News / Events

Farmton to reshape Southeast Volusia

BY DINAH VOYLES PULVER, ENVIRONMENT WRITER

April 10, 2011

Farmton Map
Farmton Map
Farmton Map
Trees and sky are reflected in the waters last April at Deep Creek Conservation Area. (N-J | Sean McNeil)

Farmton Local Plan timetable

The Farmton Local Plan approved Thursday by the Volusia County Council sets out a timetable for how things will move forward when the plan becomes effective.

No development is allowed until after 2016. Before any development begins, a master regional development plan must be approved for the entire property, proposed development areas must be rezoned and site plan reviews must be completed.

When is the plan considered "in effect" or final?

When all appeals are complete. After the revised agreement is approved, as expected, by the Florida Department of Community Affairs, it must go back to an administrative law judge who reviewed the case last September. The judge must consider the previous objections raised by Barbara Herrin and the Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, who intervened in the case. Once the judge rules, the order could be appealed to the District Court of Appeal. Once all appeals are complete, and barring any reversal by the administrative law judge, the plan becomes effective.

Within 60 days of the effective date:

All conservation easements and conservation covenants must be presented in draft form to the county.

Within one year of the effective date:

- All conservation easements and covenants must be filed with the Clerk of Circuit Court, deeded to the county and at least one other qualified organization. However, the current plan is for those easements to be signed over to two other organizations, the St. Johns River Water Management District and Audubon of Florida.

- A Community Stewardship Organization must be incorporated.

- Full title for a 400-acre conservation area along Deep Creek, to be known as the Deering Preserve, must be deeded to the stewardship organization.

- The county must appoint a task force to help the property owner write a conservation management plan. The task force must include representatives of the owner and the other group or groups that co-hold conservation easements.

Within one year after easements and covenants are recorded:

The property owner must develop a management plan for all conservation land through the county task force.

Within five years after the effective date:

Property owner must apply for a master development plan, addressing 20 specific issues, including conservation, schools, transportation, a way to measure the jobs to housing ratio and water supply planning. The master plan must include conservation management plans to be completed by the county and its task force.

After that master plan is approved:

Property owner could request a rezoning and file plans for construction at the Gateway area, west of Edgewater. No construction can take place before 2016.

After 2025:

Development would be allowed to begin in areas along Maytown-Osteen Road between Oak Hill and Osteen, if all conditions have been met. However, the plan includes limits on the number of additional vehicles allowed, which will be increased incrementally every five years.

The largest privately owned tract of land in Volusia County now has a blueprint for the future and a green light from the county.

For more than two years, a proposal by the Miami Corp. to revise long-term land use plans for 47,000 acres it owns in southern Volusia has worked its way through the local and state planning process.

Now, with a final approval from the Volusia County Council on Thursday, that process -- and the proposed plan -- is nearing completion. A similar process has taken place in Brevard County.

The Chicago-based family land trust has owned 59,000 acres in Volusia and Brevard counties since the 1920s, managing it primarily for timber and hunting.

Its plan, called the Farmton Local Plan, changed dramatically during two years of "scrutinizing and shaping," Councilwoman Joie Alexander said this week.

In total, the number of homes proposed was reduced by 6,000 and the amount of land to be set aside in conservation was increased by 10,000 acres.

"It's worlds better," Alexander said Friday.

But, not everyone is happy with the final result. Two council members voted against the plan this week and at least one local environmental organization is protesting the plan in court. Opponents say they would have preferred the roughly 4,000 homes allowed under existing standards. And, they fear the long-term timeline outlined in the plan could be shortened and that high standards created for things like conservation and transportation could be swept aside.

"It's going to demand careful scrutiny to make sure all of the agreements are adhered to as promised," said Councilman Carl Persis, one of two members who opposed the plan.

Even council members who approved the plan, such as Alexander, said it will be crucial for county officials, both elected and on staff, to hold the current and any future property owners to the high standards added to the plan during the long and complex planning process.

The plan includes many goals for conservation and efficiency, which some have referred to as "lofty," such as: "innovative land use techniques, creative urban design, highest levels of environmental protection, and the judicious use of sustainable development principles as they evolve over time."

It includes requirements for community planning that take into account such things as prescribed burning of woodlands, outdoor lighting that achieves the standards of the International Dark Sky Association and other standards developed by the University of Florida's Program for Resource Efficient Communities.

Company and county officials say the Development of Regional Impact process required by the plan will add another layer of protection to ensure standards are carried forward because it expands the number of agencies involved in development review. That process takes place through the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, a 33-member board representing six counties which coordinates multi-agency reviews.

Alexander, who has served on the planning council, said she is "confident" its review process will ensure the intent of the Farmton Local Plan is followed.

Even if the DRI process is eliminated by the state Legislature, as has been contemplated, the plan requires a similar process be used to review any development proposed at Farmton.

Farmton Local Plan summary

For many years, 59,000 acres owned by the Miami Corp. between Oak Hill and Osteen was known to locals simply as the Farmton Tree Farm or the Miami Tract Hunt club.

Now, a stack of documents on file with Volusia and Brevard counties will be used to guide future development on the property, called the Farmton Local Plan.

A summary is contained in a 46-page document that officially amends Volusia County's Comprehensive Plan. It outlines many standards and goals that are supposed to provide a roadmap for any future development that takes place on the property. It spells out a complex series of requirements and thresholds to be met each step of the way.

Many provisions of the plan, such as conservation goals and the property owner's responsibility to pay for public services, are "tied very tightly together," said Kelli McGee, acting director of growth and resource management for Volusia County. 'It was intended to be very integrated and it is."

Here's a summary:

How much land is conserved and how?

The plan sets up several kinds of conservation, totaling about 35,000 acres in Volusia.

Deering Preserve -- A 1,140 acre conservation area along Deep Creek to be deeded over to a Community Stewardship Organization, with 400 acres deeded over within one year and the remainder transferred over time as credits are sold in an active wetland mitigation bank on the site. Its name honors a founder of Miami Corp.

Conservation Easements -- Easements on an additional 19,101 acres in Volusia County will be deeded over to the county and at least one other "qualified" organization such as the St. Johns River Water Management District or Audubon of Florida.

Conservation Covenants -- The property owner will sign covenants on 12,991 acres of remaining conservation lands outside the areas to be developed. The county and the owner agreed to the covenants, based on 10-year periods, to protect the company from future councils deciding to reduce the number of homes allowed to be built in the development areas. If the number of homes to be allowed remains the same, the property owner must sign over conservation easements.

Mandatory Open Space -- Within each development area, additional open space must be reserved, which may include mitigation areas, buffer zones, passive recreation areas and water resource development areas. That land, about 2,000 acres, will be subject to a conservation management plan, and protected by easement.

What is the Community Stewardship Organization and how is it appointed?

A tax-exempt, nonprofit conservation organization, to be funded and facilitated by the property owner, with an independent seven-member board. At least four members "shall be" representatives of statewide or national nonprofit or conservation organizations, such as Audubon of Florida or The Nature Conservancy. One member will be a representative of the property owner. The final two members could represent government organizations or interested parties. The organization eventually will own the 1,140-acre Deering Preserve, and may take on responsibility for and/or provide advice and guidance on management of all conservation land.

What is the conservation management plan?

All conservation lands, including the Deering Preserve and the land in conservation easements, covenants and mandatory open space, "shall be" subject to a management plan that outlines how the property will be protected and managed, allowable activities, and management responsibilities. The management plan for an area known as the Southwest Wildlife Corridor must specifically address how the land must be managed to meet the needs of the Florida black bear.

Miami Corp. must develop the plan with the help of a task force that must be appointed by Volusia County. McGee said the Farmton Local Plan contains a system of checks and balances to ensure the owners remain responsible for management of the land.

What is fiscal neutrality and how does it apply?

The plan states the cost of all public services, such as utilities, transportation, school district services and road improvements, must be borne by property owners within Farmton. It is designed to require the eventual developer to pay for road and sewer improvements and contemplates creation of a separate taxing district, such as a community development district, to pay for other local government services, such as parks, fire stations and stormwater treatment.

The plan also requires procedures for measuring the fiscal neutrality must be certified by independent advisers, retained by the county at the expense of the landowner or community development district.

It specifically requires the owner to pay for the improvement of Osteen-Maytown Road from Interstate 95 to State Road 415 before any construction begins in the area to be served by Osteen-Maytown Road. It also requires the owner to extend Williamson Boulevard south from State Road 442 and provide access to the existing I-95 ramp at State Road 5A in Brevard County.

What else does the plan say about transportation?

Development plans must include bicycle paths and racks, electric vehicle charging stations, park and ride lots and any other transportation elements that might be in vogue when the second phase of development takes place after 2025. It also requires wildlife crossings in areas where the two main roads cross wildlife corridors.

The county reserves the right to require the property owner to show that funding is available for additional infrastructure before new phases of development are approved.

What does the plan say about water?

All development must incorporate water conservation design, including Florida Friendly irrigation principles. The plan states development should rely solely on water provided within the property boundaries. The utility Miami Corp. has formed to provide water in the area, Farmton Water Resources LLC, "shall coordinate" with the county, Edgewater, Deltona and the St. Johns River Water Management District on the region's long-term water supply plan and development of additional water resources and supplies. The utility also is responsible for making all improvements necessary to provide water and wastewater to development within Farmton.

What does the plan require in terms of jobs?

At buildout, it requires a ratio of one job for every house built, but it excludes development in the Gateway area. The final development order must include a way to measure the job to housing balance.

After development begins along Maytown-Osteen road, the jobs/housing ratio can't drop below 0.65, or development must be suspended until a remedial plan can be developed.

What does the plan say about schools?

Although the plan allows construction of 4,692 homes in the Gateway area, west of Edgewater, only 2,287 of those homes can be built unless the School District of Volusia County states there is sufficient capacity in nearby schools to allow the construction of the additional 2,405 homes, or the property owner agrees to contribute money to pay for additional school capacity.

Could future county councils change the plan?

Yes, parts of it, such as the goals and policies. The conservation easements, covenants and housing density cannot be changed, according to Jamie Seaman, deputy county attorney. If a future council tried to reduce the number of homes allowed, the property owner could reclaim the land placed under conservation covenants. However, if it's determined during permitting that the 23,000 homes proposed physically cannot be fit into the designated development area, that would not trigger a reversal of the covenants.

The company and the county say no construction can begin outside the Gateway before 2025, but could that change?

For any construction to happen outside the Gateway before 2025, a master regional development plan would have to be approved, as well as a second regional development plan. Also, the comprehensive plan amendment just approved would have to be amended, triggering another round of all the meetings and decisions made during the past two years.

If for some reason, a future county council decided to allow other areas to be developed earlier than 2026, a standing interlocal agreement with the school district, the county and all 16 cities regarding school capacity in a central area of the county would have to be amended. All officials involved say that would be highly unlikely.

More:The Miami Corp. family

 


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