Many residents in one of DeLand’s fastest-growing neighborhoods aren’t against the proposed half-cent sales tax for transportation and water-quality projects, but they’re worried city and county officials aren’t sufficiently aware of their needs.
Such was the general mood at a recent community meeting inside the Victoria Hills clubhouse. About 30 residents of the Victoria Park community in southeast DeLand voiced their opinions, concerns and gripes about the tax — and the list of projects the tax dollars would go toward.
District 1 Volusia County Council Member Barb Girtman joined Jon Cheney, director of Volusia County Public Works’ Traffic Engineering division, in hosting the forum.
As the Victoria Park community has grown since it was first approved in 1999, transportation infrastructure has struggled to keep up, leading to congestion on Orange Camp Road and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway.
The flow of traffic can be so unrelenting at times, according to some residents, that it is challenging for drivers to turn out of their neighborhoods onto one of the main roads.
Specifically, some Victoria Park residents are hoping a southward extension of Blue Lake Avenue and the widening of Orange Camp Road will top the list of projects that could be completed with the sales-tax revenue. The widening would relieve congestion on one of two main roads that bisect Victoria Park, while the extension would give part of Victoria Park a second exit onto State Road 472.
“You’re asking us to vote yes on this, but we’re asking, where are we on this priority agenda?” resident Diane Smith asked.
Each of the municipalities in the county, along with the county government itself, has produced a list of projects that could be paid for with its share of roughly $45 million annually the new levy would bring in.
The widening of Orange Camp Road would give the road four lanes between Woodland Boulevard and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway. Widening Orange Camp between the MLK Beltway and Interstate 4 is also planned, but is not a sales-tax project.
Another project in the Victoria Park vicinity is the extension of Beresford Avenue from Blue Lake Avenue to Kepler Road.
The Blue Lake Avenue project is No. 2 on the county’s list of five “Tier 1” sales-tax projects in northwest Volusia, while the Beresford Avenue extension is No. 3 and the Orange Camp Road widening between Woodland and MLK is No. 5.
When the overall plan for Victoria Park was approved in 1999, it was expected that Blue Lake Avenue would be extended, but it wasn’t made a requirement for future development.
Instead, traffic is funneled into and out of Victoria Hills via a main entrance along Orange Camp Road and a smaller one along the MLK Beltway.
While there is an emergency access road near the site of the planned new homes, near the T.G. Lee Dairy plant on State Road 472, the road is not supposed to be used for regular traffic.
“The plans you’ve made for Orange Camp Road make our problem worse. You didn’t take any consideration into our issue of getting out of this [neighborhood], and heading into DeLand,” said Sandy Conner, a resident of Victoria Hills. “You made no consideration for the fact that we have to take our life in our hands.”
Conner’s reference to the “plans … for Orange Camp Road” refers to plans to construct a roundabout at the MLK Beltway and Orange Camp Road to increase the flow of traffic. The roundabout isn’t a half-cent sales-tax project; it was unveiled last year, and is meant to be constructed as part of the $11.3 million widening of Orange Camp Road between Interstate 4 and the beltway.
While the roundabout would allow traffic to flow unimpeded by stoplights, the constant stream of cars could make it harder for Victoria Hills residents to turn left onto Orange Camp Road and head west toward Publix and other DeLand amenities.
County Council Member Girtman raised one possible solution: turning right onto Orange Camp Road, and going around the roundabout to head west.
Many residents raised the issue of pedestrian safety, as well, particularly when crossing between the four quadrants of Victoria Park.
Cheney said the approaches to the roundabout will have crosswalks with flashing pedestrian beacons, similar to those at the roundabout on South Woodland Boulevard in front of DeLand’s Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Pedestrians will also be able to cross halfway at a time and pause, rather than having to jaunt across the entire road.
“The roundabouts are designed to handle pedestrians. They’re not at the roundabout in the middle; they’re on the approaches, so that you can see when you cross,” Cheney said. “You cross halfway, and then you look the other way, and cross halfway.”
Despite reassurances from the county, some residents don’t believe they can trust officials to do as they say they will.
“If they could have said to us, you are absolutely No. 2 on the list, all of the people that live here — there are 740 homes in Victoria Hills, times two people at least — you would get a majority of those people who would vote for it,” Hills resident Karen Finstad said. “I don’t believe that we trust them to keep their word.”
Other residents feel their needs are being taken seriously.
“I feel like we are being addressed, because we are in the Top 5, with Orange Camp and with the extension [of Blue Lake Avenue],” Kellie Ridings said.