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Greg Heeter

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I’m not an attorney.

However, I am an American, and we own the global reputation of being creative, thinking outside the box, inventing new ways around, taking action, and getting things done.

We fiddled around for two years before joining the fight in World War II. But when we did, we immediately produced the most powerful war machine ever seen, and led the world to victory.

And, in 1969, America put two of its citizens on the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin. Our lists of similar scientific, artistic and business accomplishments are long.

An action for DeLand on Aug. 2: A last remaining jewel of land, 167 acres of rolling hills, beautiful vistas and ancient live oaks, sits undisturbed and available in the core of DeLand. It is variously called “the old Southridge Golf Course,” or “Sandhill.” I call it “A Wonderful Opportunity.”

Housing developers are drooling and painting pretty pictures to use to profit from this land, then skedaddle.

Our city commissioners are listening to them, nipping gingerly around the edges of their plans, and considering only two options: Terrible and Worse.

The Terrible Option shoehorns in 709 cookie-cutter homes, a small “commercial zone” and lots of concrete — along with an 8-acre park over a subsiding section of the old city dump, and some lot-sized “pocket parks,” devoid of life, that are added to make it slightly easier for DeLand’s citizens to swallow the sprawl.

And, then, the Worse Option — the fictitious one used by the City Commission to threaten DeLandites into accepting the first option — is the possibility of this property developing with no zoning change, with slightly bigger lots but with square-grid streets and driveways loading onto Boston and Euclid avenues, fewer amenities, and no open green space.

In meeting after meeting, the City Commission has witnessed furious citizens unanimously speaking against the Southridge/Sandhill development proposal, currently called “Beresford Reserve.”

Lines of city residents cited good reason after good reason, animatedly and articulately. They said they want improved quality of life, business opportunities, better health and entertainment options, less traffic on crowded, dangerous streets, and relief for at-capacity schools.

The people who live here have proposed alternatives, like public-private partnerships, mixed-use allocations of the land, and making it a key part of a more active, less car-dependent bikeable/walkable DeLand. Their comments have produced some minor compromises between the City Commission and the developer, but the result falls far short of the citizenry’s vision.

I readily admit to not knowing the legal minutiae of planning boards, PUDs and R1A zoning. I am unburdened by the technical reasons that supposedly tie city commissioners’ hands, or why they are prevented from listening to the will and preferences of a near-unanimous majority of DeLand’s 32,000 citizens.

But, in my naiveté, I cannot help but think that there are some compromises, some actions palatable both to DeLand’s citizens, as well as those who plan to profit and run.

Outside-of-the-box solutions? Federal grants for city parks (a real thing). A local referendum? A special-case change to the zoning plan? A fancy one-time legal maneuver? Heck, if Congress can do it regularly, why can’t we save Southridge Park, just this once?

I’m not an attorney, but I believe there’s a way to get this done, to preserve most or all of this beautiful Southridge space on behalf of our people and our city.

What is your vision for Southridge? Can you take action and help?

See you at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave., for the City Commission meeting that begins at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2.

— Trained in industrial-organizational psychology, Heeter specialized in learning and workplace performance, and knowledge management. He now avoids hard scheduling demands through hobbies like kayaking, woodworking and reading.


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