A new year offers us opportunity.
Actually, every minute offers this same opportunity, but there’s something about a new, blank calendar that inspires us to make changes and set courses in a way we generally don’t during the rest of the year.
This year, Volusia County and all of its municipalities must take the opportunity to get a handle on growth.
The time is right, and the need is urgent. In November, in an upset that surprised many, a politically inexperienced farmer from DeLeon Springs was elected to the county’s highest elected office, ousting a veteran County Council member.
Why did Jeff Brower win? Because he voiced the concerns about growth and development that a majority of Volusia County residents share, even as politicians seem to ignore or whitewash them.
Brower will be inexperienced. He may make mistakes. He may be uncomfortable in the spotlight, at least at first. Let those attributes inspire others to support him, not shun him.
His ideas deserve respect, and his colleagues in county government should remember the 150,827-person majority who voted for those ideas.
It’s time to wrestle with the important questions about growth and development. Here are some on our minds:
• The County Council finally raised impact fees in 2019. Are they high enough? Anyone can see that it’s unfair to make existing residents pay higher taxes to cover the cost of the burdens development places on our infrastructure.
• Where do we stop? Do the people of Volusia County — the “governed” who are supposed to call the shots — really want a new 4,000-home residential development and all the problems it might cause, just so we can create a large enough market to earn us a Panera Bread or some other chain restaurant? Do we the people want to cope with the traffic and other quality-of-life degradations people in the Orlando area, for example, put up with?
• What about water? How much growth can we endure before we are driven to extremely costly water alternatives that will tap every resident’s pocketbook?
• What about the need for conservation? Will all of our parks be landscaped, or will we keep wild land? We make a mistake when we call the woods “underdeveloped” or unprofitable. Will we carry on until we need a DeLand Zoo so we can see a cardinal?
• How will we address the fact that development is a social-justice issue? The focus on single-family homes and developer profitability ignores the needs of entire economic classes and disproportionately affects people of color. We destroy the woods in high-income areas, instead of redeveloping lower-income neighborhoods in our communities that desperately need housing and commercial amenities.
In 2020, COVID-19 has taught us that many of our social quandaries boil down to a choice between money or life. We’ve seen the direct effects of governmental decisions on both.
So far, most of our development decisions have been made in favor of money. It’s time to shift.
We’re looking for our leaders in local government to work for us, not for developers and their attorneys.