Two small streets sit just outside of DeLand city limits near the intersection of State Road 11 and Woodland Boulevard. For those who live there, the closest neighbors are the wildlife that enjoys a nearby lake, and a company called Country Pure Foods, better known locally as Ardmore Farms. The company produces frozen-fruit and fruit-juice products.
Larry and Joan Bates have owned the property near the end of Anita Street for more than 30 years. Their backyard contains part of the lake, Lake Molly, to the northeast and, like all homes on the north side of Anita Street, their backyard lies adjacent to the back end of Ardmore’s nearly 20-acre commercial processing facility to the northwest.
About 55 feet north of the chain-link fence that separates their residential property from the commercial enterprise is a pretreatment water tank used by Ardmore to process wastewater that’s created from cleaning the fruit-processing machinery — and which is rich in sugar and organic matter.
“You would swear you were standing right over an open septic tank,” Joan Bates said.
Water-pretreatment tanks break down organic material through a bacterial process that, much like a septic tank, gives off a distinct odor.
Because of the high levels of sugar in Ardmore’s wastewater, the company is required to reduce the levels of organic material in the water before it is discharged into DeLand’s sanitary sewer system and sent to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The pretreatment plant has been a part of Ardmore’s operation for at least 20 years, the Bateses said. Until late last summer, it was something they learned to tolerate.
Then the smell seemed harsher, more chemical than bacterial, they said, and some days when they left the house, it felt like “breathing fire.”
“The worst thing to me, I mean, is the smell — you can’t sit in your own yard, or even sometimes in your house,” Joan Bates said. She described stepping out of the house in the morning to take a deep breath of fresh air: “The first breath you take is like fire going down,” she said.
According to DeLand Public Services Director Keith Riger, several months ago, Ardmore exceeded the allowed limit of organics in its wastewater. The company has since corrected the problem, he said.
“They have, in the past, had some excursions, and they fixed them,” Riger said. “That’s the limits of our enforcement activity. Because their plant is not in the city limits, we can’t enforce any ordinances other than the pretreatment ordinance.”
That leaves the 30-plus homes near the facility with little recourse. Even if the tank isn’t producing anything hazardous, the small neighborhood that has existed alongside the business in uneasy harmony feels threatened by what they see as Ardmore’s expansion.
“The story is about how a small business like it used to be turned into this behemoth that’s forcing the residents that have been here for years and years, even before them, right out of their neighborhoods,” Larry Bates told The Beacon.
At press time, Ardmore Farms had not replied to The Beacon’s requests for comment.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, Ardmore has expanded its property and bought residential areas at the end of Anita Street. Six of the parcels of land — which have a mix of commercial and residential zoning — are owned by Ardmore. In the parcels zoned commercial, the company stores fleets of trucks.
Commercial and residential collide
The collision of commercial and residential zoning often causes conflicts; that’s why municipalities often plan for transitional areas between the two.
In early 2020, Lake Helen had its own version of the business and residential collision when a demolition company moved in across the street from a residential area, to the consternation of some neighbors.
Even though the Lake Helen demolition company was following the rules set by the city, including the city’s zoning laws, Lake Helen city commissioners agreed the neighbors had a point about disruptive noise, lights and heavy traffic, and mediated between the residents and the business.
— Eli Witek