News / Events

Farmton changes move Deep Creek land to county

By Dinah Voyles Pulver, Environment Writer

January 8, 2012

A long-term development plan for the massive Miami Corp. property across southern Volusia continues to move slowly forward, as Volusia County and company officials follow the timeline laid out in a plan the county approved in 2011.

On Tuesday, the Volusia Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission unanimously approved a few tweaks to the Farmton Local Plan, which will govern much of the development of 15,000 acres in southern Volusia between Osteen and Edgewater over the next 20 to 50 years.

The Farmton Local Plan applies to 59,000 acres of land in Volusia and Brevard counties, which Miami Corp., a Chicago-based family land holding company, has owned since the 1920s and used primarily for timber and hunting. The plan will eventually place about 44,000 acres of land into conservation and allow development on roughly 19,000 acres, including 15,000 in Volusia.

The company's agreement with Volusia County required the conservation land in exchange for allowing development rights for 23,000 homes and 4 million square feet of commercial space. The St. Johns River Water Management District and Audubon will jointly hold conservation easements with the county.

The biggest change approved by the county advisory board on Tuesday involves a conservation area along Deep Creek, to be known as the Deering Preserve. Under the original plan, the conservation area was to be deeded to a community stewardship organization that would oversee the land, a proposal recommended by a panel of outside experts that originally reviewed the Farmton plan for the property owners.

However, Volusia County wanted the land instead, to ensure long-term public access, said Charles Lee, advocacy director for Audubon of Florida. Audubon will hold a conservation easement on the land.

Lee was one of the members of an expert panel the county convened to develop a management plan for the Farmton conservation lands.

The change is a positive development, Lee said, placing ownership of the land in a "logical location" with the county.

In addition to the 1,145 acres in the Preserve, Miami Corp. also will deed over to the county another 270 acres on the west side of the creek.

The site had been reserved for a school if needed, because the law in effect when the Farmton plan was approved limited the area where schools could be built. County officials said that law has now changed and any future schools at Farmton could be built closer to areas where development would occur.

The Preserve will become the public's primary access to the Farmton conservation lands, Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman told the commission on Tuesday.

The county contemplates eventually extending a dirt road south from Pell Road to a parking area for people to launch canoes and kayaks at Deep Creek, and access to a hiking trail system. It won't be easy walking, but ambitious outdoors lovers will be able to hike all the way to the St. Johns River.

"You're talking boots and you're going to see snakes," Seaman said. "It's very, very primitive, but it's also very beautiful."

The Preserve will be deeded to the county by the end of March. However, officials said part of the land lies within a mitigation bank and changing a state permit to allow full public access to that land could take three to five years.

Next, the changes to the Farmton Local Plan will be forwarded to the County Council for approval. Under a condition added by the Volusia Growth Management Commission, Miami Corp. will be required to submit a master plan for a development of regional impact for its Farmton land by 2016.

While the Farmton Local Plan allowed for development of an area called the Gateway to begin within five years, it's now unlikely that will take place, company and county officials said this week. Farmton has purchased a development site formerly known as Reflections, near Interstate 95 west of Edgewater, and that piece will likely be the first to be developed.

The company is about to begin a rezoning process for the land with the city of Edgewater. Reflections was supposed to be primarily a large housing development; however, there's no need for single-family homes in that area at this point, said Glenn Storch, the local land-use attorney who represents Miami Corp. Storch said the rezoning request will focus on development that produces jobs.