Astrid de Parry: A tale of two gas stations

These photos by East New York Avenue resident Johnny Engle, taken on different days during rush hour, illustrate the extreme congestion at Kepler Road and State Road 44. The photos were part of Engle’s presentation to the Volusia County planning commission.

These photos by East New York Avenue resident Johnny Engle, taken on different days during rush hour, illustrate the extreme congestion at Kepler Road and State Road 44. The photos were part of Engle’s presentation to the Volusia County planning commission.

Photo by East New York Avenue resident Johnny Engle

Photo by East New York Avenue resident Johnny Engle

Photo by East New York Avenue resident Johnny Engle

Photo by East New York Avenue resident Johnny Engle

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful community nestled on the shores of Lake Winnemissett, halfway between the City of DeLand and Lake Helen. State Road 44 followed an old wagon trail around the lake in a lazy curve toward the intersection with Kepler Road.

Kepler Road came to a dead end just a quarter-mile south of S.R. 44 until the West Volusia Beltway was built in 1996.

Ten years before Kepler Road became a major arterial, Circle K built a 12-pump gas station on 1.45 acres zoned B-2 (Neighborhood Commercial) at the northwest corner of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road to serve the surrounding rural residential community. Life was good!

Shortly after Circle K was built, Volusia County decided to build the county-administration building and a new courthouse in Downtown DeLand, and traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92 skyrocketed to 34,500 cars per day.

To avoid a building moratorium in the City of DeLand, community leaders decided to extend Kepler Road south to County Road 472 to relieve traffic on U.S. 17-92. Thus, the West Volusia Beltway (now called the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway) opened in 1996. It was a complete success. Life was good again!

Shortly thereafter, Victoria Park was approved for 4,000 dwelling units around the intersection of Orange Camp Road and the Martin Luther King Beltway. It, too, was a complete success! Unfortunately, the new city residents were generally opposed to commercial development close to their community. Thus, developers began scouting for new opportunities on the outskirts of Victoria Park.

Along came FifthThird Bank in 2006, seeking to rezone 4.1 acres at the southeast corner of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road from R-3C (Single Family Residential) to B-2C (Neighborhood Commercial), to permit construction of a branch bank in a single-family-residential neighborhood.

The residents rallied to defeat this proposal, but the developer came back the following year with a request for BPUD (Business Planned Unit Development) zoning to permit a branch bank plus a medical-office building on the same property.

The BPUD was narrowly approved in 2008 on strict conditions to protect the surrounding residential neighborhoods from encroachment by incompatible commercial development.

The bank and the medical-office buildings were designed to look like lushly landscaped single-family residences, and they would be open only during normal business hours. The neighbors were assured the BPUD was a “solemn contract” between the developer and the county for the benefit of the entire community.   

Everyone knew exactly what they would be getting from this BPUD deal.

Thus, FifthThird Bank purchased the property in March 2008. Six months later, the stock market crashed. In the meantime, FifthThird Bank abandoned its planned expansion after PNC Bank opened a branch bank at Victoria Park.

Along came RaceTrac in 2017, seeking a major amendment of the BPUD to permit a 14-pump gas station at the southeast corner of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road. 

There have been no changes to the surrounding residential areas or the county’s Comprehensive Plan to make the RaceTrac development more compatible with adjacent single-family residences. The only real change from 2008 is that S.R. 44 east of Kepler Road is now considered to be “critical,” meaning the existing traffic volume exceeds the road’s capacity.

Furthermore, Kepler Road between S.R. 44 and U.S. 92 is now considered to be “near-critical,” meaning its volume is at or over 90 percent of its capacity.

In the meantime, Circle K also submitted a proposal to completely revamp the old gas station built in 1986 on the opposite corner of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road.  

Circle K proposes to double the size of the existing building and add six pump stations plus a carwash.

Circle K also proposes to construct substantial improvements to S.R. 44 and Kepler Road to correct existing deficiencies in the roads leading to their property. According to Circle K’s traffic engineer, the only way to achieve acceptable levels of service on S.R. 44 from Kepler Road to Summit Avenue would be to widen S.R. 44 from two to four lanes. That would be a complete disaster!

According to the county’s transportation planner, there is no programmed funding for four-laning S.R. 44 to correct the existing level-of-service issue. However, the county, City of DeLand and Florida Department of Transportation are currently partnering to find funding and right of way to extend Beresford Avenue to Summit Avenue as a parallel relief facility for S.R. 44. We wish them every success in their endeavors!

Today, we have two applicants seeking permission to build new gas stations at the corner of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road. One applicant, Circle K, has served our community well and faithfully since 1986. The other applicant, RaceTrac, wants to throw out the “solemn contract” between the county and the property owner that was intended to protect the neighborhood from inconsistent commercial development.

If it were up to us, there would be no more commercial development allowed near this intersection until we fund the Beresford Avenue extension. But, that is not the law. The community has the right to accept failure and to allow a bad situation to get worse.   

We respectfully submit that the proposed intersection improvements at S.R. 44 and Kepler Road are no better than putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.   

S.R. 44 between Kepler Road and Summit Avenue is a killing machine. There are more traffic fatalities on this roadway segment than anywhere else in Volusia County.

This is not just a DeLand or Lake Winnemissett neighborhood concern. Currently, there are at least 20,500 trips per day on S.R. 44 east of Kepler Road. These people are on their way to work, shop, play, go to school, go to court, see their doctors, attend church, visit friends and family or meet with governmental officials in the city of DeLand.  

We owe these citizens safe passage through the gateway to DeLand. Let’s tell our elected representatives to reject failure, honor the contract, and commit to the Beresford Avenue extension!

— De Parry, a DeLand attorney, is a member of the Lake Winnemissett Civic Association, and one of its past presidents.

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