The I-4 Automall — subject of much controversy last year due to its sheer size and number of tall buildings, and its proximity to DeLand residents in Victoria Park — could end up looking like less of a behemoth.
The project’s developers have requested a change to the joint development agreement approved by DeLand and Lake Helen late last year. The change would morph 11 proposed dealership modules — each up to 80 feet tall — into a mere five or six dealership buildings, limited to 50 feet in height.
Additionally, the developers are looking for flexibility to possibly expand the proposed commercial area on the site, by allowing some retail uses on the eastern portion, which is currently earmarked solely for auto sales and service.
Inventory for the car dealerships would be moved into one central storage building, rather than having parking-garage-like structures on top of each dealership building. The height of the storage building hasn’t been determined, but it would be no taller than 60 feet.
Attorney Mark Watts of Cobb Cole, representing I-4 Automall LLC, was on hand at a May 30 meeting of the Lake Helen Development Review Committee to discuss the proposed changes. Other members of the project staff and city officials from DeLand and Lake Helen also attended.
Brendan Hurley, owner of Hurley Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram and the chief backer of the super-dealership, explained that some of the changes were driven by economics.
“What happened … was that the economics of individual buildings with parking facilities in those buildings compromised the lower floors, to where we were having issues with the manufacturers,” Hurley said. “… You were wasting so much space with ramps in each of those buildings, which took away from parking spaces.”
Hurley said some of the carmakers he had been in discussions with also got cold feet.
“Some of the manufacturers, despite their early enthusiasm, suddenly didn’t like sharing walls with neighbors — particularly some of the domestics with some of the imports,” he said. “We ran into some fundamental issues there, so we decreased the intensity. Instead of having parking in each of these buildings and making the buildings larger, we shrunk the buildings and now we have a single inventory-storage facility that would be shared by all facilities.”
More general commercial uses — “consistent with a more neighborhood shopping-center list of uses,” Watts said — could make up for the reduced intensity of the auto-sales portion.
“The simplest way to distill it is taking the existing entitlements based on the traffic-generation rate, and allowing them to be shifted to other types of uses, with the shift always being based on the reduction of the automotive use, and shifting it over to more of a commercial [use],” Watts said.
In layman’s terms, none of the changes would be allowed to increase the total amount of traffic the project would be expected to generate.
Many aspects of the project are expected to stay the same. The bulk of the general commercial area will be built in DeLand, while the auto-related uses will be built in Lake Helen.
Green buffers around the perimeter of the property also remain the same. In particular, a minimum 40-foot landscape buffer and an 8-foot screening wall on the project's western side will separate the Automall from Victoria Gardens.
The Development Review Committee primarily scrutinizes development proposals from a technical basis. Some of those present raised some concerns about issues such as stormwater, particularly because of the project’s split nature.
“Along the lines of these interlocal issues, I think drainage may be an issue, too,” said Keith Riger, DeLand city engineer and public-services director. “You’ve got property in DeLand being drained into property in Lake Helen. There needs to be some kind of understanding how that’s going to work, especially come a hurricane, when there’s going to be a problem and somebody’s got to deal with it.”
The project’s backers will attempt to address that and other concerns in the coming weeks, according to Lake Helen City Administrator Becky Witte. The proposed changes will face further scrutiny at another DRC meeting, followed by hearings before both DeLand’s and Lake Helen’s planning boards and city commissions.
“The applicant will be working on clarifying the revised development agreement. Another DRC meeting will most likely occur in late June or July,” Witte said.