plan is consistent with the county's comprehensive plan. The Florida Department of Community Affairs insists it is not.

The property just isn't suitable for the type of development being proposed, said Mike McDaniel, chief of comprehensive planning for the department.

McDaniel was one of two department planners who spent all day Tuesday testifying in the large courtroom in the Historic Volusia Courthouse. The hearing, originally planned for the newer county courthouse, was moved when it became apparent that the eight attorneys, their boxes and boxes of documents and more than a dozen observers simply wouldn't fit in the small room.

The Farmton proposal would allow the eventual development of 23,000 homes and apartments, as well as 4.1 million square feet of nonresidential construction in Volusia County, all of which would have to go through a separate development approval process.

In total, including property the Chicago-based family land trust owns in Brevard County, the plan would allow construction on 19,000 acres and conserve nearly 40,000 acres.

Company and county officials say the conservation plan will set aside key wildlife corridors and habitat and protect Crane Swamp and Deep Creek.

But McDaniel does not agree.

The areas flagged for development "almost seemed to maximize the environmental fragmentation and interference with wildlife corridors," McDaniel said. "Any hope that this would remain a wildlife corridor and viable for silviculture and agriculture is far-fetched."

Silviculture is the art of cultivating a forest.

Department planner Ashley Porter pointed out that much of the property is within the 100-year flood plain, but admitted during cross-examination by an attorney for Miami Corp., Karen Brodeen, that much of Florida is considered flood plain and no state rules prevent development in flood plain areas.

The state planners testified the entire 47,000 acres the company owns in Volusia County is considered bear habitat, and they listed a variety of additional species of concern.

However, the testimony at times conflicted. McDaniel said more than half the property is wetlands but he added that all of it is within an area that federal officials say could be habitat for the Florida scrub jay, an animal that actually only inhabits high and dry scrub areas.

Other protected species mentioned include the Everglades snail kite and the crested caracara, as well as a number of more common birds found on the property such as the swallow-tailed kite, bald eagle and sandhill crane.

McDaniel was emphatic at times in his opposition to the plan and the unsuitability of Miami Corp.'s land for the scale of proposed development.

A small cadre of environmental advocates who have opposed the plan from the outset attended the hearing Tuesday, often nodding in unison at points McDaniel made.

McDaniel is expected to continue testifying this morning and be cross-examined by attorneys for the county and Miami Corp. Following McDaniel will be Tom Hoctor, a University of Florida research scientist who is an expert on wildlife corridors.