Automall project taps the brakes; DeLand plans meeting for residents to discuss project

Larger-than-life signage — The image at right, included in a draft development agreement for the I-4 Automall project submitted to Lake Helen, shows a sign with giant letters in the median of the project’s main entryway off Orange Camp Road. The letters appear about twice as tall as the people shown.

Larger-than-life signage — The image at right, included in a draft development agreement for the I-4 Automall project submitted to Lake Helen, shows a sign with giant letters in the median of the project’s main entryway off Orange Camp Road. The letters appear about twice as tall as the people shown.

RENDERING FROM I-4 AUTOMALL, LLC DEVELOPMENT PLAN

Buffers and more — This site-plan diagram shows the general layout of the proposed I-4 Automall project. The green outline around the property signifies vegetative buffer, which varies in width along the project’s edge. Orange Camp Road can be seen running along the bottom of the project, while the diagonal highway toward the right of the diagram is Interstate 4. North is toward the top of the map. 

Buffers and more — This site-plan diagram shows the general layout of the proposed I-4 Automall project. The green outline around the property signifies vegetative buffer, which varies in width along the project’s edge. Orange Camp Road can be seen running along the bottom of the project, while the diagonal highway toward the right of the diagram is Interstate 4. North is toward the top of the map. 

SITE PLAN MAP FROM I-4 AUTOMALL, LLC DEVELOPMENT PLAN

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Scroll down below the story to see highlights from a draft development plan

 

It remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump will get his border wall, but it looks like Victoria Gardens in DeLand may get an 8-foot-high wall to separate it from the I-4 Automall.

In all likelihood, the developer will pay for it.

The wall is described in a draft development agreement for the Automall, whose 35 pages are being scrutinized now by planners for the sister cities of Lake Helen and DeLand, which will share a boundary at the Automall.

The agreement will govern many aspects of the project, including signage, building sizes, landscaping, and buffers between the Automall and residential neighborhoods, for example.

It will be up to Lake Helen to finalize and approve the agreement, but DeLand wants a chance to comment, since activities at the 52-acre Automall will affect DeLand residents.

And, after a few weeks of tension between Lake Helen and DeLand over the controversial project, it looks like the opportunity for DeLand’s comments is being created. In a neighborly move between the two cities, Lake Helen’s approval process may be delayed for more than a month.

At its meeting today, Feb. 8, the Lake Helen City Commission was expected to approve the developer’s request for a continuance that would push the city’s next vote on the Automall to the Thursday, March 29, meeting.

The change of pace comes at the request of DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar.

After the Automall applied to annex into Lake Helen, the city’s votes on annexation and land use were going forward at breakneck pace. DeLand, whose leaders found out about the annexation only days before Lake Helen’s first vote, asked for a chance to be part of the discussion.

In response to Apgar’s comments at a Feb. 1 DeLand meeting, developer’s attorney Rob Doan of Cobb Cole wrote Lake Helen City Administrator Jason Yarborough Feb. 5, signaling the developers’ intention to tap the brakes.

In the interim before Lake Helen’s vote, DeLand has planned a public workshop on the Automall project, inviting residents to attend at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave.

“Somehow we’ve got to gauge what level of development would be acceptable to people there,” Apgar said.

The workshop will include a presentation by DeLand planning staff on the proposed land-use change and development agreement.

Doan was clear in his letter to Lake Helen that the Automall is having no second thoughts about becoming part of the tiny town, whose commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the annexation and change of land use on first reading Jan. 25.

“The request to continue the vote for adoption on second reading should not, in any way, be considered a reversal in the decision to annex,” Doan wrote.

At the Feb. 1 meeting, Doan said the annexation process had started early, because of the possibility that DeLand might sue.

“If there’s going to be a legal challenge … we wanted to draw that challenge out earlier,” he said. “There’s 30 days to appeal or challenge an annexation after second reading is adopted, so as soon as second reading happens, that clock starts ticking.”

Also in the Feb. 5 letter, Doan said his firm believes “based on well-established case law, that the City of DeLand lacks legal standing to successfully challenge the voluntary annexation.”

Ultimately, however, to encourage cooperation rather than conflict between the two cities, Doan said he and his partner, Mark Watts, who represent Automall developer Brendan Hurley, would recommend the continuance.

Also in his letter to Lake Helen, Doan wrote, “A continuance will avoid the possible procedural distraction of a potential hasty legal challenge to annexation … .”

Doan also said the intervening time would allow the applicant and Lake Helen to work on further refining the project’s development agreement.

— Anthony DeFeo, anthony@beacononlinenews.com


Highlights from the development plan

 

FIVE SECTIONS: While the specifics are still very much subject to change, the draft agreement breaks the project site into five lots.

The first lot is envisioned to be the Automall itself, with 500,000 square feet of total development, allocated between 13 “dealership modules” of 33,020 square feet and a centralized distribution warehouse.

Auto sales would be allowed between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., while service operations would be limited to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Service on fleet vehicles would be permitted at other times, as long as they happen in an enclosed service area.

Lot 2 envisions up to 18,000 square feet of retail, restaurant or hotel/motel development, while Lot 3 would allow 10,000 square feet of restaurant development and up to 11,000 square feet for retail sales and services or a convenience store with up to 32 gas pumps.

Lot 4, which sits along an internal roadway just north of Lots 2 and 3, would allow up to 9,500 square feet of restaurant or retail development.

Lots 2 and 3 front along Orange Camp Road.

Finally, Lot 5 would be set aside for up to 60,000 square feet of office space, or offices over first-floor retail. Alternatively, the agreement allows up to 90 hotel rooms to be built.

 

BARS: Bars would be allowed on Lots 2, 3, 4 and 5 as an accessory to a hotel or restaurant.

 

BUFFERS: In addition to an 8-foot-high screening wall on the project’s western edge — which borders Victoria Gardens — there would be a wooded buffer between 36 and 47.5 feet wide, with an average width of 45 feet.

 

SIGNS: The plan also specifies proposed locations for signage, with the bulk of signage located either in the interior of the project or along Interstate 4. Each dealership will have its own identifying signage. Mark Watts, an attorney for the project, said any signage along Orange Camp Road will be designed to comply with DeLand’s gateway standards for signage.

The signage includes large lettering along the median of the main entrance to the project — a divided boulevard of sorts — with the letters reading “I4 AUTOMALL,” according to a rendering, with the letters standing nearly twice as tall as a person.

 

ENTRANCES: One wide, boulevard-style entrance would be built on Orange Camp Road. At the request of the Florida Department of Transportation, the developer removed two proposed right-in, right-out entrances off of Orange Camp Road, according to the project’s attorneys.

 

 

Editor’s note: Attorney Rob Doan sent an initial draft development agreement to Lake Helen and DeLand officials Jan. 23, but a revised agreement was expected to be completed by Feb. 9. The revision is not expected to include major changes, according to project attorneys.

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