Ormond returns the controversial Tomoka Preserve to the Planning Board

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ORMOND BEACH — In a surprise move, the City Commission Tuesday night ordered the developers of the controversial Tomoka Preserve project to return their plans to the Ormond Beach Planning Board for further review.

The developers were seeking city approval to build a new 272-home gated community on the former 18-hole golf course in the heart of an older, non-gated community called Tomoka Oaks off Nova Road. Some of the 547 homes at Tomoka Oaks date back to the early 1960s when the iconic Sam Snead Course opened.

After three hours of public comment from citizens, city planning staff, attorneys and experts, the City Commission voted 5-0 to send the project back to the Planning Board after asking the developers to “significantly” reduce the number of homes.

“I was surprised,” Carl Feeley, one of the project’s three developers, said Wednesday morning. “We wanted to make a decision, but it didn’t happen, so we’ll see what we do. We’ve been in this for a long time.”

After meeting with Feeley and the other developers, Ray Barshay and Sheldon Rubin, land use attorney Rob Merrill issued a statement on behalf of his clients Wednesday afternoon.

“We are disappointed that the City Commission rejected our development proposal and instead ordered us to return to the Planning Board, which voted — after three public hearings — to recommend denial of our application,” Merrill wrote in a text message.

“The Tomoka Reserve property owners were willing to negotiate with the City Commission regarding any concerns they had about the request, but their request to reduce the number of (home) lots by 50% is simply not a viable option for us. This unexpected request for a new development proposal is not Regular, so we must take some time to evaluate the legal and planning options before us.”

An unprecedented move for a unique property

Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington on Wednesday acknowledged the unusual step he and the other four commissioners took.

On the other hand, the former Tomoka Oaks Golf Course is a unique property.

Partington was on the city commission in 2006 when it approved a former developer’s plans to build 122 condominiums and townhomes in the middle of the Tomoka Oaks Golf Course. This project was supposed to retain the 18-hole course, but it was never developed due to the onset of the Great Recession. The agreement with the city expired in 2014.

“I hope they (Feeley and his partners) will listen not only to the residents, but also to the commission in considering a significant reduction in the number of homes,” Partington said.

In another unusual move, Planning Board member Angie Scholl testified as a citizen in the public comment section of Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“The density of this project is not compatible with Tomoka Oaks and the surrounding area,” said Scholl, the RE/MAX Signature agent. “Developers insist they can’t sell larger homes and larger lots (at the request of Tomoka Oaks residents and city staff), but every Realtor and builder in town will tell you that’s not true. Developers continue to say they can’t make a profit through ‘density Less, but it’s not the city’s responsibility to make sure developers can make the most profit. “It is the city’s responsibility to make the best decisions for the residents…and the city as a whole now and in the future.”

How it all started

Feeley and Barshay, both Ormond Beach natives, teamed with South Florida real estate investor/developer Rubin to purchase the 147.94-acre former Tomoka Oaks Golf Course for $2.6 million in April 2021.

The developers said they bought the land on the basis that homes could be built there.

They proceeded to hold several “developer-initiated neighborhood meetings” to present concept plans to area residents and hear concerns and suggestions. They then presented more detailed plans to the Ormond Beach Planning Board, which reviewed them at meetings in July, August and September. The plans underwent several revisions culminating in a reduction in the number of homes by four. The developers say they originally considered developing more than 300.

Will developers resort to plan B?

The developers recently submitted a potential backup plan for the Tomoka Reserve project with the city. The application, separate from what the City Commission reviewed Tuesday, calls for the property to be rezoned to a more traditional R-2 classification. According to the developers, the R-2 designation would allow for up to 317 lots and landscaped buffer spaces around the perimeter of the community just six feet wide.

The “planned residential development” proposal considered by the commission Tuesday would have included landscaped buffers at least 50 feet wide.

Several commissioners made it clear Tuesday night that they would have voted to reject the project as currently proposed.

They urged developers to continue negotiating with area residents and city staff on a PRD plan rather than going the R-2 route.

“It will start all over again”

Planning Board member JJ Galloway said after Tuesday night’s meeting that the City Commission’s decision was unexpected. “First time I’ve seen anything come back to the Planning Board. It (will be) a new area and new fireworks,” he said. “It’s going to start over.”

“Be careful what you wish for because the battle is far from over. It looks like the Planning Board is going to have an interesting new year ahead,” he added.

Tomoka Oaks resident Carolyn Davis has been an outspoken critic of the Tomoka Sanctuary project. “I’m glad several commissioners mentioned the terms of the 2006 planned residential development agreement, as that plan retained the golf green while clustering homes and condos in the middle of the golf course,” she said Wednesday.

Barbara Doliner, another Tomoka Oaks resident who opposes the Tomoka Sanctuary project, said she and her neighbors will be ready with more protest signs. “We will be here to work for our community,” she said. “Thats all about it.”

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