A leisure destination of yesteryear in northwest Volusia may undergo an extreme makeover and once again welcome new waves of visitors.
The Jungle Den, a waterfront resort in Astor on the St. Johns River, has deteriorated over the past few decades, but county officials are looking at a proposal submitted by an Auburndale developer to revamp the 89-acre site.
“I am so for it. It’s going back to what my father had in mind,” Mike Blair, whose family owns the property, said.
Blair has seen the Jungle Den’s decline from an attractive inland spot for tourists to an aesthetically and environmentally unwelcoming place.
“It’s an unsightly mess,” he added.
Volusia County’s professional planners agree.
“The property includes an old motel and marina that are in disrepair, an assortment of derelict single-wide mobile homes on canals, and an old wastewater package treatment plant. Recent hurricane events have left the facility in very poor condition and in need of refurbishment,” the planning staff’s report on the rezoning request reads.
The county’s Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission has endorsed the request to rezone the property from its current mix of uses — mobile homes, commercial and agricultural — to a planned-unit development (PUD). The request will go before the Volusia County Council next month.
The development proposed by Randall Knapp of RLK Real Estate & Development LLC, would include a new marina, motel, restaurant, bait-and-tackle shop, general store, swimming pool, 460-space recreational-vehicle park, and spaces for mobile homes.
Knapp says he is ready to invest $30 million in reviving and reconstructing the Jungle Den.
“It will start with the demolition, and then with the redevelopment,” Knapp told The Beacon.
The redevelopment could begin in the spring or summer of 2021, he added.
When completed, Knapp’s attorney Glenn Storch said, the new Jungle Den may create 40 to 50 new jobs.
Knapp’s plan also provides for preserving a bit of Old Florida, with 21 acres of the property set aside in a conservation easement.
In addition to tearing down and removing the damaged and irreparable buildings and mobile homes now on the property, Knapp proposes to replace the old sewage-disposal system with a connection to St. Johns Utilities.
St. Johns Utilities Inc. is a privately owned water and sewage-service provider in Astor.
Information furnished by Knapp and Storch notes the current sewage system often overflows into the St. Johns River during floods, along with stormwater.
“It’s an absolute blight along the river,” Storch said. “This is what people see as they’re boating along the St. Johns River.”
All that will soon change if county officials and Knapp have their way.
Besides attracting fishermen, boaters and hunters during game seasons, the revamped Jungle Den will also be a place for ecotourists, Storch said.
“We believe this is going to be a welcome addition,” said Georgia Turner, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority. “I also believe it’s going to be a national and international destination.”
Because of the anticipated higher numbers of people the new Jungle Den may bring, the Volusia Sheriff’s Office may be invited to establish a substation on or near the property.
Other conditions for the redevelopment of the Jungle Den include:
— Limiting the occupancy by any guests to six consecutive months
— Using a recognized architectural style in the design and construction materials, such as Key West or Old Florida style
— Minimizing outdoor-lighting nuisances, by limiting the height of light fixtures to 29 feet and requiring lights to shine downward.
The Jungle Den redevelopment plan is set to go before the County Council Nov. 17.