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Editor’s note: The “Imagine West Volusia” trio of writers has invited two guests to add their thoughts to the topic of what we can do to enhance our West Volusia quality of life: Buz Nesbit and Chris Cloudman. Cloudman, currently a member of the DeLand City Commission, has announced he will run for mayor in the 2022 election; Nesbit, a member of the DeLand Planning Board, has not announced but is considering a mayoral bid. Nesbit kicks off this guest-writer miniseries.

DeLand should make its own strategy

Why did you move to DeLand? We all get this question, and many times it comes from people who have not been here.

I have lived in many great cities with great services and culture, and some not so good. But when it came time for a final move, there was no question it would be DeLand. Moving from Dallas in 1998, my first observation was the lack of traffic and the friendliness of the community. 

Life was easy, affordable and pleasant. The architecture was diverse and interesting, and history was important to neighbors.

If you have lived in DeLand for any length of time, you know what I mean when I say we have a lot of reasons to be proud of our community. But if we do not work at maintaining our community character, we will lose it over time.

Quality of life is not something that can be taken for granted or expected to persist without direction and work. We must actively protect it.

So, before it is too late, we should focus and evaluate where we were, where we are and where we are going — produce a vision and a strategy.

Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, once said, “If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.” Right now, DeLand is the focus of many strategies, but they are mainly from developers, and not from the city itself.

There comes a point where growth has an impact on the culture of a community and on the environment that creates the backdrop. DeLand is not the same small town that it was. Our population is now pushing 35,000, up from 16,000 in 1990. But we continue to operate as if we all meet at the corner diner to discuss local issues. It is time that our city leaders hear our opinions and actively seek out citizen voices to weigh in on the direction and leadership needed to maintain the environment we desire.

We must now insist that our voice be heard to influence the municipal infrastructure so it corresponds to our growth from a small town to a midsize city. We must be willing to do the work by supporting volunteerism and committing the finances needed to make the transition from small town to midsize city.

Municipal staff must be ready to face the new challenges of growth and embrace the changes necessary in a vibrant, contemporary economy. At a minimum, we should be demanding transparent metrics and repetitive feedback. It is important to have report cards measuring the value of services.

We are at the junction where it is important to develop a clear strategy for compatible growth that complements a communitywide vision for our city. This needs to happen quickly before we lose too much more to unbridled development.

Real estate is limited. Once open land is converted into fast-food rows or unimaginative neighborhoods, it never returns to vacant land. It is time to rein in the runaway train and stop rubber-stamping approval of development proposals that aren’t the most thoughtful possibilities for our city.

Yesterday was the best time to develop a vision and strategy for DeLand and new policies to create that community. The next best time is today, not tomorrow. Please don’t wait.

— Buz Nesbit is a DeLand resident who moved here in the late 1990s and now is a Realtor, after retiring as a telecommunication executive with a degree in political science and work experience in municipal and state government.

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