A large expanse of woods on the eastern shore of Lake Winnemissett is on track to be transformed into a neighborhood of 600 homes for older citizens of DeLand.

Cresswind DeLand, an “active adult community” for those 55-and-older proposed by Kolter Homes is set to be constructed on about 263 acres east of the lake.

DeLand city officials voted 4-1 to tentatively approve a rezoning request to make way for the development at a meeting that spanned two days and lasted about eight hours in total.

The length of the public hearing on the development is a reflection of the controversy the project has found itself mired in.

While the current owner of the project site, Lake Park Estate, LLC, is made up of several existing Lake Winnemissett homeowners and outside investors, many people who own homes along scenic Lake Winnemissett Drive oppose the development.

The entire project is actually just more than 318 acres, but about 52 acres are submerged under the lake and just over 3 acres are taken up by the existing Lake Winnemissett Drive.

Many members of the Lake Winnemissett Civic Association came out to speak against the project during the DeLand City Commission meeting July 6.

The project’s opponents cite what they say is the development’s potential to damage the water quality of a currently-pristine lake, along with the new neighborhood’s impact on traffic.

The main entrance to the project will be along a small spur of road that was formerly State Road 44, where a motel and gas station currently exist.

The project’s detractors point to the already-congested conditions that exist along State Road 44, Kepler Road, Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway and other nearby arterial roads during the morning and evening rush hours.

The DeLand City Commission had previously discussed the proposal last month, when Commissioner Jessica Davis was out due to her battle with COVID-19. The board deadlocked during that meeting, with two members in favor and two against.

About half of the lots in the development will be 50 feet wide, with the other half evenly split between 40 and 60 foot lots. Crucially, the project’s proponents say, no homes will be developed along the shore of Lake Winnemissett, as a previous development plan for the site had once proposed.

An amenity area, including a dock for two pontoon boats and up to 20 non-motorized boats owned by the neighborhood’s homeowners association, would be the only thing built along the lakeshore under the Cresswind plan.

Still, many residents expressed concern about yet more homes being built in eastern DeLand, while projects like the Beresford Avenue Extension and a roundabout at State Road 44 and Kepler Road remain potentially years away.

Attorney Mark Watts, representing the developer, pointed out that the project would bring tax revenue to the city of DeLand once built out, and that the project would contribute funding to the needed road improvements through agreements with DeLand and Volusia County.

Watts said the traffic problems cited by many residents exist despite there being little development approved in eastern DeLand until recently.

“We have a backlog … I know what that backup looks like on a daily basis. … We have facilities that need to be constructed,” Watts said. “That exists without any major project being built on this side of town in 20 years.”

Attorney Astrid de Parry, one of the stakeholders in Lake Park Estate, LLC, said some kind of development was inevitable on the site eventually, and that the current proposal was the best thing for the parcel.

“We’ve been a little bit spoiled. The property used to be orange groves … [and now] things are coming to this area, and it’s time for us to look at a new plan for it,” said de Parry. “It’s not going to be orange groves forever. There’s going to be development on this property … I sincerely believe that an age-55 retirement community is the best possible thing we can do for this property.”

The developers have also agreed to abide by deed restrictions which would prohibit large-scale construction of homes on the lake shore, among other things.

Attorney Dennis Baird represented several Lake Winnemissett homeowners in opposition to the project. He acknowledged that the proposal may have made things awkward recently among the various Lake Winnemissett homeowners.

“You’re seeing kind of neighbor against neighbor, where in the past, they’ve worked together to deal with the development impacts in the area,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we still have concerns about minimum flows and lake levels … we still have concerns about traffic,” Baird added. “ … Our position is that 600 units is just too intense for this location.”

A majority of those who commented on the development during the meeting were against it, citing concerns about traffic and lake quality.

“Obviously, everybody knows that the traffic situation is a big fail,” said John Engle, vice president of the Lake Winnemissett Civic Association. “Everybody knows that the environmental issues … are many. But what it really comes down to at the end of the day here is density.”

Engle noted that lands north and east of the project site were sparsely developed, with less than one home per acre in many areas.

Commissioners wrestled with the project’s pros and cons for several hours, but ultimately, only Vice Mayor Charles Paiva voted against the development.

“I’m not opposed to development, and I’m not opposed to development here, but I do feel that this development in its current form is too dense,” he said.

Commissioner Chris Cloudman, who previously leaned against the development at the prior hearing, said that while traffic and other issues remained concerns of his, looking at the totality of the facts led him to believe that the development wasn’t inappropriate for the area.

“The more time that I spent just contemplating out in that area ... that land mass, taking into account the relation to where the interstate interchange is, that definitely caused some internal conflict in looking at how this would play out,” Cloudman said. “Because, I could argue as I did before about the existing areas most adjacent … but I'm also looking at future development in the area, and what would make sense in a high-traffic area and an area with such easy access to the interstate.”

Ultimately, the DeLand City Commission approved the first reading of the zoning change request for Cresswind DeLand on a 4-1 vote, with Paiva dissenting.

The project will come back before the commission for a second reading, possibly sometime next month.