New condition put on G. Harvey Estates plan

Development near Buckhead Ridge aims for February OK

MOORE HAVEN — When you’ve been working on plans for an upscale new housing development for a few years, what’s another five weeks’ delay? That might be what Glenn Harvey is saying to himself after the Glades County Board voted Tuesday, Jan. 8, to tack on a new condition he’ll have to fulfill for the rezoning of a more than 532-acre parcel of pastureland just southwest of Buckhead Ridge.

First the witnesses had to be sworn in because the board was conducting a public hearing on the rezoning, which is being sought to allow construction of a planned development that eventually would include 509 single-family home lots on roughly 476 acres, plus more than 400,000 square feet of retail commercial development on about 56 acres. The hearing ended up being continued to their scheduled Feb. 12 meeting because commissioners thought at least one other stipulation should be added — and also because a deal might be worked out in the meantime to establish a pilot project for sewer services with the Okeechobee Utility Authority.

The county’s Planning and Zoning Board considered the application in November but delayed it until December, then gave the OK after Mr. Harvey submitted other required materials and added a small, narrow parcel needed for the development.

Community Development Director Susan BuChans explained there were several conditions already that developer Harvey, represented by attorney Steve Dobbs, had agreed to fulfill:

• The developer will acquire Access Road (erroneously marked as State Road 78B), which is owned by the South Florida Water Management District and makes up the eastern boundary of the property, and commit to upgrade it to county standards under a binding developer’s agreement to build it while also granting the SFWMD permanent access.
• The developer must make improvements to State Road 78 to add a left-turn lane for westbound traffic into the project entrance at Access Road as well as turn lanes for egress onto SR 78, to the satisfaction of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Commissioners later said they wanted an additional assurance in the rezoning ordinance that the developer will continue maintenance of that access roadway and all internal roads, asking that a permanent entity be stipulated to take on that responsibility.

Ms. BuChans said, “This is a large development. There have been a lot of conditions, and the applicant has worked closely here with the county.”

Newly chosen County Board Chairman Tim Stanley led off with a query that “this road study shows an RV park in the middle. Did that change over time, or…?”

She answered, “They had two different traffic studies that were prepared. I’ve had so many applications,” she said, apologizing that she had to look it up.

She asked Mr. Dobbs to come to the podium. He stood to explain, share the news about OUA and answer any questions. Commissioners had several more.

“This project has taken on kind of a life of its own,” he said. “Originally we were only going to permit phase one, and it was going to include a future RV park when wastewater was available, because you have to have a package plant at that point.”

Since then, Mr. Dobbs explained, they’d planned only for single-family homes with wells and septic systems in only phase one of the four-part project. He said DOT would not issue permits because “they wanted to see everything” that would be needed for the whole project, adding that he’d learned future phases would require further expansion of SR 78 — “an additional turn lane will be required.

“We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, trying to get this (OK) with the Water Management District, DOT and … there are a lot of moving parts,” he said.

But Mr. Dobbs also said he wanted to bring the commissioners up to date, saying the SFWMD was “bringing all this other stuff into it” regarding U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and requirements on one of the SFWMD’s planned water storage project, “that the county had requested a buffer along SR 78 … (but) the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.” He said County Manager Martin Murphy emphasized that to the other agencies, and stated he might be able to explain better. “I think you’ve been represented well by Mr. Murphy, but it’s still dragging on,” Mr. Dobbs added.

The good news, though, Mr. Dobbs said, was that “we are going to bring water into the project, and I have … been approached by Okeechobee Utility Authority; they have through DEP (the state Department of Environmental Protection) a wastewater package plant, and they want to do a pilot project (with) a 35,000-gallon-a-day plant instead of retrofitting.”

Commissioner Donna Storter Long was pleased. “It’s wonderful news that OUA wants to do this, but is it going to be mandated?” Ms. BuChans said, “There’s a statewide mandate; however, the cost is a big thing and the legal issue is also costly.”

As it is, the first phase would have wells and septic systems with future municipal connections mandated when available, but that also raised concerns. Commissioner Weston Pryor (who’d been chosen as vice chairman) and others noted Glades County is simultaneously seeking state and federal grants for a large septic-to-sewer conversion project in the Moore Haven/Caloosahatchee River area of the southern county. They worried it might jeopardize their chances of grants by approving a new development that utilizes septic systems.

It was also a matter raised by Chairman Stanley because residents of the first-phase lots will be required to hook up to utilities if water and sewer-system connections become available in the future. He worried about the burden on those new homeowners, but County Attorney Richard Pringle explained that would be made clear in real estate purchase documents and would not concern the county.

Ms. BuChans wondered whether the board could add the wastewater pilot project setup as a condition. But Mr. Dobbs interjected: “I hate to tie this project to that pilot, which may or may not happen. I understand it’s in everybody’s best interests to get rid of septic.”

Mr. Dobbs also stated it’s unlikely any mobile homes would be in this development because of the price point. He had told residents of Buckhead Ridge when he updated them at their October 2018 community meeting, that the first-phase lots on the Rim Canal will probably be priced at $100,000. The whole development is scheduled only for conventional homes at present.

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