Collage of West Volusia Mayors 2021

WEST VOLUSIA'S MAYORS — From top left are Pierson Mayor Samuel G.S. Bennett, Orange City Mayor Gary Blair, DeBary Mayor Karen Chasez, middle, and DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar. Bottom left is Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg, and bottom left is Lake Helen Mayor Daisy Raisler.

Orange City to continue upkeep and improvement

Recently re-elected Orange City Mayor Gary Blair was quick to name his top goal for 2021.

“I’m hoping that we get COVID-19 under control,” he told The Beacon. “That is the basis of everything right now.” 

That doesn’t mean Orange City doesn’t have plans for the new year.

Blair said a big focus going into 2021 is improving stormwater drainage and maintaining a clean environment.

“We’re the stewards of the planet,” he said. “As elected people, if we don’t do it, we’re not leaving a good legacy to younger people.”

One project Blair is hoping comes together in 2021 is an aquifer-recharge project near Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. 

Nicknamed Volusia Blue, it would turn a large borrow pit near the spring into a water-collection pit that would feed directly into the Floridan Aquifer. The project is currently in its infancy, and is being studied to determine if it would help.

Another project planned near the spring is an improved walking and biking trail along West French Avenue to connect Blue Spring State Park with Orange City’s Valentine Park.

There are other projects, as well. Blair said one goal is to move Orange City Fire Station 68, currently located on Harley Strickland Boulevard, to a more central location. A roundabout at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and Leavitt Avenue is also in the works, and the city is planning to continue rehabilitating its septic and water systems.

Looking forward, Blair said, the biggest lesson he took from 2020 is that of flexibility. As a second-term mayor and a middle-school teacher, both of his occupations took new turns. 

“You have to be flexible,” he told The Beacon. “Of course we’re hoping for a better year, but we’re going to continue to be flexible.”

DeBary has big plans for Riverbend

DeBary Riverbend South

RIVERBEND SOUTH — An overheard view shows the DeBary parcel called Riverbend South, jutting into a bend in the St. Johns River. It will soon be the site of several walking and biking trails, as well as a freshwater research center operated by the Aquatic Preserve Alliance of Central Florida. The plot is not far from the DeBary SunRail station, and Mayor Karen Chasez said she hopes the project will bring more people outside to enjoy natural Florida and the St. Johns River.

“Admittedly, 2020 threw some major curveballs our way,” DeBary Mayor Karen Chasez said. “I think a steady hand on the wheel, in the form of a dedicated mayor and City Council, a dedicated city manager as well, just means you step up to the challenges.”

A host of infrastructure plans are in the works, including beautification of a section of U.S. Highway 17-92 in the heart of the city — from Highbanks south to Plantation Road — and updates to the city’s stormwater management. The city also plans to make moves toward updating septic systems to keep Gemini Springs clean. 

Chasez said updating septic tanks will be a 15- to 20-year-long project. To do it well, and involve the public, it has to start early. 

Coming sooner are two big projects for DeBary. The first is DeBary Mainstreet, a planned development across the street from the city’s SunRail station that will include shops, restaurants and urban living spaces. 

“It’s a very exciting concept,” Chasez said. 

The area, which she hopes will interest SunRail riders and locals alike, will feature plenty of bike trails and areas to launch canoes on Lake Monroe, as well as another planned DeBary project: Riverbend South.

Riverbend South is a planned conservation area along the St. Johns River that will include a freshwater research center, bike paths and other spaces where people can picnic and walk along the water. 

The project is a joint venture of the Aquatic Preserve Alliance of Central Florida and the City of DeBary. In December 2020, the parcel was approved as part of Florida Forever to become a part of the nearby Wekiva Greenway. 

2021 is shaping up to be a big year for DeBary, but Chasez said she believes it’s doable.

“Can DeBary do all of this at the same time?” she asked, and answered, “I say yes.”

Pierson to reclaim old school

Pierson Elementary School building

NEW LIFE — The new Pierson Town Center will take over the building that once was Pierson Elementary School at 116 W. First Ave. The Town of Pierson purchased the building from the school district in September 2019, and renovations have been underway throughout 2020. 

For Pierson Mayor Samuel G.S. Bennett, the main goal for 2021 is completing the move into the city’s new Town Center

The new center, which will function as the new meeting place for the Town Council, will be inside the former Pierson Elementary School at 116 W. First Ave. According to Bennett, the Town Center is planned to include a library, as well as an office for the Volusia Sheriff’s Office. 

The move has been planned for some time, but was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition to the Town Center, Bennett’s plans for Pierson are all about improving the town’s infrastructure. Two of the town’s parks are slated to receive face-lifts using grant money, roads are slated to be repaired, and the city is planning to build a new water-pumping station thanks to a $650,000 grant.

Bennett said even with 2020’s challenges, he wants to focus on the future.

“Even with the bumps in the road we have had, we’re moving on, and looking for a prosperous and good 2021,” Bennett told The Beacon. “We were affected, just like the other cities of Volusia County; our revenue was affected. You just have to move on. We can’t look back and live in the past, but move forward. 

DeLand looks forward to new fire station

Construction on new DeLand fire station

COMING SOON — Crews with Keator Construction are busy Jan. 4 at the intersection of West Howry and South Clara avenues in DeLand, building DeLand's new fire station on the northwest corner. 

When we asked DeLand Mayor Robert Apgar how he felt about 2020, his feelings echoed how many felt about the year. 

“I’m glad it’s almost over,” he told The Beacon Dec. 29. “I think one of the lessons learned is that we certainly as a country, state, county, city, we’re not prepared for an event like COVID-19.”

Apgar said a big focus for him will be using the lessons learned from 2020 to weather whatever storms come in 2021, and beyond. 

“I think a lot of 2021 is going to be a little reactionary because of COVID-19,” he said. “What I mean by that is, we’re not sure of the budgetary impact in terms of losses of revenues, revenue shifts and those kinds of things.”

While revenue will be top of mind in 2021, especially as DeLand prepares for the rising minimum wage, he also said there are some overdue changes he intends for the city to tackle.

“There’s some things we need to do within the zoning that provides greater flexibility because of the income disparities, because of extended-family health reasons, to allow a little more residential flexibility in terms of how people may choose to live,” Apgar said.

Now, housing in most of DeLand is limited to only two unrelated adults per dwelling. Similarly, small properties on an existing property, sometimes called mother-in-law cottages, have many restrictions when it comes to who can live where. 

Apgar said these rules, originally put in place to curb the sharing of housing in single-family neighborhoods by college students, should be loosened to help families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeLand fire station plan

COMING SOON — An artist's rendering provided by the City of DeLand shows what the city's new fire station will look like when it's completed. In addition to the fire station, the city is constructing an evidence-storage building for the Police Department on the southeast corner of the intersection, and adding drainage improvements for the immediate neighborhood, which has been plagued by flooding during heavy rainfall. 

Beyond COVID-19 recovery, Apgar said he is looking forward to construction of the new DeLand fire station, as well as the new DeLand Police Department evidence building

Planning for a new administrative building is also in the works for 2021, but, ultimately, Apgar said, his No. 1 goal for 2021 is recovery.

“Really, I guess it would be restoring a sense of normalcy as soon as possible, whatever the new normal will be — to get people feeling good about going about what they would normally do a year ago,” he said. “DeLand’s changed, but it feels the same. I think that’s so important for so many people in our community. They enjoy our quality of life, and they want to get back to that quality of life.”

Deltona mayor hopes for more like Amazon

Deltona Amazon center

THE GOOD, THE BAD... — The newly opened Amazon Fulfillment Center is a point of pride for the City of Deltona, and the type of jobs-producing development Mayor Heidi Herzberg would like to see more of. 

“Everything that happens, whether it’s a natural disaster, or a pandemic, for me, it’s always a time both personally and professionally to step back and reassess how you do things,” Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg told The Beacon.

For Deltona, she said, her goal is to continue to innovate and move forward. 

Herzberg said Deltona’s biggest accomplishment of 2020, in her eyes, was construction of the Amazon distribution center. For Herzberg, the Amazon project is a giant step toward the kind of community she wants to see Deltona evolve into.

“As time moved on in the last 30 years, Deltona’s demographic changed. It has gone from a retirement community to a thriving community that is diverse, with a lot of young families, and most people work outside of the area,” she said. “We’re a thriving metropolis of 90,000 people.”

But, Herzberg said, she has found that many of the city’s codes and regulations still treat Deltona like the bedroom community it was born as. 

“What has happened is Deltona has not changed a lot of its procedures and policies with the change in demographics,” Herzberg said. “We were still governing as if we were a retirement community of 25,000 people.”

Carolynn Brenner and her adopted chickens in Deltona

... AND THE CHICKENS — Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg would like to see the city review its code-enforcement procedures, something Carolynn Brenner got a taste of in 2020. Having too many chickens at one's home — or even having them without a city-issued permit — may be a violation of Deltona's building and zoning laws, and may result in an order to correct the violation or face stiff fines. Brenner looks after chickens owned by Glenn Wagoner, who was ordered by Deltona code-enforcement officers to get rid of the egg-producing animals.

Her goals for 2021 are to focus on transparency, revamping the city’s code-enforcement policies, and continuing with development projects and infrastructure improvements. 

“It’s going to be a lot, but I am the eternal optimist, and I am happy we’re on the road we’re on,” Herzberg said. “I believe we are entering the decade of Deltona. Taking a good hard look at ourselves and what we want to see for Deltona.”

Lake Helen eyes park improvements

Melissa Park Lake Helen

HELP IS ON THE WAY — Lake Helen Mayor Daisy Raisler hopes to see improvements in Lake Helen's parks during the coming year, including Melissa Park, which is in the city's historically African American neighborhood. Raisler said enhancing the opportunities for Lake Helen residents to get outdoors is important. Another goal to get people outside is bringing back Lake Helen's First-Friday food-truck event.

Lake Helen Mayor Daisy Raisler told The Beacon the key lesson she took from 2020 is the importance of collaboration.

“Collaboration really brings out the best of all of us,” she said. “We’re very fortunate here in Volusia we have great leadership, not only in the County Council, but in collaboration with the City Commission itself.”

Raisler’s 2021 goals for Lake Helen include plenty of beautification projects for the city’s parks and other outdoor spaces. 

“We are very rich in our parks system, and moving forward, that outdoor activity, and getting people outside enjoying the parks, it’s so important,” she said.

Areas like Lake Macy Park, Melissa Park, and Royal Park — which encompasses the city’s namesake, Lake Helen — are all areas that should see improvements in 2021, Raisler said. 

She also said she would like to see the First Friday food-truck event, a local favorite, return in the new year.

Another hope of Raisler’s is for the Lake Helen City Commission to consider annexation of the area east of the city. 

“There is so much to be done that I would love to continue,” she said. “I hope that I can continue to do it with humility, and with the grace and courage that is needed to lead the city.”