Unpaid taxes plague Hunter's Ridge project

Article Courtesy of The News-Journal

By Julie Murphy

Published November 6, 2010

BUNNELL -- Nearly 20 years' worth of discussion later, the Hunter's Ridge development proposal will be back before Flagler County Commissioners at least one more time.

The only decision made during Monday's special meeting was to continue consideration of the large residential development, initially approved in 1991, until 7 p.m. Nov. 15.

County Administrator Craig Coffey was quick to point out Monday that the applicant -- including a variety of companies building homes in Hunter's Ridge -- is three years' behind in paying property taxes while also asking the county to approve increasing the number of homes allowed in the development from 1,702 to 2,657.

Commissioner Milissa Holland chided Hunter's Ridge representative Sam Merrill for using the "mask of smart development" to nearly double the size of the project while not paying property taxes and reneging on other obligations -- such as building a golf course -- that were part of initial plans for the development that straddles Flagler and Volusia counties.

Coffey worked with representatives from Hunter's Ridge to hash out an application that would allow the development to move forward. He said it was necessary to make concessions in some areas in order to benefit in other, more meaningful areas that adjusted costs to current-day values for school buses, ambulances and police cars.

Commissioner Alan Peterson said the county was giving too much away.

"Let's not give any more away," Peterson said. "You are asking us to give up even more to a developer who is delinquent on his taxes."

For Holland, losing a library that the developer was supposed to build was an "impact" she wasn't willing to accept. But Commissioner Barbara Revels was more concerned about adding things that will have to be funded in the county's budget every year.

"I want to make sure, as we're budgeting this year and next, that we're not screaming about how much it costs for our emergency services or the sheriff's (office)," Revels said. "I would prefer that we not setting up something that we, as Flagler County residents, are burdened to paying for before there are even rooftops there."

Merrill said the "new price guide" will increase county coffers by about $7.8 million for different obligations -- a significant increase over the initial 20-year plan for the development.

Revels asked "with bated breath" when the taxes would be brought current and who has control of the escrow account for the initial portions of the development in Volusia County, which has been nearly built out.

The short answer was that the $1.4 million collected will be used to largely fulfill new obligations to the county, assuming the application is approved, but no clear time frame was given about when the back taxes will be paid.

Tony DiNizo Jr., a sub-developer and resident of Hunter's Ridge, was given final plats for 77 lots a year ago but said he can't get certificates of occupancy for those lots.

"I feel like I'm caught in the crosshairs," he said. "I've paid all my concurrency fees. I understand that the golf course, years ago, would have some value, but I don't see how that could be now. I think it's time that we move forward."