School buses at the gate
A community's indefensible restrictions

Article Courtesy of The Daytona News Journal

Published August 6, 2005


Sea Colony is a 20-year-old gated community a few miles north of Palm Coast, its 350-odd houses spread over lush acreage between State Road A1A and the Atlantic. The community is quiet, attractive, exclusive. When it advertises its seasonal rentals, it highlights its proximity to a bird sanctuary and nature preserve and entices potential residents to "enjoy the sunrise from the padded benches, sun or swim in the community pool, or enjoy walking, biking, fishing just steps from your door." Sea Colony likes to entice parents of young children, too, as it notes that the community is "only 1.5 hours from Disney World."

Obnoxious surliness and discrimination against children aren't the words that come to mind after taking in those invitations. But obnoxious surliness and discrimination is one way to describe the Sea Colony homeowner association's running attempt to limit Flagler County school buses from the community, or expel them altogether.

Homeowners are bothered by the noise of the buses. They claim the buses endanger the safety of elderly residents. And they say buses are running over their grass. In a letter to the district last May, the Sea Colony homeowner association board said it "feels it is the responsibility of the school board department of transportation to find a safe place for the children to be let off and picked up without going down our side streets."

Finding a safe place for drop-offs and pick-ups is just what the transportation department did a year and a half ago when it decided that it was no longer safe to pick up Sea Colony's children outside the gates, along A1A. The two-lane highway curves there, and traffic barrels down between 50 and 60 miles per hour. There are no street lights and the tree canopy is such that students would be wrapped in darkness as they wait for the bus in the morning. "We weren't comfortable with having the buses stop on the outside," says Eddie Guida, the district's transportation supervisor. Buses have since gone into the community, picking up about 14 students at three spots, including some side streets.

School Superintendent Bill Delbrugge is aiming to remove all school bus stops anywhere along A1A in the county, because rapid growth has made the road that much more of a traffic hazard. He finds Sea Colony's alternative to a stop on A1A unacceptable. It would entail sending the buses briefly down one street inside Sea Colony, then forcing them to back up to turn around and exit. "Buses are not made to back up," Delbrugge says, because that's when people are run over, when trees, buildings and cars get hit. "I need the buses to stay going forward." Sea Colony is also proposing to build a turn-around for the buses, which the district would welcome, but the gated community would have to foot the bill. Spending school money on that, the superintendent says, "is not fair to the other residents of Flagler county."

The school district is being reasonable. The community is not deed-restricted by age, for example, nor -- according to the district's attorney -- do its covenants and restrictions give it authority to prevent or dictate access of public service vehicles, including school buses. Any such restrictions would not be permitted without County Commission approval, the attorney told the association. County Commissioner Blair Kanbar, a long-time resident of Sea Colony and a past president of the homeowner association, is not interested in such restrictions, for good reason: He chose to live at Sea Colony because of its "mixed-use" appeal -- and the presence of children. (The community teems with children visiting grandparents in summer).

Gated communities have their rights, of course. But they're no islands: They remain communities within communities, they remain dependent on protection, services and neighborliness that make them the attractive communities they claim to be in their marketing brochures. It isn't so much to ask to extend a few courtesies of convenience in return, especially to their own community's children. Sea Colony should be embarrassed of its back-to-school surliness.