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The much-embattled SunRail extension to DeLand was recently christened by Volusia County after years of hesitation. The planned extension, which will bring commuter-rail services to DeLand’s west side, will also bring big changes to the city’s landscape.

The planned area surrounding the DeLand station is currently referred to as the SunRail DeLand Area Activity Center. 

According to Volusia County Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin, this activity center could change the face of DeLand’s wild, wild west.

“Right now if you go out there, there’s not a lot. There’s been basically wide-open land where folks have winter homes for circuses,” Ervin said. “We want to see success out here, and success will be vibrant residential, an adequate supply of commercial retail and office, and integration with the transit facilities and allowing for other modes of transportation to access.”

The main hub surrounding the station, as envisioned by Volusia County officials, would include businesses, restaurants, and other amenities that could attract both locals and travelers hopping off SunRail.

From there, visitors could take a bus or trolley to Downtown DeLand, or go for a bicycle ride or hike on the Spring-to-Spring Trail.

Live, work, ride

Other plans for the area include two residential developments: the Estates at Pelham Square and The Villages at Pelham Square. 

The Estates at Pelham Square, south of the activity area, will bring more than 100 single-family homes to the west side. Approved in December 2019, this development is well on its way to becoming reality. 

North of the activity area, along West New York Avenue, is a more ambitious plan: The Villages at Pelham Square. While this plan is in its infancy, it could bring townhomes and apartments to the area, complete with walking areas, side streets and shops. 

Volusia County Senior Planning Manager Susan Jackson told The Beacon she envisions a scenario where people can ride the SunRail, park at The Villages, and ride their bicycles on the Spring-to-Spring Trail, or visit a friend who lives at The Villages. 

“Go for a bike ride and then enjoy a beer, that type of thing,” she said. 

As plan after plan cropped up for the area, some residents voiced fears about overdevelopment. Ervin said while it may not make everyone happy, Florida is a nice place to live, and Volusia County can’t stop people from moving in.

“We cannot pull up the roads, we cannot tell people they can’t move here. When we see folks are upset and they want to take a snapshot picture of DeLand in 19-whatever and say that’s all it should be, we can understand that. I get it,” Ervin said. “The critical thing is making sure we’re putting them in the right locations, so we can have the most efficient cities and counties we can.” 

THE FUTURE OF WEST DELAND — Pictured is the transit-oriented development, or TOD, plan for the DeLand SunRail Station and surrounding area. The pink area, or the “activity center,” will encompass the SunRail station itself and allow for shops, as well. The blue area below that is the future site of the Estates at Pelham Square, a 141-home single-family development originally greenlighted in 2019. The blue area above the activity center, situated along West New York Avenue, is the preliminary plan for The Villages at Pelham Square, a mixed-use area that could feature apartment buildings, townhomes and shops. The Villages, county officials said, would also have parking to allow for recreational time on the partially completed Spring-to-Spring Trail that runs through the area on its way from DeLeon Springs State Park to Gemini Springs in DeBary.

The upside: more customers

Nearly everyone hopes SunRail will bring an uptick in business. 

“I do think it’ll bring traffic into DeLand from the Orlando area, much like people here like to go down to Winter Park for the day,” MainStreet DeLand Association Executive Director Wayne Carter said. “DeLand has a nice little Downtown that most of the communities in Florida don’t have anything comparable to. We expect a certain amount of tourism, not just for Downtown, but the ecotourism, and all of the other things SunRail could open up.”

DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus said he hopes SunRail will open up new opportunities for locals.

“It helps for us, with people wanting to come to Deland, like our Stetson University students,” he said. “We talked about Stetson students having access to Seminole and Orange counties for internships. Ultimately, I think it creates better connectivity throughout Central Florida.”

FORMER HOME OF THE BIG TOP — This 3.9-acre property at 2505 Old New York Ave. in DeLand, near the Amtrak station, was long the winter headquarters of the Cole Bros. Circus. The circus shut down in 2016 and, recently, the land where the big-top tents and circus-hauling trucks once were stored was sold. The new owner, Dan Gennaro, who said he did not buy the property with SunRail-related development in mind, nevertheless said he would be happy to work with Volusia County or the City of DeLand if the land is included in the vision for the district around DeLand’s future SunRail station. The Volusia County Property Appraiser’s Office lists the sale price of the old circus winter headquarters at $716,000.

The DeLand Stockyard, a restaurant at 1915 Old New York Ave. near the DeLand station, told The Beacon an influx of people coming to the west side could be good for business. 

Restaurant General Manager Brian Collins is optimistic.

“I know it’s going to be great for me at The Stockyard,” Collins told The Beacon. “It would definitely be a positive move for us. We’ve been here for just under 11 years. We’re anticipating it’s going to be a great thing for us.”

Owner Dean Forest agreed, and said he looks forward to the potential for more guests.

For businesses not so close to the station, things are more complicated, and often focuses on how to get people from the station to Downtown DeLand. Officials have a few ideas.

One plan is to create a bus route between the DeLand Intermodal Transit Facility at the intersection of Woodland Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, and the SunRail station.

“The whole idea is you can either go there and jump on a bus, or jump on a bus so you can jump on a train,” Ervin said. 

Another possibility, per Carter, is a trolley service from Downtown DeLand to the SunRail station, in the model of Downtown Sanford. The City of Sanford’s Community Redevelopment Agency operates a free trolley between the Sanford SunRail station and Sanford’s Downtown hub.

“That’s probably a model we will look at again,” Carter said. “I would expect it would be a collaboration between the city, the CRA, Main Street and maybe even some Downtown businesses and others. I think the ideas are definitely worth pursuing. We’re very excited to ramp up our efforts to support SunRail, because we think it will bring a lot to DeLand.”

There’s a lot riding on the extension of SunRail to DeLand, including hopes of increased ridership, a vibrant new housing center, and a boost for existing businesses.

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