By Aaron London
Published: Friday, December 19, 2014 at 4:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 19, 2014 at 5:04 p.m.
The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce is taking its role as an advocate for local businesses to a new level.
The business organization, along with the Flagler Home Builders Association and the Hammock Business Association, is lobbying Flagler County commissioners to approve the development proposal from Salamander Hotels and Resorts to build a 198-room hotel and conference center on its property in the Hammock.
The proposed hotel would be built on the current site of the Lodge at Hammock Beach Resort, which includes the Atlantic Grille restaurant.
Earlier this month, the Flagler County Planning and Development Board denied a request from the developer to reclassify the property, which would have allowed the $72-million project to move forward, by a 3-2 vote.
Salamander Hotels’ plan has met resistance from some Hammock residents who claim the hotel project would remove more than 1,000 scrub oaks and include a golf cart path on the dunes.
Flagler County commissioners are scheduled to consider the issue at a meeting Jan. 12 beginning at 5 p.m. in the Government Services Building, 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Bunnell.
Now, leaders of the local business groups are asking members and residents to write letters in support of the project to be delivered by the chamber to all five county commissioners.
The move is part of the chamber’s overall effort to play a more active role in local politics, said Rebecca DeLorenzo, the chamber’s president.
DeLorenzo said over the past two years the chamber has “stepped back” from organizing big community events to focus on programs for members and sponsoring events “that benefit our members.”
That new effort includes the promotion of chamber staffer Gretchen Smith to the newly created position of director of government affairs and the chamber’s more active role in advocacy on local issues.
The move to lobby county commissioners on behalf of the Salamander Hotels project is a direct result of that new focus, DeLorenzo said.
“We wanted to step up our advocacy effort on behalf of our businesses so this is just a good example of how we are doing it,” she said.
Part of the change is a reflection of the rapid growth Flagler County has experienced over the past decade, she said.
“Years ago we were a much smaller community and things could be handled differently,” DeLorenzo said. “Now it definitely takes the chamber’s leadership role to stand up and advocate for businesses.”
The decision to actively and publicly support a local issue is also something new for the Flagler Home Builders Association, according to executive officer Debi Peterson.
“This is unusual that our board did make this known that they were supporting it,” Peterson said Friday.
But she said the homebuilder group has always been an advocate for growth and development.
“We do support anything that is going to improve, or at least retain, the current economy we have,” Peterson said.
Peterson said in the case of the Salamander Hotels project, the decision to publicly support the plan is “a no brainer.”
“They are trying to improve an already standing project that can have a great potential benefit to the economy of Flagler County,” she said.