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Palm Coast Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 4 months ago

Planning board approves proposal for Whispering Meadows equine therapy ranch off County Road 13

The proposal will next go before the Flagler County Commission.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The Whispering Meadows equine therapy ranch has the planning board's support to move from its current site at 5011 John Anderson Highway to a new parcel  near County Road 13 and the county fairgrounds. 

The County Road 13 property is owned by the state and leased by the county, which would sublease it to the ranch. 

"We’re excited about moving to this new territory."


— DENNIS BAYER, attorney representing the ranch

The Flagler County Planning and Development Board on Jan. 11 voted unanimously in favor of the ranch's application for a semi-public use on the property, which is 44 acres and sits near the intersection of County Road 13 and Sawgrass Road. 

The proposal will go before the County Commission for approval — it's currently slated for the commission's meeting at 5 p.m. on Feb. 21 — and would also require state approval. The owners and the county have already approached the state to seek permission. 

A proposed site plan for the property shows two pastures, a driveway and parking area, a caretaker's property, a maintenance and hay storage building, an arena, and a grooming station. 

"We’ve really been working to diligently address a myriad of issues," attorney Dennis Bayer, representing the ranch, said at the Jan. 11 meeting after a planning board member asked why the process has taken so long. "... It’s been a pretty complicated process with lots of moving parts."

He noted that the land is still vacant, and preparing for the ranch to relocate there will still take some time. 

"We’re excited about moving to this new territory," he said. "There’s no reason for us to delay it."

The initiative to shift the ranch from its current site on John Anderson Highway to the property on County Road 13 began after a few property owners near the John Anderson site complained to the county about the ranch, saying it shouldn't be operating in a residential area and ought to move elsewhere.

The ranch, a nonprofit owned by Helene and Richard Davis and their daughter Kristine Aguirre, fought the complaint. 

Dozens of ranch supporters, including two School Board members and a representative of Daytona State College, turned out at an April 14 planning board meeting to speak in favor of the ranch. 

The planning board voted unanimously at the April 14 meeting to grant the ranch's application for a semi-public use at the John Anderson property, formalizing its presence there. But the ranch's leadership then began working with the county administration to look into a potential move to the parcel near the fairgrounds, and the County Commission in July granted its approval for a public-private partnership with the nonprofit at the County Road 13 site. 

Only one member of the public — Mike Plummer, who lives in a house next to the County Road 13 parcel — addressed the planning board at the Jan. 11 meeting. 

Plummer said that he's been a rodeo guy his whole life and is "all for it," but wanted to be sure that the county, once the ranch's lease is up, wouldn't replace the ranch with some kind of business that would be more disruptive.

He also suggested shifting the position of the driveway and pasture areas so that traffic entering and leaving the site would be farther from his house. 

Bayer said the ranch would be willing to relocate the parking area and add a vegetated buffer. 

County Growth Management Director Adam Mengel said that county approval for the ranch on the County Road 13 site wouldn't open the door to businesses there in the future. 

"This is very specific in its definition as to a semi-public use approval; it can only be applied for by a nonprofit," Mengel said. "So it's not a kind of Katy-bar-the-door to business operations. ... This use as an equestrian therapy nonprofit is what is being considered here, and no other uses."

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