Once again, with at least two of the five commissioners indicating they would vote “no,” the DeLand City Commission has delayed a decision on whether to rezone the former Southridge Golf Course for a 709-home development.
Rezoning the property requires two readings before the City Commission. The decision to punt at the June 7 meeting was the second time commissioners have postponed voting on the first reading.
Not many DeLand City Commission meetings draw a packed house, and even fewer include Mayor Bob Apgar asking the audience to refrain from applauding public comments. But after 18 members of the public spoke, and hours of discussion, the City Commission continued the matter until July, citing concerns about traffic buildup and the density of homes.
City Commissioner Chris Cloudman sounded off and expressed his feelings, which were largely echoed by other commissioners.
“I think this site has an opportunity to build something in DeLand that’s more unique and to bring value not only to the proposed homes, but also to the neighborhoods surrounding it,” Cloudman said. “I think it’s a good opportunity to look at the best product possible.”
When the DeLand City Commission last heard the request to rezone for this planned development, the commissioners were hesitant to approve the development, citing concerns about — among other worries — density and the number of 40-foot-wide lots.
Changes were made to the planned development to address some of the City Commission’s concerns, but ultimately, the proposed development plan wasn’t quite a hole-in-one for commissioners.
While the overall number of units was reduced from a possible high of 861 to 709, some of that reduction came from ruling out the possibility of apartment homes on the development’s northern parcel.
But for a City Commission recently concerned with how to provide affordable housing in the city, the loss of apartments wasn’t necessarily good news.
The apartment homes were particularly important to City Commissioner Jessica Davis.
“I don’t recall the commission saying that was a problem, because I really did like that component of it,” Davis said. “I’m a little disappointed in that section of this project.”
City Commissioner Charles Paiva was similarly concerned about the loss of the apartment homes. In May, his desire was for the overall number of units to come down to around 600.
While the number had been reduced, Paiva was bothered by how it got there.
“My hope was if we kept the apartments, all of that decreased density was going to be coming from the middle. Obviously that didn’t happen, as we lost 100 and then integrated some of the town homes in the bottom, but most of it got put in the middle, which is the opposite of what I wanted to happen,” he said. “The fact that we shifted more to the middle was the absolute opposite of what I was trying to accomplish and what I expressed.”
According to one of the applicant’s attorneys, Cobb Cole’s Mark Watts, apartment developers the applicant reached out to did not express any interest in developing the parcel, and the market dictates more interest in rentable town homes. The rentable town homes, Watts said, would be managed similarly to an apartment complex.
City Commissioner Kevin Reid was worried about the southwest corner of the project, where a commercial area is planned for the intersection of East Beresford and South Boston avenues.
“That’s probably one of the worst intersections of this project, if not the worst intersection of this project,” he said.
Cloudman, too, was concerned about the location of the commercial area, and that it may end up “just a little strip center with another vape shop, or something, going in.”
When it came to the homes themselves, Cloudman feared that, as presented, the planned development would tarnish an environmental gem near the city’s center.
“When we consider a project like this, we look at the surrounding neighborhoods and how it flows and how it fits,” he said. “I can look out over that site and imagine homes going onto the rolling hills and keeping a lot of those large trees that are there. Looking at the proposed density of the single-family area, it looks like most of that would have to be graded to fit that many homes close together, and most of those trees would have to be removed.”
The public made their feelings about the planned development — and the City Commission — clear, too.
Eighteen DeLandites spoke during the public-comment period. From lifelong residents, to newcomers, members of the public did not hold back.
Some took issue with the City Commission’s approach to making changes to the planned development.
“The commission tonight, and also at the first part of this hearing in May has been reacting in a piecemeal way to the proposed development. I hear you all picking at the details of the number of 40-foot lots, 50-foot lots, 60-foot lots, this, there, that, and the attorney and the developer keep coming back with these minor revisions to this,” Stetson University professor Dr. Wendy Anderson told the City Commission.
She continued, “I’m not comfortable with that. I think that we all deserve better. You all do not have to rubber-stamp this rezoning proposal. You don’t have to do that. We can start over with this.”
Anderson said commissioners ought to think more creatively about what they want on this parcel, such as purchasing some or all of it, and using Volusia ECHO grant money to preserve the environmental features.
As commenters approached the podium one by one, the criticism kept coming.
“We have eliminated so many trees,” one DeLandite said, “I wonder about the air quality we are leaving for our children and our grandchildren.”
“We elected you. We trusted you. We think and hope and pray that you believe in the DeLand we do,” another DeLandite said. “This unbridled development is out of control, and it’s very sad for me to see that.”
Nearly every public commenter received a round of applause as they left the podium, which Apgar tried to quell.
“At the first hearing, I was liberal about the applause and the like, but the commission would appreciate if you would please refrain from — whether pro or con — outbursts of either cheers or boos,” Apgar said, gaveling down a round of applause.
It didn’t stop the audience from applauding any and all criticism of Beresford Reserve and of the City Commission’s handling of the planned development. Repeatedly, residents asked city commissioners to simply vote it down.
Perhaps most scathing was a comment made by DeLandite Donna Pepin.
“I look out and I see all these people that have come to speak to you. If you vote for this and say yes, what you’re saying to all of us is, ‘You don’t matter — what you say, what you believe — because I’m going to vote the way I want to vote,’” Pepin said. “I’ve been here 25 years, and I plan to die here ... I just ask you to put aside what you may want, and think about the people that live here and have come to speak to you from their heart.”
Much of the City Commission did not appear gung-ho about approving the development.
However, as discussion was winding down, Apgar pointed out to commissioners that the plot of land that was once the Southridge Golf Course is already zoned for R1-A single-family housing.
If another applicant were to proceed with the current zoning, instead of asking for planned-development zoning, Apgar said, all the public hearings — and the back and forth with the city commissioners — wouldn’t be required.
According to numbers presented to the City Commission, a developer using the current zoning could potentially build 5.28 single-family homes per gross acre of land without meeting any special requirements.
Rather than approve or deny the applicant’s request to rezone the roughly 167-acre former golf course, the City Commission agreed to continue the developer’s application to the commission’s meeting July 19.
Hoping to see changes to, chiefly, the density of homes and the commercial area planned for a busy intersection, city commissioners bid a temporary adieu to Beresford Reserve.
“Our client has spent a lot of time and resources on this,” attorney Watts said. “And we’d like the opportunity to continue to work toward a plan you’re willing to approve.”
The Beresford Reserve planned development has sparked plenty of public interest. City Commissioner Cloudman noted, “You can’t go to the grocery store without someone asking you about it right now.”
Any individual planning to come to the next hearing for the planned development might want to come early to grab a good seat.
Beresford Reserve is set to return before the DeLand City Commission at 7 p.m. Monday, July 19, in the City Commission Chambers at City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave.
All DeLand City Commission meetings are open to the public.