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Edgewater environmentalists file suit over Farmton
Say county's approval of development plan violated county rules
By Pat Hatfield
posted Mar 18, 2010 - 7:55:28pm
The Farmton plan to develop more than 47,000 homes on a tract east of Deltona is headed to court.
Environmentalist Barbara Herrin of New Smyrna Beach filed suit against Volusia County March 15, claiming the County Council's Feb. 18 approval of the Farmton plan violated the county's rules.
The nonprofit Edgewater Citizen’s Alliance for Responsible Development Inc. (ECARD), of which Herrin is president, is named as co-plaintiff.
The suit states the County Council, according to the Volusia County Charter, should not have voted to amend the county's land-use plan for Farmton without approval of the amendment from the Volusia Growth Management Commission (VGMC).
The VGMC has the power and the duty to determine the consistency of comprehensive land-use plans and amendments to them. A land-use plan amendment may not become effective until it has been reviewed and certified consistent by the VGMC, according to statutes and County Charter rules cited in the suit.
On Feb. 10, the Farmton amendment was brought before the VGMC, but the county asked for a continuance of the VGMC public hearing until March 24, because of changes that had been incorporated into the Farmton plan. The continuance was approved, and the matter was tabled.
Then, on Feb. 18, the County Council approved the land-use change, anyway, the suit points out.
The vote was 5-2, with County Council Members Andy Kelly and Carl Persis dissenting.
The suit has been assigned to Judge Robert K. Rouse Jr. in DeLand, in the 7th Judicial Circuit.
The Farmton plan would allow more than 23,000 homes, along with millions of square feet of commercial and business property. Conservationists, such as ECARD, objected to development planned for the county's core conservation area, which is composed of wetlands, ecologically sensitive areas and wildlife habitat.
In December, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which oversees all such land changes, issued a report advising Volusia County not to adopt the Farmton land-use amendment.
The final version of the plan will go back to the state for another review.
The tract has been used for hunting and tree farming for the past 80 years by its owner, Miami Corp. The corporation is listed as a co-defendant in Herrin's lawsuit.
Miami Corp. attorney Glenn Storch reacted to the suit.
"I will tell you this. This seems to be a sham lawsuit," he said.
Storch said the lawsuit was designed to throw a monkey wrench into the process.
In the past, he said, the VGMC has approved comprehensive-plan amendments after a governing body has approved them.
"I know of at least one," VGMC Coordinator Merry Chris Smith said.
She couldn't remember which case that was. She said such a case would have come to VGMC with a notation that the governing body's adoption was contingent on VGMC approval.
"The fact they may have done things improperly in the past, doesn't make them right," said Henry Lee Morgenstern, attorney for Herrin and ECARD.
As for the Farmton plan, the VGMC has received the county's ordinance adopting the land-use change. The ordinance states the adoption won't be final until the VGMC issues a certificate of consistency or a conditional certificate of consistency.
Storch said of the suit, "It is totally groundless, and unfortunately, it will end up costing the taxpayers a great deal of money to deal with."
Morgenstern countered that by saying the immense amount of staff time the county has already spent on the developer's plan dwarfs by far the amount of money the county will spend on this lawsuit.
Contrary to some news reports, Morgenstern said, the suit does not ask that his attorney's fees be paid by the county, only the court filing fees.
Read reporter Pat Hatfield's blog, Life in Interesting Times.
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