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After comments from more than a dozen residents and roughly two-and-a-half hours of tense discussion, DeLand city commissioners delayed a vote on a controversial housing development.

Beresford Reserve, formerly known as Beresford Springs, received a continuance from the DeLand City Commission May 3 amid concerns expressed by commissioners and members of the public.

The first reading for the nearly 170-acre development — with plans to plop up to 861 homes on the former Southridge Golf Course on DeLand’s east side — packed the house at DeLand City Hall with naysayers. 

Speaker cards

Of the 13 public comments that followed the development’s initial presentation, only one individual spoke in favor of the project. 

Nearly all of the other 12 speakers received applause after decrying the effects they believed Beresford Reserve would have on everything from the environment, to traffic to schools.

BERESFORD RESERVE — Shown is the site plan for Beresford Reserve as it was presented to the DeLand City Commission May 3. In total, as originally conceived, the project included 267 single-family homes on 40-foot-wide lots, 79 of which are rear-loaded; 133 single-family homes on 50-foot-wide lots; 21 single-family homes on 60-foot-wide lots; 151 town homes, and a flexible parcel — indicated in purple — that was planned to have either 167 town homes or a 289-unit multifamily apartment complex. In the southwest corner of the development is a commercial area. The 10-acre park in the northeast quadrant is meant to occupy the area that was once a city dump. According to Cobb Cole attorney Mark Watts, representing the developer, turning former dumps into parks is common, as any contaminants remaining would be deeper in the soil than park-building would require.

Commissioners heard commentary from longtime residents and recent transplants alike.

DeLandite and former Volusia County Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission member Lorna Jean Hagstrom was among the speakers.

“I know that the city wants to increase its tax base, but I also learned on the PLDRC that development does not pay for itself,” she told commissioners. “And certainly I don’t think that citizens — taxpayers — want to pay for it, either … .”

Most of the public comments were of a similar tenor — urging the City Commission to reconsider approving the development.

“Henry DeLand gave DeLand the nickname ‘the Athens of Florida.’ His hope was that the city would become a place of culture, education and beauty, like Athens, Greece, which took its name from Athena, the goddess of wisdom and courage,” DeLandite Catherine Samuels told commissioners. “I hope that the City Commission has the wisdom and courage to see to it … that DeLand is not identified as another overdeveloped bedroom-community town for Orlando or Daytona that blends into a Florida of bland housing developments, strip malls and fast-food chains.”

The lone voice speaking in favor of the development was Carl Payne, president of the Alexandria Pointe Homeowners Association. Alexandria Point is immediately adjacent to the former Southridge Golf Course.

Payne praised Beresford Reserve for bringing change to the area and its long-vacant golf course.

“That area is an eyesore for us living in Alexandria Pointe … ,” he said. “As far as what they’re planning, it will only help DeLand. It will also help our property values go up”

Payne’s comment was met, not with applause, but silence in the crowded City Commission meeting room.

Among detractors of the planned redevelopment of Southridge Golf Course is Dr. Wendy Anderson. 

Anderson is a DeLand local, a member of the Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District, and a professor of environmental science at Stetson University, among other things. 

She introduced a key issue about the development during her public comment to commissioners at the May 3 public hearing — the environmental angle.

Before being developed as a golf course, the city used a portion of the Southridge parcel as a dump. This dump, Anderson pointed out, was used before the formation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and as such, there’s no telling what was tossed in.

“I am here, then, as a scientist, to ask you to pause your deliberations on this project until more environmental data have been filed and duly reviewed,” she told commissioners. “You cannot reasonably approve a rezoning for residential development without the applicant providing a report on the deeper cores that go all the way into the Floridan aquifer to verify that neither landfill seepage nor golf-course contamination has traveled beyond the depths that would typically be remediated by superficial soil replacement.”

Cobb Cole environmental attorney Michael Sznapstajler, representing the applicant, argued that through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the site’s designation as a brownfield — a site that was once occupied and will require environmental rehabilitation before further development — plenty of scrutiny will be in place as development and rehabilitation moves forward. 

Cobb Cole attorney Mark Watts, too, said that through environmental testing, the boundaries of what was believed to have been the dump had been identified and that portion of the property would be a park in the planned development.

Creating a park, Watts explained, will not require digging as deep into the soil as would building homes and roads.

Speaking to The Beacon, Anderson explained that seepage into areas outside of the original dump was very likely. 

“It’s Florida,” she said, “it’s sand. Anything can migrate.”

Concerned commission

City commissioners were, while maybe not quite as impassioned, skeptical about the development. 

The project has good aspects, some admitted, but because of concerns about too many 40-foot-wide lots and too high a density of homes in general, commissioners made it clear they would not approve the development as presented.

“There are several elements of this development that I think are heading in a better direction than we’ve seen before,” City Commissioner Chris Cloudman said. “I’ve always liked the one piece of this, the town homes. That is an inventory we are relatively low on.”

FOR — Cobb Cole attorney Mark Watts, representing Beresford Reserve, speaks in defense of the project. He told commissioners the applicant and other parties are working to prevent massive changes to traffic and population density. “I get that there’s discomfort in change oftentimes,” Watts said, “but what we’re doing our best to do is work with the neighboring communities and your staff and the other agencies involved to plan for it.”

Cloudman, like the other commissioners, expressed concern about the number of 40-foot-wide single-family lots. City officials have discussed a need for higher housing density in some areas, but Cloudman was skeptical of the type of higher density he was seeing.

“I’m not so sure that that means, take a lot that was originally meant for one house and put two houses, and now we have higher density,” he said. “I think that’s not quite what was intended, at least not in my mind.”

Commissioner Jessica Davis praised the multifamily housing, but suggested removal of the 40-foot-wide lots from the project entirely. 

“I know the developers always say this is what the people want, but we have to decide: Who are we talking to?” she said. “Are we talking about those coming from a different state? Are we talking about those that are coming to us and telling us what they want that live here already?”

A week before the City Commission heard the first reading for the Beresford Reserve development, commissioners gathered for a workshop focused on how to bring more workforce housing to the City of DeLand. 

According to local Realtor Solomon Greene, the city has a record low number of properties on the market, and a record high median price for those homes.

“At our workshop last week, we talked about adding a process to add more imagination to a project, and I think there’s a lot of imagination that could be added to this project,” City Commissioner Kevin Reid said.

AGAINST — DeLandite Dave Ballesteros speaks in opposition to the Beresford Reserve development, whose rezoning could allow up to 861 dwellings on the nearly 170-acre parcel that was once Southridge Golf Course on East Beresford Avenue. Ballesteros has repeatedly spoken before city officials to suggest they abandon the large housing development and instead consider an alternate plan that would keep the former golf course at least partially a golf course.

Before other public commenters came to the dais May 3 to speak about the Beresford Reserve development, DeLandite Dave Ballesteros was granted additional time to show off a possible alternative for the old DeLand golf course.

“I think, at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to find something that’s best for the community,” Ballesteros said. 

Ballesteros has dogged city officials over the Beresford Avenue project for months, bringing a presentation of an alternate vision for the property to city meetings. His vision would keep the land a golf course and include event space and lodging. 

While Ballesteros told commissioners he knows of parties interested in developing such a concept, he said this vision was presented as a hypothetical possibility. City Attorney Darren Elkind told the City Commission members they could not factor the Ballesteros concept into their official decision over whether to rezone the former golf course for Beresford Reserve’s applicant. 

Beresford Reserve attorney Mark Watts of Cobb Cole was frank in rebutting Ballesteros’ proposal. 

“There has been an extensive period of time that the course has been available for proposals,” Watts said, noting that the property has been on the market since 2017.

Another concern of Reid’s was that Beresford Reserve’s housing is largely separated into different quadrants of the development, based on lot size. The town homes are completely separated from single-family homes, for example.

“Right now, it looks like it’s kind of segregated out in classes, as well, and I’ve got an issue with that,” Reid said.

The City Commission unanimously approved a continuance for the rezoning ordinance’s first reading, which will return at the City Commission meeting Monday, June 7. 

The applicant’s mission assigned by commissioners — if he chooses to accept it — is to reduce the total number of housing units, reduce the number of 40-foot-wide lots, and increase some lot sizes. 

“I don’t think anything you’ve said has come as a big surprise,” Watts said to the City Commission. 

While he was unsure how close to the city’s targets he and the applicant could get, Watts said, they would certainly try.

The DeLand City Commission meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of every month in City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave. All meetings are open to the public, and all agendas are available online before the meeting, HERE.

AND AFTER … — The once-full DeLand City Commission Chambers emptied out after discussion of the Beresford Reserve development ended. This Beacon reporter was among three individuals who remained in the audience to hear the rest of the City Commission’s agenda.

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