After two hours of debate over a proposal to build more than 600 new homes close to the DeLand train station, Volusia County’s Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission voted in favor of the development, called Villages at Pelham Square.
The Planning Commission vote takes the form of a recommendation that the Volusia County Council also OK the project.
PLDRC members talked about the possibility of traffic congestion on State Road 44 at the roundabout with Grand Avenue, west of DeLand.
“I can see the traffic,” PLDRC Chair Ronnie Mills said, adding, “It’s just that we don’t have the infrastructure in place.”
The PLDRC ultimately voted 4-2 in support of Villages at Pelham Square, after initially deadlocking on the plan.
Villages at Pelham Square would be a new community on the south side of State Road 44 at Grand Avenue.
The developer, Richard Wohlfarth, is asking the county to rezone 123 acres from Light Industrial and Transitional Agriculture to Planned Unit Development (PUD).
The land is within the SunRail DeLand Activity Center, a special 313-acre district created in 2013 in anticipation of commuter-rail service being extended to DeLand.
“We’re looking at the first residents in late ’22 or early ’23,” Wohlfarth said.
After years of delays, completion of the original SunRail system with daily service to and from DeLand is on track for the latter part of 2023 or 2024.
SunRail now operates between Poinciana in Osceola County and DeBary, a distance of approximately 49 miles, with downtown Orlando as its anchor.
Volusia County is borrowing more than $11 million to pay its share of the estimated $42 million capital cost of extending the system to DeLand.
The cost includes laying another set of new tracks along segments of the existing CSX rail line and building a SunRail station and parking lot next to the DeLand Amtrak station.
A car — or two — in every new garage
While the addition of SunRail’s DeLand stop will bring additional traffic, PLDRC members were divided over the impact of Villages at Pelham Square on the area’s roads.
“The developer will pay for any improvements on transportation,” county Senior Planning Manager Susan Jackson told the PLDRC. Wohlfarth agreed.
“We’re not walking away. We’re paying a very substantial amount of impact fees,” he said.
Villages at Pelham Square’s residential development alone will probably generate almost $1.7 million in road impact fees. On top of the impact fees, the developer will also be responsible for paying a proportionate “fair share” to offset some of the effects of additional vehicles on the roads.
Mills said he has “sat at Grand Avenue” during rush hours waiting for an opportunity to turn onto S.R. 44.
“In the mornings when the traffic comes from Lake County to the DeLand area, you can hardly get out of there,” he said.
Mills noted there is a similar reverse traffic flow from DeLand westward in the late afternoons.
Mills said he has learned from Florida Department of Transportation officials that there is nothing in the five-year plan for the improvement of West State Road 44.
“Traffic’s bad, and you get a lot of 18-wheelers,” Planning Commissioner Stony Sixma said.
Sixma likened the traffic woes at S.R. 44 and Grand Avenue to the chokepoint at East State Road 44 and Kepler Road.
“We’ve got a major problem,” he said.
“I understand with development comes traffic,” Commissioner Frank Costa said.
Commissioner Jay Young said he has watched the traffic volumes — and the demand for more roadway capacity — mount where he lives along LPGA Boulevard in Daytona Beach.
“It went from one lane to two lanes to four lanes,” Young noted. “Right now, we could use eight lanes. … you can’t keep up with it.”
Villages at Pelham Square, when fully built out according to the proposal now pending, will have 648 dwellings, including 114 single-family homes, 210 town houses and 324 apartments. There will also be 55,650 square feet of commercial space along State Road 44. The residential portions of the project will be accessed by an internal network of streets and alleys. Wohlfarth said almost half of the project’s acreage — 48 percent — will be open space.
The panel splits
First, a motion to approve the Villages rezoning failed on a 3-3 vote. Commissioners Costa, Young and Richard Feller voted in favor, while Mills, Vice Chair Jeffrey Bender and Sixma opposed it. PLDRC Secretary Edith Shelley was absent.
Seeing the deadlock, Bender announced he would change his vote, and he moved for approval of the rezoning.
“Let the County Council deal with it,” he said.
The second roll call yielded a 4-2 decision, with only Mills and Sixma dissenting.
The recommendation for approval of the rezoning for Villages at Pelham Square is slated to go before the County Council at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Let’s plan for a noise buffer
Not least, the rezoning of the 123 acres for Villages at Pelham Square came with concerns that a possible nuisance for the future settlers should be addressed ahead of time.
Anticipating complaints from residents in the new housing who will not like the noise coming from his scrap-metal business, Dominion Metal Recycling President Bart Phillips urged the placement of a barrier or buffer between his property and Wohlfarth’s tract.
“I was not contacted by the developer, and I would love to work with the developer,” Phillips told the PLDRC.
Some suggested noise walls, similar to those along Interstate highways, while others said trees make a better buffer.
“This is a high-pitched sound, metal dropping,” PLDRC Member Jay Young said.
A rail spur from the CSX line serves Dominion Metal Recycling, where scrap metal is loaded into open cars and hauled away for reuse.