Could Southridge be a catalyst for a better DeLand?
DeLand citizens are up-in-arms about development of the old Southridge Golf Course. More than 1,200 people signed a petition, and more than 100 have contacted BetterDeLand@gmail.com to voice public outrage. Yet-louder voices are building.
Reasons vary: Cries for protecting the environment and for parks and public space top the list. But what about traffic congestion, noise, pollution and safety hazards to our Downtown streets?
We cherish the quiet streets in our quaint, authentic town, but the reality is, quiet streets are slipping away, ravaged by noisy, congested, polluting and hazardous traffic from the uncontrolled development rampage.
This week, I was fortunate to spend a few days exploring Holland, Michigan, a town exactly the size of DeLand that has managed to retain its authentic charm and character with a connected network of parks and trails.
At the Holland visitors bureau, I learned that, in 1980, while forming a public/private partnership for a streetscape project, one major benefactor made participation contingent on commitment to reserving one-third of the land for public green space, parks and trails.
Now a vibrant, active town bustles with people dining, shopping, socializing, spending, and enjoying a trail network that connects a vast park system, including a 170-acre former golf course turned nature preserve.
Imagine DeLand with this wealth of public space and trails connecting to the 167-acre walkable and bikeable Southridge Park. In this vision, we’re a model city like those featured in the series of articles on the social, economic and environmental benefits of walkable cities (see these on our Facebook page at Smart Growth West Volusia).
With each new development, this vision slips further away. Imagine DeLand 2026: 700 new houses (1,000 new vehicles) right Downtown, heaped on thousands already underway. Imagine Monday morning: East Beresford Avenue has straight, wide vehicle lanes inviting speeds of 40 mph or more. At 40 mph, 90 percent of people who are struck die.
How do the children get to school? Already children can’t walk or bike to school because of “too much traffic.” Traffic compounds congestion and yet-longer lines, squandering adults’ time and youths’ potential for fitness and self-reliance.
In the past decades, DeLand’s population has doubled while infrastructure and public space lag. City and county claim “no budget” for safe roadways — only for fast ones.
Volusia cities, to our shame, top national lists for pedestrian and cyclist deaths and serious injuries. Meanwhile, the extreme unmanaged development pace continues unabated without effective growth management.
The few existing and planned road infrastructure projects are not improvements — they fail to consider pedestrian safety and future transportation modes. Plans continue to favor cars and speed with too-wide vehicle lanes (sometimes multiple) and no protected bike paths.
While transportation options like e-bikes, micromobility devices, disability aids and intermodal transit innovations offer potential solutions, these only work in areas with supportive infrastructure.
That can only happen if
a) The city and county implement effective, enforceable plans and
b) Those who profit from growth pay for future impact of what they are building.
Commissioners and council members claim they don’t have the authority and tools to manage growth — yet it’s their job to demand those tools and plans.
Officials must acknowledge their mandate to be advocates for the voters who elected them by finding the means to manage growth. Voters want a moratorium on more developments until effective, enforceable growth management and mobility plans are in place.
Southridge is the catalyst for a better DeLand that voters won’t soon forget. The City Commission should vote “NO!” on changes that allow development of Southridge, and use the time bought to create effective, enforceable plans for the improvement of DeLand.
If the battle is lost, we lose faith in our vision for DeLand and in our City Commission. If won, we stand together to find a stronger, better DeLand.
— Ardito is president of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance and a board member with the River of Lakes National Scenic Byway. She sees policies, infrastructure and attitudes that enable safe and equitable active mobility as keys to a sustainable quality of life for people and communities.