Tomoka Oaks golf course development to be reviewed by Planning Board on Sept. 26
As Tomoka Reserve heads into its third Planning Board hearing, developers said they want a chance to tell their story.
| 12:00 p.m. September 19, 2023
Ormond Beach Observer
Tomoka Reserve — the proposed 272-home development for the former Tomoka Oaks Golf Course — will be heard for the third time by the Ormond Beach Planning Board on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
The board has continued the hearing twice. First, because board members said they had too many questions to be able to come to a decision, and then because the developers' site plan was submitted too close to the second hearing for city staff to review in depth.
The Planning Board hearings come after Developers Carl Velie, Ray Barshay, Sheldon Rubin and Emily Rubin held a series of "pre-neighborhood meetings" in 2021 before holding the official neighborhood meetings — two of them — in February.
"We just want a chance to explain our story well," Barshay said. "We've done a lot of detail, of specifics, engineering, and just haven't been able to tell the story."
And their story, he said, is that they're planning to construct a project that will be beneficial to the community. He and Velie both live in Ormond Beach.
"We want a nice place for somebody to raise a family in the city of Ormond Beach," Velie said.
Their project is coming before the Planning Board, which will meet at 6 p.m. at Calvary Christian Church, at 1687 W. Granada Blvd., with a staff's recommendation for denial.
Ongoing application disputes
The site plan to be reviewed next week by the Planning Board proposes 272 single-family lots on the 147.94-acre golf course land at 20 Tomoka Oaks Blvd.
The development would have a 50-foot buffer, a five-foot sidewalk along both sides of the subdivision, outdoor recreation areas, and improvements to the current diamond intersection at St. Andrews Drive and Tomoka Oaks Boulevard. Developers have also proposed two types of lots: 60-foot by 120-foot lots in the interior of the subdivision, and 80-foot by 125-foot lots along the perimeter of the property.
Save for the types of lots — the site plan submitted prior to the Aug. 21 meeting included 90-foot-wide and 100-foot-wide lots — the updated plan is virtually the same.
Velie said that the last board meeting didn't provide their team with much feedback, other than wanting to see fewer lots and a decreased density. The first site plan proposed 276 units with a density of 1.87 units per acre. The latest site plan proposed 272 with a density of 1.84 units per acre.
"So really, we've clarified some information," he said. "We agreed to certain things that the staff asked for. ... Some minor changes in both the buffer, the light, the number of units went down four."
City planning staff is recommending a denial of the project because of the lack of permanent irrigation and planting plan for the natural buffer as well as the lot sizes, according to the staff report. Staff states the perimeter lots should be at least 100-foot in width and span a total of 10,000 square feet of lot area.
'There's just too many homes'
Tomoka Oaks volunteer Homeowners Association will ask the board to turn down the development at the Sept. 26 hearing.
Tomoka Oaks resident Jim Rose, who chairs the homeowners' association's golf course committee, said that their main issue with the plan is the density.
"There's just too many homes and that's just going to cause too much traffic," Rose said.
The lack of 100-foot lots in the developers' site plan is also an ongoing point of contention. The HOA wants Tomoka Oaks to stay a community, and any homes that are added should be compatible to the existing homes, Rose said. Driving down Clyde Morris and Williamson boulevards, new builds are all 60-foot-lots and 80-foot-lots, with houses constructed very close together.
"We just don't want that," Rose said. "We don't think it's indicative of what our community is, and they want to be Tomoka Reserve. That means they want to be part of Tomoka, so they should look like Tomoka and they should be like Tomoka."
Barshay and Velie said their development won't look like the subdivisions recently built on Clyde Morris Boulevard.
"Why wouldn't we want to do something that will bring as much value to what we have — the land — as we can?" Barshay said.
The more expensive the homes, the more value the property has, Velie added. The market research done by the developers shows people don't want larger lots — they'd rather put their money on the actual house.
"Us doing a project that DR Horton would be interested in, we would lose money," Velie said. "... It's not something we're interested in at all. We want the same thing."
The houses they want to build would likely run $650,000 to $800,000.
The HOA is also concerned about the buffer. The developers' proposal states their planting plan will work, and are suggesting a two-year maintenance bond as a contingency plan, but Rose said residents are still nervous. Plus, it takes time for vegetation to grow, so residents will see the Tomoka Reserve homes for a couple of years, at least.
"I think there's just a lot of trepidation because nobody can tell the future," Rose said. "It may well work out fine, I don't know, but that's the problem: Nobody knows."
Barshay said they are keeping as many of the existing trees on the buffer as possible and match the natural vegetation, rather than build a hedge. The city is asking for a "type 6" buffer, which is composed oof seven trees, 70 shrubs and 70 ground cover plants per 100 linear feet.
The developers are proposing five trees and 50 shrubs per 100 linear feet. Velie said the reduction would allow the trees — live oaks — to have room to grow their canopies, which can reach 60-100 feet in width. The city's proposal, he said, would only leave 15 feet between trees. The shrubs then won't grow, Velie said, because there won't be sunlight.
"It's going to be a natural buffer that's going to grow up and be there" Velie said. "We want that as well."
Golf course's original covenant
Tomoka Oaks Resident Carolyn Davis, who has led an independent effort to prevent the golf course's development, said the development has become a "hot issue" not only for Tomoka Oaks, but for all of Ormond Beach.
"I think there's an awful lot of eyes on what the Planning Board and the commission are ultimately going to decide," Davis said.
Since June 2022, Davis has argued that the golf course can't be legally developed because the property's 1963 original covenant declared it to be used perpetually as a golf course. Her attorney, Brent Spain, submitted an opinion citing case law to the Planning Board in July that supported her claim.
"There is nothing ambiguous about Mr. Spain's opinion that residential development is restricted," Davis wrote in her September newsletter. "Mr. Spain further outlines how the City’s legal conclusion is 'misplaced' because the documents relied upon in the City’s opinion do not actually release, waive or modify the perpetuity use."
Both the city and the developers state the property can be developed.
The thought of what the houses will look like is the "furthest" from her mind, Davis told the Observer. When she thinks about the development, she sees land stripped to dirt and displaced wildlife.
"It is the concept of a whole, brand new neighborhood being shoved into the Tomoka Oaks neighborhood," she said. "The concept to me is horrific."
Davis is also a member of the voluntary Tomoka Oaks HOA. The HOA's mitigation efforts, should the development end up in the courts, are needed as well, she said. But her priority is advocating for no development.
Trusting the process
At the last board hearing, Barshay said he recalled one of the board members — Mike Scudiero — saying the development will likely end up in litigation.
"It shouldn't," Barshay said. "I think that's a terrible perspective."
He said their hope is that they are able to explain their development well enough to gain the board's approval, and later the commission's.
If the city wants something different, Velie said staff, the board and the commission needs to communicate that in specifics.
"I think we've got to the point where we feel like we're negotiating against ourselves," Velie said. "Without the feedback from them of what they're specifically looking for, we're shooting in the dark."
The development process has been long, and at times contentious, but the developers said they're trying to trust the process.
"We've got to trust them just like the community's got to trust us," Barshay said. "I think that's at the root of so much stuff. It's emotional. It's political. It's all those things wrapped into one, but we've got to trust them just like we're asking to be trusted too."