Bob Fitzsimmons is a DeLand-based developer and homebuilder whose company, Gallery Homes, has developed, by his own estimation, about 1,000 West Volusia homes.
He attends the meetings, reads the articles and hears what people think about growth and development. Fitzsimmons says people need to realize, none of this is as simple as it’s often made out to be.
“When it comes down to just pointing at the trees, or the density, or the gophers or whatever else it may be that’s your passion, you’ve oversimplified the problem to a huge degree,” he said.
Behind the scenes, Fitzsimmons said, is the process a development proposal goes through at the staff level before coming before the community and its elected City Commission or County Council for a vote.
That process can be arduous, and involves extensive work to make sure all of the state and local regulations are being followed. Then the development is unveiled at a public meeting and shredded by speaker after speaker.
It’s time, Fitzsimmons said, to “give the staff a break.”
He explained, “They finish gett ing bloodied by the development community, thinking they’ve done a good job and then next thing you know the citizens are attacking them. I really have a lot of empathy for them, and I probably shouldn’t as a developer, but I do.”
Fitzsimmons is especially rankled by the frequent complaint that the staff is in cahoots with developers. As much as he might like to have a staff member in his pocket, that’s not really an option.
“I fight tooth and nail with them on a regular basis,” Fitzsimmons said. “Then they’re getting in front of the council or the commission and the next thing they do is get crucified by the public and accused of being in our back pocket, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
So where should you direct your ire if you’re tired of homes being built near you? Fitzsimmons says to aim your sights at your city’s or county’s comprehensive plan.
“If there was anything I’d like to see, it is all the interested parties getting together and really understanding the existing comp plan and then looking at it and deciding to change it so it does ‘this’ instead of ‘that.’” he said. “To continue to just say ‘not in my backyard’ doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me.”
After all, it’s a free country, he said.
“If I decide I want to live in the mountains of Wyoming because I’ve had enough of the population of Florida, I can, and nobody can stop me. But if somebody from New York wants to move to Florida, they have the same right!” Fitzsimmons said. “We have to stop screaming, and put our heads together and figure out what we want Florida to look like in the next 10 years … . They’re coming whether we want them or not.”
That’s why, he said, he supports the construction of housing on the former Southridge Golf Course in DeLand, for example. The development, fairly near to the city center, would serve as an infill development, instead of sprawl.
“If we’re not infilling, not concentrating that population, it’s going to sprawl. Those are the only choices we have,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m not saying I like them, but I’m being a realist. We can’t put a fence on the border, and we can’t tell folks they can’t come here anymore.”