Scott, Cabinet OK massive Volusia development

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned against regulations that delay land development, joined the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday in unanimously approving a massive housing and commercial project in Volusia County that’s been under appeal for two years.

A citizens group dropped its objections after the developer, Hammock Creek Green LLC, made major changes since winning approval from the City of Edgewater in February 2009.

Those modifications to the plan, which calls for up to 8,500 housing units and 3.3 million square feet of commercial-industrial space, also resulted in support from the environmental group Audubon of Florida.

One local resident, Richard Burgess, kept the project on hold, though, with an administrative appeal, and former Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham eventually agreed with him.

In December, Pelham reversed an administrative law judge’s decision and ruled the plan was out of compliance with state’s growth management law.

Billy Buzzett, a former development company executive appointed by Scott to replace Pelham last month, then did a double-reverse by ruling it was in compliance.

“This is the type of planning I think we need to see a lot more of in Florida,” Buzzett said before Scott and the three-member Cabinet approved the plan without comment.

Buzzett cited changes in the plan that will preserve and restore 75 percent of the 5,187-acre wooded development site.

Audubon of Florida advocacy director Charles Lee praised the project for that reason, but he defended the department, which Scott wants to shrink and merge with another agency, and the growth management rules the governor has criticized.

“As we move forward to look at these kind of large-scale developments in Florida I would hope that you would keep this picture firmly in mind because it represents the benefits that can come out of good planning, out of good growth management decisions,” Lee told the panel.

Burgess, though, could continue to stand in the project’s way by now appealing in court. His lawyer, Ross Burnaman, said he hasn’t yet made on decision.

Burnaman is co-founder of Hometown Democracy, a group that led a petition drive for a state constitutional amendment which would have required local voter approval for such changes in comprehensive plans. That measure drew strong opposition from business and development interests. It was rejected by voters in November.

Burnaman argued the ruling violated administrative law and his client’s due process rights.

Burgess, who told the all-GOP panel that he was a conservative Republican businessman, said the plan is flawed because it includes inconsistent time frames for the project and is based on a 32 percent, 10-year population growth estimate that’s wildly optimistic and contrary to new census data.