News / Events
State judge sets aside objections to Farmton development plan in southern Volusia
BY DINAH VOYLES PULVER, ENVIRONMENT WRITER
January 25, 2012
A state administrative hearing judge ruled against a coalition of environmental advocates Tuesday, siding with Volusia County on the question of whether the Miami Corp.'s proposed Farmton Local Plan should be allowed to go forward.
Edgewater resident Barbara Herrin, the Sierra Club of Florida and the Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development had challenged Volusia County's approval of the company's plan for 47,000 acres it owns between Osteen and the Southeast Volusia city.
The county voted in 2010 and again in March 2011 to give the company long-term rights to build 23,000 homes and 4.1 million square feet of commercial space. The plan allows development on 19,000 acres but requires the remaining 40,000 acres to be set aside in conservation.
The environmental groups argued the plan represents the very essence of sprawl, but Judge David Maloney ruled the massive plan with its many goals and objectives for "smart growth" and "green" building "is determined to discourage the proliferation of urban sprawl."
The advocates did not "prove beyond fair debate" that the site "is not suitable for the intensity, density and configuration of development," Maloney wrote. The plan "will preserve most of the site's natural areas, including its most environmentally sensitive areas," the judge noted.
Maloney presided over two administrative hearings on the case in DeLand, in September 2011 and September 2010.
His ruling elated Glenn Storch, the attorney who represents the Miami Corp. locally. It means the company can move forward on placing "thousands of acres into conservation," he said.
An attorney for the Citizen's Alliance, Henry Morgenstern, was disappointed by the order but said the decision wasn't surprising.
Because the judge agreed to use new state law approved last year, "abolishing the heart" of the state's landmark Growth Management Act, it "rigs the process to allow even terribly destructive and unjustifiable projects to get through."
"If this project can pass under state law, then anything can," Morgenstern said Tuesday. "This decision is a message to local governments and developers that planning is a dead concept in Florida now, and no matter what you plow under, anything goes."
Last fall, the Sierra Club's star witness was Thomas Pelham, the former secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, who had argued during his tenure at the agency that the plan does not comply with state law. While Pelham called the proposal a "planning travesty," Sustainable Florida recognized the company and Volusia and Brevard counties last summer saying the plan was the state's "first large-scale private planning effort that puts protection of environmentally sensitive lands first, followed by a green development." The plan sets moratoriums on building, with no construction allowed on the Gateway portion near Edgewater before 2016, and none between Edgewater and Osteen until after 2025.
In a note to the Volusia County Council and county staff late Tuesday, Clay Henderson, an attorney with Holland and Knight and one of several attorneys who helped represent the company during the administrative hearings, congratulated the county for "setting the bar high for smart growth and sustainable development."
The Sierra Club has 15 days to file its objections and then the judge's order will be forwarded to the state's new Department of Economic Opportunity, which replaced the community affairs department, for approval.