News / Events
VGMC approves Farmton
By Pat Hatfield BEACON STAFF WRITER
March 25, 2010
The meeting began at 7 p.m. March 24. Testimony, questioning and discussion went on until after midnight. At the end of a five-hour meeting, the Volusia Growth Management Commission (VGMC) voted to grant the Volusia County request for the most sweeping land-use change in Volusia County history.
The subject was the Farmton tract. A land-use plan will allow up to 10 times the residential density previously approved for the land — up to 23,100 homes and 4.7 million square feet of non-residential use, on 47,000 acres of what has been agricultural, forestry resource and wetlands stretching from Edgewater south to Brevard County. The tract has been owned by the Miami Corp. since the 1920s, and has been used for tree farming and hunting.
The next step for the county will be to send the plan back to the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which oversees all land use within the state. When the DCA reviewed the plan in December, it sent back a report filled with the recommendation to Volusia County, "Do not approve."
The Volusia County Council voted to approve the plan Feb. 18, after some modifications were made.
Staff planner Barry Wilcox gave commissioners an overview of the plan and recent changes to it.
"Your decision on this tonight is significant," he said.
The plan calls for two phases of development.
The first phase, through 2025, will allow a maximum of 4,692 residential units and 820,217 square feet of commercial, business and other non-residential use. The remainder will be allowed in a second phase stretching to 2060.
However, under recent changes to the plan, no more than 2,287 residential units can be built until Volusia County Schools finds there is sufficient classroom space for the additional students.
The school district, which had lodged an objection earlier, said there is currently enough capacity in the school system to accommodate the first 2,287 residences.
Wilcox noted that the City of Edgewater will supply water to the first or "gateway" phase to be developed, adjacent to the city.
Farmton engineers and hydrologists reported there will be around 9 million gallons of water a day to supply the development and possibly other utilities.
The St. Johns Water Management District has not performed a water study on the site, and cannot verify this, said Peter Brown, the district's non-voting representative to the VGMC.
Wilcox noted, "To address the lack of data and analyses available at this time," regarding water, transportation and other issues, another review process will be required.
Farmton owners or developers will have to come back to the VGMC with a master development of regional impact (DRI) plan, then with incremental plans along the way.
DRIs are large-scale developments which affect a number of jurisdictions. Agreements and coordination for traffic, utilities and other impacts by a number of agencies are necessary.
The VGMC does not usually review DRIs. This will be something new. Regional planning councils coordinate these reviews.
With the DRI process, the school district satisfied, and a memorandum of understanding executed between the county and the City of Deltona, which had lodged objections to the Farmton plan earlier, Wilcox said the plan had overcome VGMC staff objections.
Attorney Jamie Seaman, speaking for Volusia County, accepted the latest amendments to the plan. She said there would be "no significant adverse impacts" from Farmton beyond its jurisdiction.
Attorney Glenn Storch, representing the Miami Corp., said the owner accepted the final version of the plan, as well.
He noted he had been "consensus building" for four years on this plan.
The Farmton plan includes provisions for up to 77 percent of the property to be put into conservation agreements or easements, contingent upon approvals of the plan.
The commissioners aired the same pros and cons they heard during public input, at which 40 people spoke.
- The promise of jobs to be created by businesses coming into the development.
- Participating in a visionary plan for development, rather a hodgepodge of development.
- Protection of lands through the conservation easements.
- The DRI process to monitor the development plan.
- No objections now from adjacent jurisdictions or the school district.
- Lack of sufficient data to make an informed decision.
- Too many factors to be determined later, and vague language in the amendment.
- Concerns about wetlands and building in the 100-year flood plain, which encompasses 72 percent of the site.
- Negative impacts to wildlife habitats and corridors.
- Probable negative impacts on neighboring jurisdictions from traffic.
- Increased water consumption in the county, when localities are already being directed to find alternative-water sources.
Attorney Tanner Andrews alerted the commissioners that the memorandum of understanding related to Deltona's withdrawal of its objections to the Farmton plan "now appears to be challenged in court."
He gave Chairman Gerald Brandon a copy of the suit he filed March 23 on behalf of growth-watcher Barbara Herrin and the Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development against the City of Deltona. The suit charges that Deltona city commissioners violated the Sunshine law when they denied public participation before they voted to approve the memorandum. Herrin and the group filed another lawsuit against the County of Volusia March 15, stating the County Council violated the county charter by approving the amendment before it went to the VGMC.
In the end, the motion to approve the land change passed, with 13 commissioners voting to approve the plan, and five commissioners voting no.