Finish line in sight for Fellsmere-State development settlement

FELLSMERE – The City of Fellsmere hopes to cross the finish line by August in its quest for an agreement and settlement with state officials over the cities Villages of Fellsmere vision.

City Manager Jason Nunemaker told the Fellsmere City Council that the stipulated settlement agreement with the Florida Department of Community Affairs does not seal the deal, but puts the city at 60 to 70 percent completion.

The next step is for the city to update its comprehensive plan through 2035 to be sure the city’s plan would adequately address its needs for land use, transportation and parks among other necessities, Nunemaker said.

He expects that work to be done by August and approved by the Department of Community Affairs.

“I know it’s been quite a rocky road,” Mayor Susan Adams said during the discussion over the agreement.

The city has been at odds with the state, and to a lesser extent the county, for the last 1 1/2 years over its massive annexation and plans for the Villages of Fellsmere.

Fellsmere envisioned clusters of development throughout the city, consisting of a grand total of 36,000 residential units with small downtown centers. Fearing urban sprawl, the state challenged the city’s plan.

“I think we pushed them as far as we could,” said Fellsmere Community Development Director Mark Mathes, explaining that the city had no opportunity to get 36,000 units approved.

Instead, the DCA has agreed to job-based expansion, allowing for more residential development based on the number of jobs created.

The residential cap is currently set at 19,000 residential units and would require the city to undertake another comprehensive plan amendment.

The first phase of the Villages of Fellsmere has a residential cap of 8,171 units, which would require the city to prove it has 2 million square feet of non-residential development.

Such development could include schools, government buildings, water and wastewater facilities, and commercial and industrial space.

The DCA is requiring the city to provide .65 jobs per residence – at 8,171 units, that would equate to 5,311 jobs. To provide some flexibility, jobs can be calculated by square footage of development.

The state has allowed the city to use 400 square feet as the threshold for calculating jobs.

Mathes said that industrial development would give the city the better jobs-per-square-foot ratio due to the large size of that type of development. He added that the city would be able to count jobs by whichever means gives them the highest number – whether it’s the actual number of jobs or the square footage.

Mathes added that the city would continue to work with DCA for more flexibility in the job-count to allow the city to count jobs outside the prescribed phase, such as the planned Employment Activity Center node at County Road 512 and Interstate 95, which would attract employees from within the Villages of Fellsmere.

“We’re taking the deal because we think it’s workable,” Mathes said.


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