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Greg Heeter

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Greg Heeter

In a city’s true Vision for Growth, the requirements for “fair and balanced” are two hugely desirable and utterly necessary operating principles. For this discussion, I looked up their definitions.

“FAIR” means “in accordance with the rules, without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage; neither very good nor very bad”; and “BALANCED” means “effectively arranged, proportioned, regulated; taking everything into account.”

With regard to land development in DeLand: It’s NOPE and NOPE.

Imagine a city where pro-development prejudices are not so well-entrenched in discussions and processes, and ordinances are not written so vaguely as to be easily evaded or ignored.

In our city, they are frequently interpreted in favor of the housing industry — or simply not applied. Citizens are swimming upstream against weak development constraints, mushy processes, and “my hands are tied” excuses in City Hall.

Despite reassuring guidelines and vision statements, few people priorities are applied — to parks, transportation or amenities.

For example, the DeLand City Ordinance 2019-10 preamble emphasizes “planning elements of… more usable and accessible open spaces.” Then Section 6, Chapter 33-32.01; Item 3, advises to: “Preserve to the greatest extent possible, and utilize in a harmonious fashion, existing landscaping features and amenities,” and continues with, “Provide for more usable and suitable recreational facilities, open spaces and scenic areas…”

That’s nice. But the developer of the 167-acre Southridge/Sandhill Golf Course is proposing to cut and burn essentially all ancient live oaks and pines, bulldoze the hilly landscape to flat sand, and replant saplings along the asphalt and nearly 700 homes.

The new trees won’t mature and provide shade for a generation. And neighborhood open space dribbles in at maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of the land available. Does that sound to you like “fair and balanced” application of city plans and ordinances?

Yet, on the city commissioners’ dais there are softball questions and thoughtful nods — while the public groans and protests.

With the thousands of new cookie-cutter rooftops approved by this City Commission in the past couple of years covering 20-plus newly created neighborhoods, why is the outcome so radically skewed in favor of builders, while the public always loses? Lincoln Oaks, Victoria Oaks … no oaks. Even for the math-challenged, it’s clear that thousands of new homes vs. essentially zero new public park acreage is a very, very bad ratio. Where is the fair and balanced?

Oh, and Ordinance Item 3.n. attempts to emphasize the point again: “… planned developments (PDs) are expected to include exceptional design that preserves critical environmental resources… [and provide for] above average open space and recreational amenities… .”

“Above average open space” for public use might consist of one-third or one-half of a property (55-85 acres at Southridge), not a measly 20-25 acres of undevelopable city dump and scattered “pocket park” lots. Even the handful of historic trees left behind are unlikely to thrive after extreme bulldozing and leveling of the site, and soil compaction from surrounding construction.

In DeLand, the city ordinances and the “DeLand 2050” plan are vague enough for any rookie lawyer or commission member to dance around while simultaneously pondering what to have for lunch. The “DeLand 2050” vision statement was written 11 years ago, and since then more than 8,000 new residents have chosen DeLand as home.

In West Volusia, there remains sufficient land to satisfy everyone’s needs. But without a doubt, there is not enough to satisfy the greed of all developers swarming to the area. At the City Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 4, let’s urge city leadership to introduce some “fair and balanced” requirements into their decisions — beginning with the plans for the large, centrally located former Southridge/Sandhill Golf Course.

— Trained in industrial-organizational psychology, Greg is now retired and works to encourage efficient processes, wise decision-making, and a good quality of life.


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