News / Events
Volusia OKs Farmton, city that someday may have 23,000 homes
BY LUDMILLA LELIS, ORLANDO SENTINEL
April 7, 2011
By 2060, a remote tree farm bridging Volusia and Brevard counties could become Farmton, a city in the woods with more than 23,000 homes and more than 4 million square feet of commercial space.
For now, all that's certain is that the landowner, Miami Corp., must permanently conserve more than 46,000 acres, or nearly 80 percent of the Farmton tract, in exchange for the right to develop the land.
Plans for Farmton passed their last big hurdle Thursday when the Volusia County Council approved guidelines for how Farmton can take shape during the next 50 years. Brevard County gave its approval earlier.
For decades, the 59,000 acres west of Interstate 95 have been used as a tree farm and hunting grounds. It is one of the largest undeveloped tracts left in Central Florida.
The long-term plans, which are expected to be accepted by the state Department of Community Affairs, envision a city comparable in population to present-day Ocala.
Whether and when that development will happen are uncertain, especially with the continuing slump in Central Florida's housing market. But University of Central Florida professor Randy Anderson said it probably will happen when the real-estate market comes back.
"Development of this scale does not make sense in the short term, with the high unemployment, lower property values and a large inventory of already built homes," said Anderson, who teaches at Dr. P. Phillips School of Real Estate. "But I will continue to be bullish about Florida for the longer term.
"I think a lot of people have underestimated the ability of Florida to recover," he said. "With such a long build-out window for this project, the development will happen, maybe 20, 30 years down the road."
Glenn Storch, attorney for the company, said it's possible none of the development will happen.
"The market will dictate what will be there, and none of that would be built until the time is right," he said. "In the meantime, this piece of property that has been a tree farm for decades will stay the same."
Although the developers haven't forecast just what kind of housing Farmton would contain, they have embraced the "village" concept: walkable communities that include stores and services close to home.
State officials initially rejected plans for Farmton, criticizing it as urban sprawl in an environmentally sensitive area. However, planners in Gov. Rick Scott's administration worked out a settlement that bars most of the development for five years. In the meantime, the state is requiring legal agreements that permanently conserve green areas as well as plans to ensure there will be enough drinking water.
Developable areas are bordered by wildlife corridors, designed to be wide enough for Florida black bears, and the communities are required to have wildlife tunnels on the major roads - similar to those required in the Wekiva River basin.
During Thursday's meeting, Volusia environmentalists remained staunchly opposed to the project.
"A city we don't need in a place that it doesn't belong," said Betty O'Laughlin of the Environmental Council of Volusia and Flagler Counties. She questioned why the plan needed approval now if construction wouldn't happen for years.
"Let Miami Corp. come back in 10 years, when Miami Corp. insists the housing would be built," she said.
But proponents of the project said the guarantee that most of the land will be conserved is a public benefit.
"I would argue that this is what we want in comprehensive planning, that we look to preserve the wildlife corridor and habitats while providing opportunity for the landowner to have something in return," said Hank Fishkind, a Central Florida economist.
"Will there be demand for these homes in 30 years? History in Florida tells us 'Sure,' but there's no guarantee," he said. "But what is certain is that they are giving up the right to develop most of their land now, for a future opportunity to set up a master plan for a new town."
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