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After much speculation, attorney Rob Doan of Cobb Cole, who represents I-4 Automall developer Brendan Hurley and I-4 Automall LLC, confirmed to the Lake Helen City Commission April 28 that the new concept for the “Automall” on DeLand’s east side includes no plan to sell automobiles.

“The Automall is not going to happen,” Doan said.

Instead, the project, now tentatively titled “Orange Camp Point,” is looking to develop up to 300 multifamily two-bedroom, two-bath units, and 150 town homes on Lake Helen’s side of the joint development area agreed on by DeLand and Lake Helen in 2018.

“Everyone was wondering, what’s going on, is this going to happen? And, I am here to say: Nope. Not as planned,” Doan said. “The Automall is not going to happen.”

The original plan was for retail and other commercial areas on DeLand’s side, while Lake Helen would host up to 11 car dealerships.

While there are few material changes planned for DeLand’s side, Lake Helen is facing a major change.

If the original plan had begun immediately, Doan told the commission, it may have been possible. Steel and concrete prices have risen so much, he said, that the concept of auto dealerships is no longer feasible.

Now, Doan said, project developer Hurley has contracted with three developers — one for a single-family residential area of up to 300 multifamily homes on 16 acres, one for up to 150 town homes on a portion yet to be acquired to the north, and one for the commercial area located on DeLand’s part of the project.

A grocery store is also planned for the Lake Helen side.

The new plan makes sense, Doan said, because an increase in residential areas will attract more high-quality commercial brands.

“Everyone always asks, when are we getting a Panera? But it’s just math,” Doan said. “Panera looks at how many cars are driving by, how many rooftops are nearby; they are looking for a certain income, and certain age — and if the math doesn’t add up, they won’t do it.”

Doan said there are no plans for a Panera as part of the project; he mentioned it only as an example.

The zoning language may need to be changed, but not necessarily the definition of “Land Use,” as it allows for “appropriate supporting uses” for an “employment center.”

Residential development could be considered an appropriate supporting use, as workers in commercial areas, like those planned on the east side of I-4, will need a place to live, Doan said.

City Commissioner Kelly Frasca asked if the plan was for affordable housing, but was told that was unlikely. 

“The contractor I am with is not going to do it,” Doan told the City Commission.

Doan pointed to the recently built Integra Dunes Apartment Homes north of Lake Helen on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway. The apartments, which cost around $1,500 to $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom, are 90 percent full in their second financial quarter, a rate Doan called “warp speed.”

Not only are affordable apartments more complicated to build, Doan said, developers will see the results of Integra Dunes and have little incentive to deviate.

Frasca pointed out that Lake Helen’s Police Department, among other things, would have to expand. Lake Helen could have to accommodate between 250 to 400 new residents within two years, a large leap for a city of an estimated 2,760 people.

But the roughly estimated assessed value of the property would be between $51 million and $62 million, a taxable increase that could cover new expenses for the city.

“A lot of decisions are out of our hands,” City Commissioner Rick Basso said. “This may be the best option.”

“I think this is what this land wanted to be when it grew up,” Doan said. He pointed to all the plans that surround the corridor — newly approved office and commercial space at the intersection of State Road 472 and Kentucky Avenue, and commercial zoning to the north of the proposed project formerly known as Automall.

Under the agreement, DeLand was set to supply sewer and utilities to the auto dealerships — the city now must assess how much more water would be required by up to 450 residential units.

The plans are preliminary — contracts with developers were signed between two months and only one week ago, according to Doan. The DeLand City Commission has yet to see the plan and react to it.

If the plans were ultimately approved, however, the project will happen quickly.

A new development plan is likely to be submitted to the staffs of DeLand and Lake Helen by May 7, and a joint meeting could occur by May 21. The aggressive schedule could see final approval by August.

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