TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The Jacksonville District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has received an application for a Department of the Army permit pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §1344) as described below:
Benge Development Corporation
1157 Tom Gurney Drive
Winter Park, Florida 32789
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect non-tidal wetlands of the United States (US) located south of East Dixie Avenue/State Road 44 and east of South Lake Street in Section 25, Township 19 South, Range 24 East, Leesburg, Lake County, Florida.
Directions to the site are as follows: From Interstate-75, take the exit for State Road 44 east towards Leesburg. Continue on State Road 44 for approximately 15.75 miles and the property located on the south side of the road between South Lake Street and Lake Port Boulevard.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES:
Basic: Construction of a residential and industrial mixed use development.
Overall: Construction of mixed use development for residents seeking assisted-living and multi-family options that provides reasonable pedestrian access or expedient vehicle access to the Regional Medical Center.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The project area is a 50-acre vacant lot primarily consisting of canopied forest of oak, pine, and hickory trees. The remainder of the property includes 2.32-acres of exotic hardwood wetlands and 0.87-acre of wetland ditch/swale. The existing ditch running through the onsite wetland is a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) drainage ditch conveying water from East Dixie Avenue through the project site and into Lake Harris. The applicant stated that the onsite wetland has been degraded by the poor quality of untreated runoff contained in the drainage ditch and is primarily comprised of exotic and invasive species and is covered with trash and debris. Approximately 75% of the surrounding properties are developed for residential, commercial, or transportation; the southern project limit is bordered by single family homes, most of the eastern and western limits are bounded by assisted-living and medical offices, and the northern boundary is State Road 44/East Dixie Avenue.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to discharge fill material into 3.19-acres of wetlands for the construction a mixed use development. The proposed development would include a main boulevard, commercial retail, restaurant space, medical buildings, a hotel, assisted-living apartments, and multi-family apartments with a clubhouse, associated parking, and wet and dry retention ponds.
AVOIDANCE AND MINIMIZATION INFORMATION: The applicant did not provide any avoidance and minimization measures and stated that avoidance and minimization efforts are not practicable based on the low quality of the wetland. The man-altered, low quality system provides minimal wetland habitat and function and the applicant stated that the site geometry constraints requiring accessibility and parking criteria led to the proposed elimination of low-quality hardwood wetland. The proposed project would re-route the FDOT drainage ditch through the project site, at which point the existing wetland would potentially lose all functional value and provide no benefit in the post-development condition. Minimization was not deemed feasible as the wetlands would not stay ecologically beneficial or functional if completely surrounded by development.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: The applicant has offered the following compensatory mitigation plan to offset unavoidable functional loss to the aquatic environment: The proposed project would impact 3.19-acres of hardwood wetlands and ditch; therefore, the applicant proposed compensatory mitigation via the purchase of 0.85 federal wetland credits from the Hammock Lake Mitigation Bank (SAJ-2007-05939).
CULTURAL RESOURCES: The Corps is not aware of any known historic properties within the permit area. By copy of this public notice, the Corps is providing information for review. Our final determination relative to historic resource impacts is subject to review by and coordination with the State Historic Preservation Officer and those federally recognized tribes with concerns in Florida and the Permit Area.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The Corps determined that the proposed project is not likely to adversely affect (NLAA) the Wood Stork. The Corps has concurrence with this determination pursuant to The Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville Ecological Services Field Office and State of Florida Effect Determination Key for the Wood Stork in Central and North Peninsular Florida, September 2008 (Wood Stork Key). Use of the Wood Stork Key resulted in the following sequential determination: A > B > C > D > NLAA. The proposed project is not within 2,500 feet of an active colony site, but may possibly support suitable foraging habitat (SFH). The proposed project may impact more than 0.5 acre of potential SFH; however, the impacts to potentially SFH are not within a Core Foraging Area and no wood storks have been documented on site. Therefore, the Wood Stork Key resulted in a NLAA determination.
The Corps determined that the proposed project is NLAA the Eastern Indigo Snake. The Corps has concurrence with this determination pursuant to The Eastern Indigo Snake Programmatic Effect Determination Key, January 2010 updated August 2013 (Indigo Key). Use of the Indigo Key resulted in the following sequential determination: A > B > C > D > E > NLAA. The proposed project site not located in open water or a salt marsh, and the applicant elects to adhere to the standard protection measures for the eastern indigo snake during site preparation and project construction. The proposed project site is a 50-acre vacant property that may contain gopher tortoise burrows, holes, cavities, or other refugia on site. However, the proposed project would impact less than 25 acres of xeric habitat supporting less than 25 tortoise burrows, and any permit the Corps may issue would be conditioned such that all burrows, holes, cavities, and snake refugia encountered will be inspected each morning of planned site disturbance and no work will commence until any indigo snakes encountered have vacated the vicinity of the proposed work. Therefore, the Indigo Key resulted in a NLAA determination.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): This notice initiates consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service on EFH as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 1996. Our initial determination is that the proposed action would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or Federally managed fisheries. Our final determination relative to project impacts and the need for mitigation measures is subject to review by and coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
NOTE: This public notice is being issued based on information furnished by the applicant. This information has not been verified or evaluated to ensure compliance with laws and regulation governing the regulatory program. The jurisdictional line has not been verified by Corps personnel.
AUTHORIZATION FROM OTHER AGENCIES: Water Quality Certification may be required from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and/or one of the state Water Management Districts.
COMMENTS regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Gainesville Field Office of the Tampa Permits Section at 2833 NW 41st Street, Gainesville, Florida, 32606 within 21 days from the date of this notice.
The decision whether to issue or deny this permit application will be based on the information received from this public notice and the evaluation of the probable impact to the associated wetlands. This is based on an analysis of the applicant's avoidance and minimization efforts for the project, as well as the compensatory mitigation proposed.
QUESTIONS concerning this application should be directed to the project manager, Sarah Vaughn, at the Gainesville Field Office of the Tampa Permits Section, 2833 NW 41st Street, Gainesville, Florida, 32606; via email at Sarah.L.Vaughn@usace.army.mil; or telephone at (352) 264-7673.
IMPACT ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Services, and other Federal, State, and local agencies, environmental groups, and concerned citizens generally yields pertinent environmental information that is instrumental in determining the impact the proposed action will have on the natural resources of the area.
EVALUATION: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact including cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefits, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered including cumulative impacts thereof; among these are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historical properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food, and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and in general, the needs and welfare of the people. Evaluation of the impact of the activity on the public interest will also include application of the guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, EPA, under authority of Section 404(b) of the Clean Water Act or the criteria established under authority of Section 102(a) of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. A permit will be granted unless its issuance is found to be contrary to the public interest.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is soliciting comments from the public; Federal, State, and local agencies and officials; Indian Tribes; and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this determination, comments are used to assess impacts to endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT CONSISTENCY: In Florida, the State approval constitutes compliance with the approved Coastal Zone Management Plan.
REQUEST FOR PUBLIC HEARING: Any person may request a public hearing. The request must be submitted in writing to the District Engineer within the designated comment period of the notice and must state the specific reasons for requesting the public hearing.