Election will shape DeLand’s future
Continuing our conversation on growth and development in West Volusia, we reached out to the three men currently running for election as DeLand’s mayor, to solicit their comments on the topic.
DeLand’s election will take place Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. In addition to the mayoral seat, three other City Commission seats will be on the ballot, so four out of five commissioners could be new.
In each race, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast Aug. 23, a runoff election will take place Tuesday, Nov. 8, between the two candidates who got the most votes.
Although three candidates have announced their intention to run for mayor, the field of candidates won’t be final until official qualifying ends in June 2022.
Buz Nesbit currently serves on the DeLand Planning Board and has previously served on the DeLand Historic Preservation Board. An active member of the DeLand Breakfast Rotary. Nesbit works as a Realtor for Town and Country Realty, where he has worked since 2014 after retiring from a 30-year career working as an executive in cable television.
“Citizens, board members, community-activist groups, and even developers have all been frustrated by the city’s failure to maintain clear guidelines on growth and development.
“Therefore, with a lack of clarity, the state has moved to step in and usurp the cities by reducing home rule in this area. Why is the state Legislature doing that? Because the developers’ more powerful lobbyists have convinced the state that the cities are not being consistent and clear in their zoning direction.
“To stop the erosion of the city’s ability to grow in ways the community desires, the city must establish more consistent zoning definitions and categories, with the input of all stakeholders.
“Our mayor has voiced his frustration with the city’s hands being tied by the legal requirements of the ‘Bert Harris’ state statute. Yet he believes planned-development zoning gives the city stronger negotiating power that ultimately leads to better outcomes. Many DeLand residents vigorously disagree. We must establish a higher baseline of zoning provisions, so we start the negotiations at that more-desirable minimum level.
“Unless the status quo is good enough for DeLand’s future, we have to make some changes. More progressive zoning categories would give citizens, city officials and landowners a clear map of what land uses are compatible with our desires for our community’s future. While previous planning and zoning efforts have now exceeded our community’s appetite for growth, it is not too late to stop and reconsider.
“It is time to pause growth. We need to solicit community input and work on a sensible zoning map and comprehensive plan for 21st-century communities and values.
“This will require hard work from us, but we can do it with a clear, transparent and open process. One that invites all stakeholders to the table and serves the interests of all members of our community.
“So long as the city does not single out an individual or a group and arbitrarily or capriciously impose burdensome rules, regulations or ordinances/statutes, and does uphold its standards to ensure the community’s health, safety or welfare, then they are not at risk of liability for an actionable taking.
“The same applies for changes in the zoning designations. If the new zoning criteria are applied consistently within the city limits, rather than relying so heavily on the constantly shifting standards of the grab-bag planned-development negotiations, the city should be safe from claims that the approval process “inordinately burdened” the property owner.
“There are communities in Florida with more restrictive zoning than DeLand. We should be leading, not following, but it’s not too late to learn from others.
“It is time for new leadership in DeLand. And it is time for the city to solicit developers who share our values and who will be eager to align with our standards. That should make it easier for city staff and commissioners to approve community projects that areembraced by the public.”
Chris Cloudman currently serves on the DeLand City Commission; he was appointed to the post in 2014, and subsequently elected. He works in energy conservation for a Dallas-based company called Cenergistic, which is under contract with Stetson University to help reduce energy consumption on campus.
“We’ve definitely been seeing a large increase in the number of development applications over the last several years, and that can definitely be overwhelming for people in DeLand.
“It’s quite overwhelming for those of us who are having to make the decisions on these. It gets to be a bit taxing, to the point where you want to take each application and look at them individually and judge them on their own merit, but in the back of your mind, you have the fact that multiple other developments have been approved, and they don’t exist in a vacuum.
“There’s multiple layers to each one. There’s what you feel personally — obviously I would like to see areas not developed and kept natural — and then there’s the job you’re charged to do, and that’s to take the applications as they come in, and hold them to what the guidelines are that are set forth at this point.
“It’s difficult to separate those two sometimes, when you’re looking at everything that’s going on at once. It’s easy on Facebook comments on articles to say “Oh, I would never do that!” and maybe personally I’m thinking that myself, but I try to be as unbiased as possible going into each application, and to hear both sides and judge them according to the criteria set forth.
“Does that mean we don’t need to look at the criteria itself? No.
“That’s something I’ve been pushing at, and I think the City Commission as a whole wants to have planning staff bring back changes to our land-development regulations.
“If those are the guidelines and rules we’re supposed to be holding them to, if we don’t like what we’re seeing, we need to look at the guidelines and rules to see if there are any possible changes there.
“I’ve been trying to do what I can over the years of pushing back and implementing positive changes, and I think the whole City Commission wants to see, in the end, a better project than what’s initially proposed each time.
“I definitely want to look deeper into best practices. It’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed about sitting on the East Central Florida Planning Council. You hear something they’re doing in Seminole County, or somewhere else in Central Florida, and think that’s a great idea. There have been cases of that recently, where I’ve forwarded these ideas to city leadership, whether that’s in regard to affordable housing or development in general, a lot of good practices in low-impact development or environmental initiatives. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to look at that.
“I encourage people to stay involved. It’s always important to reach out to people who are elected. There will always be opportunity for public input at a meeting, but you’re kind of limited to a one-way conversation for three minutes. That’s the beauty of having local elected officials; we’re at the PTA meeting next to you or in the grocery store. We’re always willing to meet for coffee to talk or talk on the phone. I think a lot of good is coming from that proactive participation.”
Reggie Williams is a pastor of Emmanuel Christian Ministries Inc., as well as chairman of the board overseeing the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand. Williams also worked for more than 20 years for Volusia County as a management director, among other roles.
“Growth and development bring forth challenging issues, and there are no easy answers.
“The Beacon’s recent coverage has evidenced how state laws have all but taken away local government’s ability to slow down development simply to keep up with the services it demands.
“Does this mean nothing can be done to control or manage growth? No. I still believe there remain mechanisms to ensure quality community growth.
“First and foremost is the proper application by local elected officials of our comprehensive plan when reviewing new projects. Proper application holds developers accountable to meet minimum standards as outlined in the plan.
“Second, growth is occurring in newly annexed areas and the surrounding unincorporated areas. Making changes to intergovernmental coordination agreements, which strengthen the city’s role in reviewing these developments, enables land-use continuity for our city.
“Lastly, it is incumbent upon elected officials to enforce what they hear their citizens saying loud and clear: Do not rubber-stamp every project, and help retain the unique charm of our beautiful city.”