News / Events

Growth commission OKs Miami Corp's land-use plan

By Dinah Voyles Pulver, Environment Writer

March 26, 2010

Final decisions on land-use changes for the largest privately owned swath of property in Volusia County are now up to state planners and possibly the courts.

The Volusia Growth Management Commission voted early Thursday morning to approve land-use changes the county proposes for 47,000 acres owned by the Miami Corp, a Chicago-based family land trust. The commission is an independent countywide board that reviews land-use changes to ensure they're consistent among local governments.

Commission members are appointed by each city and the county. Of the 18 commission members present, 13 voted yes and five voted no.

Miami Corp. proposes to change the long-term uses for its land, 59,000 acres straddling the Volusia/Brevard counties line. The plan, negotiated between the two counties and the company for more than 18 months, would allow about 25,000 homes and 4 million square feet of nonresidential space on about 19,000 acres and conserve the remainder.

Commission planning staff recommended approval of the plan, as long as six special conditions are met, including requiring the company to come back with a master development plan within 60 months of final approval by the county and state.

The meeting Wednesday night ran more than five hours, with more than two hours of presentations and more than 30 speakers. Approval came despite emotional pleas from members of several local environmental groups who encouraged the commission to declare the plan inconsistent and vote it down.

Opponents point to the large amount of wetlands and floodplain on the land and say it will be the worst kind of urban sprawl. Supporters say the company's plan, with its many requirements for conservation-related design and green space, represents the best of modern smart-growth principles.

Commission Chairman Gerald Brandon, appointed by Ormond Beach, said it was one of his toughest decisions since being appointed.

"I have to go by what we're charged with,"he said, voting yes.

James Wachtel, appointed by Volusia County, was a member of the county's Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission when it reviewed the Farmton proposal.

"We reviewed a lot of data and found it was well thought out," Wachtel said. "I believe it is consistent."

But, Rick Tresher, a New Smyrna Beach appointee, said he could not "in good conscience approve something that has such a dramatic impact on southeast Volusia County with so little data to go on."

Member Sandra Walters, a county appointee, said the commission is charged with finding competent, substantial evidence that the plan is consistent.

"And I don't see any," she said as she cast her no vote.

Volusia County approved the plan Feb. 18 and forwarded it to the state Department of Community Affairs for a ruling.

The department already found Brevard County's version of the plan not in compliance. The case was forwarded to the state Division of Administrative Hearing. The department, Brevard County and the company will attempt to negotiate a stipulated agreement, a Brevard official said this week. If that fails, the case is set for a formal hearing in August.

Barbara Herrin and the Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development challenged the County Council's approval in circuit court, saying the county's ordinances required the council to vote after the growth commission.

- dinah.pulver