Planning Board unanimously recommends denial for development of Tomoka Oaks golf course

Density, traffic concerns and incompatible lot sizes with Tomoka Oaks were among the reasons cited for the board's denial.

The Ormond Beach Planning Board unanimously recommended the City Commission deny the proposed Tomoka Reserve development. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
The Ormond Beach Planning Board unanimously recommended the City Commission deny the proposed Tomoka Reserve development. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
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The Tomoka Reserve development will be reviewed by the Ormond Beach City Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 7 — and it will arrive with a unanimous recommendation to deny by the Ormond Beach Planning Board.

The advisory board reached a decision on the development at the third hearing held on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at Calvary Christian Church. Board members echoed the same concerns they had previously voiced at prior meetings regarding the development of the Tomoka Oaks golf course: The proposed 272-home development's density is too high. The lot widths are incompatible with the existing Tomoka Oaks neighborhood. The developer's planting plan for the 50-foot buffer was insufficient. The traffic generated would negatively impact residents' quality of life.

"I see density as being a severe issue," Board member Al Jorczak said. "I see traffic and safety as being real concerns, and I look at the diversity of what will go there relative to the surrounding area as being something that can be improved upon."

Planning Board members Mike Scudiero and Troy Railsback. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Developers Carl Velie, Ray Barshay, Sheldon Rubin and Emily Rubin submitted a new site plan to the city on Sept. 6. They are seeking approval for a development order under the property's current Planned Residential Development zoning. The developers had previously proposed plans to build 276 units with a density of 1.87 units per acre. The new site plan proposed 272 homes with a density of 1.84 units per acre. The developers 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. 

Since the development's inception, the Tomoka Oaks volunteer Homeowners Association has requested the developers build 100-foot-wide lots on the 147-acre property to be compatible with their existing neighborhood. 

Dennis Bayer, the attorney representing the HOA, said the issues discussed by the board — architectural standards, traffic impact, the buffer — are all issues the HOA has been speaking with the developer about since 2021. 

"So these have been issues that we in good faith have been trying to negotiate over two years, and it's kind of disappointing that we haven't made more progress," Bayer said.

Compromises made

Rob Merrell, the attorney representing the developers, said developers have been negotiating since the beginning. He said that the city's comprehensive plan would have allowed for 632 units for the property. They initially proposed 300.

"The guys could have asked for more," Merrell said. "I said, 'Let's start at a reasonable place and be respectful, and we did." 

The developers, he added, have reached an agreement with city staff on virtually all issues, save for two: The lot sizes (the city also wants 100-foot-wide lots) and the 50-foot buffer. "

City planning staff recommended the Planning Board deny the project based on these two issues. The buffer's lack of a permanent irrigation system and reduced planting plan, even with a two-year maintenance bond, raised concerns for staff. 

The developers, and their landscaping expert, believe the city's requirement of a "type six" buffer — the kind typically put in for industrial and commercial developments, was inappropriate. 

Master Arborist Don Spence, who has been working with the developer on the buffer planting plan, said he was perplexed by the city's requirement for an irrigation plan, as the developers seek to use native plants matching the existing vegetation on the property, which is not being watered today.

"There is no standing for a type six buffer being applied in a residential setting," Spence said. "That's one the biggest pushbacks we have." 

Planning Director Steven Spraker said staff is requiring a type six buffer — composed of seven trees, 70 shrubs and 70 ground cover plants — because the development of the golf course is a unique case. 

"Basically, you're taking a former golf course and you're developing it into residential — it should have a buffer," Spraker said. "That's what we heard through the neighborhood meetings. That's what we heard through the comments."

The 'nuclear option'

About 20 people spoke at the meeting, most of whom were against the proposed development. 

Tomoka Oaks resident Michelle Zirkelbach said she found it offensive that, when asked to reduce lots within the proposal, developers came back to the city with a site plan showing four less lots. 

"I find it unacceptable," she said. "As I stated last time, there was a previous proposal that was approved, keeping partial greenspace, the golf course and having less homes. Nothing has improved in terms of traffic."

The site plan reviewed by the Planning Board proposes 272 single-family lots on the 147.94-acre golf course land at 20 Tomoka Oaks Blvd. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Just because you can build, doesn't mean you should, Resident Denise White said.

"The reduction of four homes does absolutely nothing to put my mind at ease for our safety, our traffic, density and lifestyle issues," White said. 

Only one of the speakers said he was in favor of the development. New Ormond Beach resident Tyler Chavez said that, as a current renter, he is interested in buying a home in the near future and in smaller lots, as they are more affordable for the new workforce. 

"Larger lot sizes or even I think someone mentioned estates would certainly price me out of that area," he said.

At the meeting, Merrell also referenced a pending application to develop the property under an R-2 "Single-Family Low Density" zoning, which the property had before it was rezoned to a PRD in 2006. Under this zoning, the developers could build around 300 homes on 100-foot-wide lots, but the added improvements — the 50-foot buffer, a stoplight at Nova Road, 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 — would not be required.

"Something is going to get built," Merrell said. "It's either going to get built based on a custom zoning that's before you right now, or a straight zoning — whatever that might be."

Bayer said he was surprised to hear Merrell bring up the "nuclear option" of R-2 zoning as he called it during the first Planning Board hearing. He cited case law stating that local elected officials have the discretion to decide that maximum development density shouldn't be allowed provided some development is approved that is consistent with the city's comprehensive plan. 

Rob Merrell, the attorney representing the developers. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Merrell said the case cited has nothing to do with rezoning a property to have the same zoning as the surrounding area.

'Shocked and disappointed'

During the first Planning Board meeting for Tomoka Reserve, Board Chair Doug Thomas called it one of the top five most important issues he'd reviewed. At the Sept. 26 meeting, he said it jumped to the top two. The top spot remains for the demolition of the Ormond Hotel, a decision he said he regrets to this day. 

If built according to the current proposal, Tomoka Reserve would cause a "major nightmare" with traffic, regardless what the studies show, he said.

"I've lived in Ormond Beach for 50 years this year," Thomas said. "And I can tell you that I've gone through a lot of studies. It's not reality. It totally is not reality."

Planning Board members said they would have rather the developers come back with a site plan showing 220 or 230 homes, and the majority were in agreement with staff and the HOA on the need for 100-foot-wide lots. 

Only one board member, GG Galloway, said he'd like to give the developers some leeway and allow a mixture of 100-foot-wide lots and 80-foot-wide lots. 

Galloway's main issue was density. He also thought that the developer would have presented a significant reduction of lots in the new site plan. 

"I'm a little shocked and a little disappointed," he said.

He challenged residents to see if the developers would sell the property as well, and consider pursuing a community development bond through the HOA to do so. 

"When somebody says something is not for sale, it is for sale at the right price," he said. "I will tell you, keep going to the developer to find out that magic price." 


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