News / Events
Plan for Farmton land revised
BY DINAH VOYLES PULVER, ENVIRONMENT WRITER
January 25, 2010
Editor's note: The number of homes proposed for the Miami Corp.'s Farmton project has been revised and is currently 25,406 and not as first reported here.
Volusia County staff and representatives of the area's largest private landowner are working furiously to address objections to a massive 50-year plan for the property, hoping to win a key vote of approval from the County Council.
The Miami Corp., a Chicago-based family land trust, will present its revisions to the council Thursday during a workshop that precedes a vote scheduled for Feb. 18.
The company, which owns 59,000 acres straddling the Volusia/Brevard county line, wants to change its assigned land use in both counties. Its plan, called Farmton, would permanently preserve 40,000 acres and put another 6,000 acres into buffers and green space, while allowing development of 25,406 homes and up to 4 million square feet of office, retail and possibly light industrial space on 13,000 acres.
The Florida Department of Community Affairs recommended both counties turn down the proposal, saying it would create urban sprawl and endanger a critical wildlife corridor through the center of the state. Department officials said the location is wrong and the company hasn't demonstrated the homes would be needed.
Glenn Storch, the company's local attorney, said it's trying to resolve concerns and incorporate suggestions raised by the department, other state agencies and County Council members.
"We've been able to make it an even better plan," Storch said.
For example, boundaries were adjusted on the southern end of a development area to protect more bear habitat. Storch said environmentally sensitive areas will be deeded into conservation sooner than originally planned to meet a request by Councilwoman Pat Northey.
Meanwhile, local opponents to the project launched an online petition drive, hoping to collect 2,000 signatures. On Sunday, the Web site listed 452 signatures, including those of local anti-growth activists and longtime environmentalists. .
Petition signers posted messages saying they're fed up with growth and want to preserve rural Volusia County.
Former County Councilman Joe Jaynes called it "the most outrageous development proposal I have ever seen."
"With over 250,000 approved yet not constructed residential units in this county, we do not need this," Jaynes wrote.
On Friday, Jaynes said he hopes council members will vote no. "It just doesn't make sense."
David Hartgrove, president of the Halifax River Audubon Society, also signed the petition. The proposal split the local and state Audubon chapters. Members of the Halifax and Southeast Volusia chapters oppose the plan while West Volusia chapter members and Audubon of Florida officials have supported it.
Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida, said preservation of more than 40,000 acres would be one of the larger conservation land deals in state history. Little money remains for public land acquisition, he said, adding that Miami Corp. would deed the land over to at least two government agencies and a nonprofit environmental group.
Other efforts to conserve large parcels of land have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions, he said. For example, between 2006 and 2009, the state paid $350 million for the 74,000-acre Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida.
Storch said this plan would result in an "almost immediate preservation of more land than we've (Volusia County) been able to acquire in the past decade with no cost to the taxpayers."
Hartgrove said he understands the argument but doesn't find it "that good of a deal."
"They're going to plop 29,000 homes out there and I don't see it being a wise use of our resources," he said. He's concerned the plan's guiding principles, such as guarantees for conservation and creation of jobs before homes are built, may not be honored in another 30 years when the project gets into full swing.
Storch disputes allegations leveled in the petition, saying the plan provides for more protection of the portion of the county's Natural Resources Management Area within the project boundaries and not less.
The only development that could take place before 2025 would be a mixed residential/commercial area near Edgewater with up to 4,692 homes and 820,217 square feet of nonresidential development. Each development at Farmton would require a separate county review.