The controversial 700-home development known as Beresford Reserve is off the table for at least two months, but the plan for a former golf course on DeLand’s south side has already changed the city.
Dozens of people who weren’t previously involved in city business are involved now. They know their way to DeLand City Hall and aren’t afraid to step up to the microphone and share their opinions about how their city should develop.
And, more change could be on the way. Some of these newly active residents are eyeing the 2022 elections, when the five-member DeLand City Commission could potentially get four new members.
Power to the people
Over the past few months, DeLand residents made it clear how they feel about Beresford Reserve. Many think the former golf course shouldn’t have a single home on it.
From environmental concerns — the presence of a former construction-and-demolition dump, and pesticides like arsenic and dieldrin — to fears that developers are bulldozing every tree possible, to concerns about traffic congestion resulting from densely packed housing developments, the public has been vocal.
When Beresford Reserve, then named Beresford Springs, was first working its way through the DeLand Planning Board early this year, DeLandite and avid golfer Dave Ballesteros got up multiple times before the city boards to suggest alternatives.
Ballesteros said the project has made him, and others, more interested in how development gets approved by the city.
“I think people are feeling that getting up there and speaking out can have an impact on things,” he said. “It went from being a couple voices to a lot.”
One such voice is DeLandite Jack Davis.
Davis has followed DeLand’s growth for years, but he has noticed an upswing in others’ interest, too.
“It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back, maybe,” Davis said. “People are coming here, but why do we have to pack them in like sardines?”
Davis and some other DeLandites keen on slowing development have started a group called Smart Growth DeLand with the intent of putting pressure on the city to expand more creatively.
“Maybe we need to change some rules around here,” Davis said. “We’ve got some good people on board. They’re sick of it, too.”
One of the people on board is Stetson University professor of environmental science Dr. Wendy Anderson.
Anderson — who writes for The Beacon as part of the “Imagine West Volusia” column series — sees Beresford Reserve as representing more than just Beresford Reserve.
“It’s a real pivot point in this community for getting the conversation going about where we’re going,” she said. “The golf course has been a trigger for this conversation.”
Everything is political
Some of those upset with what they see as a City Commission that rubber-stamps development proposals are looking forward to upcoming elections.
In 2022, Mayor Bob Apgar will be retiring from the seat he will have held for 21 years. Also, City Commission Seats 3 and 5, currently occupied by City Commissioners Jessica Davis and Kevin Reid, respectively, will be up for re-election. And, because Commissioner Chris Cloudman is resigning to run for mayor, his Seat 4 will also be on the ballot.
City Commission meetings — and, unsurprisingly, Facebook comments sections — don’t go long before calls of “Vote them out!” and “Take back our city!” are heard.
City Commissioner Charles Paiva, the one out of five commissioners whose seat will not be on the ballot in 2022, agreed that development is top of mind for much of DeLand.
“Obviously, driving around, we understand the challenges of growth,” he said. “I do think, absolutely, the No. 1 issue in the next election is going to be growth.”
During the city’s recent budget discussions, Paiva said, nearly every city department acknowledged costs and growing pains related to growth.
“It won’t be the first time growth concerns have been part of the concerns related to city elections, or a county election, for that matter,” Mayor Apgar told The Beacon.
While the issue is important — and something he is observing all over Volusia County — Apgar noted that controversial developments are not always as simple as a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
“It’s far different sitting on the dais and having to balance a whole host of interests, as well as having to follow the law and what’s required, than it is to be in the audience and not be bound by those same constraints,” Apgar said. “We live here too … We all care very much about our community and its long-term well-being.”
While a decision on Beresford Reserve could still come this year, Anderson believes the project may be something citizens remember at the ballot box.
“In a year when there’s so many seats opening up on the City Commission,” she said, “It’s a great time to envision where we’re headed next. Where we want to go.”
Thinking beyond par
It is unclear just how different the Beresford Reserve development proposal will look when it comes back, but the public’s vocal protests have made a difference up to this point.
“I think some of the things the public has brought up are things we’ve directly tried to put in,” DeLand attorney Mark Watts said. “I think they’ve made some valid points.”
Watts, of Cobb Cole, represents Beresford Reserve applicant Sandhill Enterprises LLC.
Watts cited the example of transportation options. The development now includes a bike-friendly path connecting East Beresford and East Euclid avenues. This, he said, was included because of public commentary, specifically that of DeLandite and Beacon columnist Maggie Ardito.
Each time the project has come back before the City Commission with revisions, Anderson has been a little happier with it.
She would rather have no project at all, she said, but by speaking out, she believes residents have played a part in improving the plan.
When Beresford Reserve does come back, City Commissioner Charles Paiva said, he fears it may come back, not as a planned development, but as a traditionally zoned subdivision.
That could change the impact of public comment on the plan, because the rules for traditional zoning are fixed, and can’t be customized to suit the public’s — or the City Commission’s — wishes.
The land’s current zoning would allow 5.28 homes per gross acre on the majority of the parcel. That doesn’t mean, however, that a total of 887 homes could be built on the 167 acres, because part of the land may be unbuildable, or will go for roads or stormwater retention, and lots of at least 75 feet wide and homes of at least 1,400 square feet would be required.
“It started out, the plan was 861 units, and that was universally disagreed with by the commission. They came back and came back to, I believe, 719; that still didn’t work with the commission,” Paiva said.
“It’s kind of my understanding they may be looking at more of a traditional zoning and not a planned development.”
“Planned development” zoning is a method for the city and an applicant to tailor projects with elements that differ from the regular zoning guidelines that dictate house size and lot size, for example.
With traditional zoning, those guidelines apply without exception, and the applicant, as well as the city, lose the opportunity to modify the plan outside of those rules.
Not to mention, the public may have fewer opportunities to dictate the terms of the development by speaking out about it, since with traditional zoning, unlike PD zoning, the rules cannot be customized.
DeLand City Commissioner Chris Cloudman said he was happy to see the Beresford Reserve project tabled at the Aug. 2 DeLand City Commission meeting, rather than continued yet again.
“It’s not fair to the people who are most concerned with it to think it’s going to be back for discussion every two weeks,” Cloudman said. “Let’s put it to rest before they’re ready to present whatever their next iteration is.”
When asked when the project may come back, developer’s attorney Watts said the applicant is aiming for sometime in October.
“We’re still moving forward, still working on revised plans,” he told The Beacon. “We’ve just been trying to take into account the things the commission told us at the last meetings and incorporate that into the plan.”
Those concerns include homes being too densely packed, lots being too small, and making an already dangerous intersection — East Beresford and South Boston avenues — more dangerous with a new row of shops.
Before it comes back, some city commissioners hope to see further changes.
“There’s still a lot of elements in that plan that needed to be tweaked and reworked, and I agree there’s some imagination and elements that could be added to improve it,” City Commissioner Kevin Reid told The Beacon. “In the same sense, they are a landowner and they have a right to petition the commission for their plan. They own the land and, unfortunately, the city does not.”
You can be part of it
When Beresford Reserve comes back before the City Commission — likely in October, per Watts — the project probably will again look different. And, members of the public will have more opportunities to come before their elected officials and share how they feel.
The DeLand City Commission usually meets on the first and third Monday of every month at 7 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave.
Meeting agendas are made public the Friday before each meeting on the City of DeLand’s website. Make sure to stay up to date with The Beacon for notice on when the fate of the old Southridge Golf Course comes back before the City Commission.
And get there early if you want a good seat.