Governor and Cabinet reverse growth agency decision on major development

Feb 22, 2011

The following article was published in The Current on February 22, 2011:

By Bruce Ritchie

Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday approved a development plan for more than 5,000 acres in Volusia County after the Florida Department of Community Affairs reversed its opposition under a new administration.

In December, then-DCA Secretary Tom Pelham determined that the proposed “Restoration” development in Edgewater was not in compliance with state growth management laws. But on Tuesday, new DCA Secretary Billy Buzzett said the “incredible plan” deserved approval because it would set aside 75 percent of the property for conservation.

“I think the merits of this case are pretty amazing,” Buzzett told the Cabinet. “I think this is the type of planning we need to see a lot more of in Florida.”

Scott has repeatedly called DCA a “job killer” and has proposed to eliminate the agency because he said it creates development delays. The draft recommended order for Restoration was approved unanimously by the Cabinet without discussion.

The “Restoration” development plan covers 5,187 acres in Edgewater west of Interstate 95. A new land-use category created for the property would allow up to 8,500 housing units and up to 3.3 million square feet of commercial and office space.

An administrative law judge in May had recommended approval of the project. But Pelham reversed the judge’s recommendation because of varying planning time frames within the Restoration land-use change and the Edgewater comprehensive plan. Buzzett said he and DCA staff disagreed with Pelham’s decision on that issue.

Other supporters of the development who spoke included Edgewater City Manager Tracey Barlow, Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach and Charles Lee of Audubon of Florida. They said DCA’s new support for the project reflected a return to the agency’s original position prior to Pelham’s decision in December.

But critics say the project represents urban sprawl because it is located far from city services. Edgewater resident Richard A. Burgess, who filed a legal challenge that led to the Cabinet hearing, said Tuesday that Edgewater already has too many “big box” stores and empty condominiums and that the development would contribute more of both.

His attorney, Ross Stafford Burnaman, said DCA’s effort before the Cabinet to reverse Pelham’s final order was a “gross procedural error” with no legal authority. Burnaman predicted the Cabinet’s decision would be reversed on appeal. 

“It’s not fair for the department to flip-flop at the last minute without any opportunity for Mister Burgess or myself to make our case to the new agency head,” Burnaman said.