After a tense four-and-a-half-hour meeting with standing room only, DeLand city officials voted May 28 to move forward on a plan that would see a local manufacturing firm redevelop the Old Volusia County Jail site.
In a joint meeting of the DeLand City Commission and the Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency, officials discussed a revised memorandum of understanding (or MoU) between the city and Deltran Operations USA Inc., the company tapped in December to redevelop the site.
The MoU describes the outlines of a formal development agreement.
City Commission Chambers were filled to capacity during the special meeting, which was called to allow the public to have input on the company’s proposal.
No fewer than 24 people signed up to address the board, both in favor of and against GlassHouse Square, as Deltran’s proposal is dubbed.
In the end, the five members of the City Commission voted 4-1 to approve the MoU, with some clarifications and changes, and to move forward with negotiations on a final development agreement.
The Downtown CRA board voted 4-2 to approve a tax incentive for the project. The CRA board is made up of the five city commissioners, plus Downtown business owners Ella Ran and Bill Budzinski (who was absent).
City staff and Deltran officials will continue working out the specifics of a development agreement for the Old Jail site, which could be brought back before the City Commission in late summer.
The audience at Tuesday’s meeting was nearly evenly split between supporters of Deltran’s project, and those with concerns about the proposal. The latter group included many business owners and others involved with businesses in the West Georgia Avenue area.
The meeting began with City Manager Michael Pleus outlining the MoU under consideration, which scaled back some of the incentives Deltran would get, imposed additional parking requirements on the development, and included a few other tweaks to the project.
Michael Prelec Jr. of Deltran, accompanied by Javier Omana of engineering firm CPH, then presented the outlines of the project. Prelec emphasized his family’s roots in and connections to the DeLand area.
“This is a very personal project for us,” he said.
The company’s desire to move its headquarters to Downtown DeLand was spurred on by changes in its business, Prelec explained.
“We’ve gone from a full-time manufacturer … to a more product design, engineering, and sales-oriented company,” he said. “As we’ve kind of changed our structure, we went from using a 33,000-square-foot building, to where we’re barely using 7,000 square feet.”
Prelec addressed the parking situation in the area, which he acknowledged was a concern to many in the audience.
“I think probably the biggest question of the night is parking, parking, parking, and where to park,” he said.
The company’s vision originally included a 142-unit apartment complex on land owned by Comfort Service, on the corner of South Florida and West Howry avenues, but Prelec said that land will now be used to build parking for GlassHouse Square.
CONCERNS FROM THE NEIGHBORS
After Prelec spoke, Barb Shepherd, president of Conrad Realty Co., which owns property directly east of the Old Jail site, got a chance to present concerns of not only her company, but others in the community.
Conrad Realty Co. had also submitted a proposal to redevelop the Old Jail site, which was ranked No. 2 among three considered by the city.
Shepherd zeroed in on four areas of concern: parking, the scale and intensity of the proposed development, public access, and what public benefit would be derived.
As for the parking issue, while Shepherd said she appreciated Deltran’s willingness to provide parking for the project as required by city code, she expressed concern that the city could still waive the parking requirements for the project.
Shepherd also presented the City Commission with 1,371 petitions asking for replacement parking to be constructed before construction on the project commences, and for the city’s parking requirements to be met.
“Immediately upon demolition, we will lose 37 public spaces on the Old Jail site that are now in daily use by the neighborhood, and that are of critical importance to the businesses there,” she said.
The spaces are used by employees and patrons of nearby businesses, as well as by many vendors at the weekly Artisan Alley Growers and Makers Market.
Shepherd pointed out that the city’s own Georgia Avenue Vision Plan and Downtown Master Plan identified an existing lack of parking in the southwest portion of Downtown DeLand, where the Old Jail is located.
The master plan, she noted, also recommends against surface parking lots like the one Deltran plans to build, instead encouraging that parking be incorporated into new construction as part of the building structure.
She also expressed concern about the scale of the new project, which would potentially bring 12,800 square feet of new retail space to the area all at once, along with 20,000 square feet of office space, potentially disrupting the local real estate market.
Another concern raised by Shepherd and other speakers was the accessibility of the open space proposed as part of the project.
Deltran is proposing to build GlassHouse Alley, a pedestrian walkway between New York and Georgia avenues, along with an “interactive fountain” between the two buildings.
The alley and fountain would “generally remain open” to the public “as invitees” under the MoU considered Tuesday.
“Let’s protect Downtown DeLand and the public from the risk of mixing public and private ownership on this right of way, requiring that the public be ‘invitees’ to this property that we now own,” Shepherd said.
Several members of the City Commission and CRA board shared that concern, and asked for clarifying language to be added to any final agreement, to make sure the public can continue to access the property.
Deltran’s Prelec said city staff were the ones who suggested fencing off the water feature and open areas, to give Deltran the means to “protect from unsavory elements,” such as people sleeping there at night.
At the end of the day, Shepherd said the public benefit of the project would fall short of what the city would be giving up.
VOICES OF THE PEOPLE
The public then had a chance to comment on the proposal. While a majority of those who spoke expressed concern about the project, GlassHouse Square’s supporters also made their voices heard.
“I am 100 percent behind the principals, the families. They grew up here. It’s a diverse group that is going to work Downtown, they’re going to eat Downtown, they’re going to shop Downtown,” said Mike Lenahan, president of Deltran USA. “It’s a steady stream each and every week of our customers, our vendors who come and visit … we will be a vibrant part of this city.”
Doni Lennon, owner of Lane-Lennon Commercial Insurance, was also among those speaking in favor of the project.
“We agree and strongly support [the] DeLand Community Redevelopment [Agency]’s decision in awarding GlassHouse Square the opportunity to redevelop the Old Jail property,” she said. “What I want you to know is this is a global business whose location is totally irrelevant to their success, but they chose DeLand to be their home.”
Many local business owners were more critical of the project.
Dan Reed, owner and operator of Cafe DaVinci, a bar and music venue on West Georgia Avenue, along with several other businesses, expressed concern about the residential portion of the project, and its proximity to a live entertainment venue.
“The concerns that I have are just something in place to protect what I do, and what really brings our neighborhood together,” he said. “I know it’s not anyone’s intention to bring anything bad to Cafe DaVinci or anything we do, but it’s also important to remember, the entertainment district doesn’t end at 9 on Friday night. It goes to 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., and there are people there after.”
Stevie Vermillion, who co-owns the BakeChop restaurant, across the street from Cafe DaVinci on Conrad Realty Co. property, was concerned about a Deltran design element that puts a brick wall outside the restaurant’s kitchen window and also blocks the only window in the business next door, Renie’s Retreat.
Others, like contractor Ken Goldberg — who has worked on various construction projects around Downtown DeLand for more than a decade — took issue with the all-at-once style of development that the project’s first phase proposes.
The rest of Downtown DeLand has grown organically, he pointed out, which contributes to its success.
“It’s been done over a decade. It’s been done bit by bit. I can’t imagine all of that happening at once,” he said. “It seems to me that it’s a large risk for everybody involved … I think the project is an awful lot of square feet all at once. I do favor a more gradual development pattern. I know that’s how our city and many other cities have been developed over time.”
Multiple representatives of the popular Artisan Alley Growers and Makers Market also expressed concern that the project would have a negative effect on the market, which has become a valuable source of fresh food for many in West Volusia, especially since the involvement of Stetson University volunteers enabled farmers at the market to accept food stamps.
The members of the commission and CRA board then talked among themselves about the project and the comments received.
Commissioner Kevin Reid asked for clarification on how high a three-story building would be, for example. Others, like CRA board member Ella Ran, was concerned about giving Deltran an option to purchase the parking lot on the south side of West Georgia Avenue, before knowing the full effects of the company’s first phase.
“I think we should retain the right to not sell it ... if we feel it’s inappropriate for the context and our growth,” she said.
City Attorney Darren Elkind pointed out that the city would have to approve any future development on that site in a separate process.
Other commissioners requested assurances that Deltran wouldn’t apply for city grants during the 10 years it would be receiving property-tax abatement.
Perhaps most strongly against the project was Commissioner Chris Cloudman, who has historically been strongly against any proposals that give public funds or property to private developers.
Cloudman expressed respect for Deltran, but said he was uncomfortable with the city giving away the land, plus so many incentives to the project, even given the possible future tax revenue from it. He also echoed Ran’s concern about the parking lot on the south side of West Georgia Avenue.
“My biggest concern at the end of the day is making sure what goes in fits, and that it adds to the area and doesn’t detract from it,” he said.
In the end, Vice Mayor Charles Paiva made the motion to approve the MoU and the tax incentive for the project, subject to a few conditions, like the city getting performance metrics about the jobs Deltran would move from the airport into its new building.
Cloudman was the lone vote against the MoU on the City Commission, while both Cloudman and Ran voted against the tax incentive as members of the CRA board.
Apgar attempted to end the marathon meeting on a hopeful note.
“Like a lot of things in Downtown DeLand, once it’s built, a lot of problems perceived of it go away,” he said. “The intensity, when you look up and down the Boulevard and elsewhere, I don’t think it’s entirely out of place.
After the meeting, Shepherd said she was perplexed by the city apparently going against its own plans for Downtown DeLand.
“What’s most fascinating to me is the degree to which our city’s elected officials are willing to diverge from their own plans,” she said. “This project directly contradicts both the Downtown CRA Master Plan and the Georgia Avenue Vision Plan.”
Prelec, for his part, said he was satisfied with how the meeting went, and hopeful that any remaining issues surrounding the project could be worked out. He also expressed a willingness to try to work with his company’s future neighbors.
“Of course, everybody’s got to coexist next to each other,” he said. “It’s got to work together.”