Neighboring homeowners object to Kolter Group’s request to establish Silver Oaks CDD

FORT PIERCE – The St. Lucie County Commission voted unanimously Oct. 5 to approve the establishment of the Silver Oaks Community Development District despite the protests of area residents who’ve long opposed development of the vacant 155-acre property at the southeast corner of Silver Oak Drive and Tilton Road.

County Attorney Dan McIntyre introduced the request by Delray Beach-based Kolter Group, which wants to use the CDD as a financial tool for developing the infrastructure on the property. In 2019, a previous County Commission approved a second amendment to the original development agreement passed in 2005 that also reduced the size to 126.7 acres and tweaked the density of the proposed development.

“State law provides for the creation of these community development districts by ordinance,” he said. “They’re primarily used by developers to finance infrastructure inside the development, things like roads, stormwater, sometimes water, sewer [and] parks.”

While acknowledging the county is already home to a handful of such CDDs, Mr. McIntyre admitted such CDDs have not been without controversy. For that reason, the Silver Oaks ordinance he drafted included a requirement for transparency on the part of the developers.

“We want to make sure the potential for assessment in taxes on the people buying the property in the development is disclosed,” he explained. “In our ordinance, we require a full disclosure because that’s one of the things that’s created problems in other parts of the state. We also attempted to make sure that we limit the powers of the district.”

Chairman Chris Dzadovsky agreed, thanking the city attorney for incorporating transparency in the latest CDD ordinance

“You did state that very well because it is a concern,” he said. “Each year we bring the Truth in Millage notices out, the folks blame this Board for seeing a large number attached to their taxes, which is not levied by this Board or the county. Those folks that participate in the CDD should clearly know that those are being levied by another agency and not us. Sometimes it’s actually twice as much as all of the county taxes on a TRIM Notice.”

A trio of adjacent property owners addressed the Commission during the hearing, continuing their neighborhood’s ongoing objection to the Silver Oaks Planned Unit Development, which by 2019 had been reduced to 316 permitted units. The first was Tilton Road homeowner Casey Hampson, who told the Board she and her husband had lived in the St. Lucie Gardens equestrian community for more than eight years.

“Like the rest of the families in this community, we were not interested in living in the city and searched for a quieter area of St. Lucie County to call home and raise future children,” she said. “Now that quiet life is once again facing the threat of major change. Lennard Road is being proposed to cut right through our yards. There is also the threat of developing the 125-acre parcel on Tilton Road. Although we understand that change and growth are inevitable, a major road and over 300-unit development do not belong in the middle of a quiet equestrian community.”

One of her neighbors, Laura Gullotti, has lived for more than three decades in the area and complained of being left out of the loop of developer plans for the vacant property.

“We’re not even notified of what’s coming down the pike,” she said. “It’s very annoying that the only reason our neighborhood knows about it is because somebody happened to see this [meeting notice]. The county has warned us if they put a development out there, they’re going to come after us for water and sewage. A development like this can come in and make demands of everybody else in the neighborhood without us having any input.”

Chairman Dzadovsky temporarily interrupted the public speakers to emphasize that most of their comments were not related to the CDD request before the Board that day.

“Just for those of you speaking tonight, this is not about a site plan,” he said. “Tonight’s agenda item is a community development district.”

Chairman Dzadovsky then asked Mr. McIntyre for additional clarification for the residents, who’ve frequently expressed concerns that developing the vacant land will worsen the area’s historically poor drainage issues during rain events.

“Again, what’s in front of the Board tonight is a funding or financing mechanism to construct the internal improvements inside the development,” the latter said. “This started many years ago, and the Board at that time approved the rezoning of the property and a site plan. We have reduced the density [and] also required the developer of this PUD to donate substantial acreage on the southwest corner of the property for stormwater drainage.”

Mr. McIntyre also attempted to alleviate concerns about Lennard Road coming through anytime soon.

“The Board a number of years ago determined not to proceed at this time with the Lennard Road extension,” he said. “To be honest, it is on the county’s long-range plans, but there are no current plans to develop the Lennard Road extension at this time.”

The last area homeowner to speak, Courtney Santaella, bought her Tilton Road properly just last year and lamented the fact she hadn’t been notified about Silver Oaks or the recent amendments to the Prima Vista Commons project abutting her property as well.

“It’s concerning to me to know that all the sudden this little beautiful paradise is going to be just engulfed in development,” she said. “It’s just development all over the place from our beautiful little St. Lucie Gardens.”

The final public speaker that evening was Kolter Group representative Jere Earlywine, who first addressed the county’s concerns about proper disclosure.

“I wanted to be clear with you all that there’s a lot of disclosure,” he insisted. “In fact, the Legislature probably five years ago created some additional requirements for CDDs to make sure they had public websites and there’s recordable documents addressing the CDDs and the assessments. There are requirements of the sales contracts, [and] Kolter trains their sales people really well so there’s a lot of information out there. All of our meetings are advertised, so we have public hearings on assessments.”

Mr. Earlywine also emphasized the reasoning behind the Kolter Group decision to utilize a CDD rather than a homeowners association.

“With a traditional HOA developer structure, the infrastructure just costs more,” he explained. “The community development district actually saves money because it can issue taxes and bonds and access that tax-exempt bond market, [so] they can spread the costs over time.”

After further discussion, Commissioner Sean Mitchell asked for assurances from Mr. McIntyre that the CDD implementation request was the only thing before the Board that evening before he subsequently made the motion for approval. Commissioner Linda Bartz seconded the motion, which then passed unanimously.

Mr. Earlywine also appeared recently before the Fort Pierce City Commission, where he won approval for the Kolter Group to establish the Savannah Lakes Community Development District east of U.S. 1 and north of Midway Road. The company plans a mix of townhomes and villas on the 120-acre site just south of the High Point retirement community.

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