For more than a year, DeLand residents and elected officials have sparred over Cresswind, a 600-home, age-55-and-up community planned for 318 acres of Lake Winnemissett’s eastern shore.
With unanimous agreement by the DeLand City Commission, construction plans for the development’s first phase got the go-ahead at a regular City Commission meeting Nov. 15.
Phase 1 of Cresswind includes 155 of the project’s total 600 homes, and will consume 88.86 acres of the project’s total 318 acres.
The City Commission and city staff have agonized over the development for hours’ worth of meetings, while members of the public have carved out time in their lives to sit through long sessions, waiting for their three minutes each of comment time to rebuke their elected representatives.
For much of the evening of Nov. 15, however, you almost wouldn’t know Cresswind has been one of DeLand’s most controversial development proposals in recent memory.
Helping quell the audience’s concerns was a nearly 30-minute discussion from representatives of the developer, Lake Park Estates LLC, who zeroed-in on the importance of littoral shelves, “bioswales” and other innovative environmental features that will help protect Lake Winnemissett.
Even critics of the undertaking had hesitant praise for the work done on Cresswind since it first surfaced more than a year ago.
“This is what I’ve been hoping for! This is what EVERY development you all approve ought to have!” Dr. Wendy Anderson said in a statement submitted in writing to the City Commission. “As I challenged [homebuilder] Kolter to do, and as the Commission required in the approved Planned Development Plan, they have designed a plan that can become the role model for other developments in DeLand and beyond.”
Anderson, an outspoken environmentalist, Stetson University environmental science professor and chair of the Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District, was tapped to testify as an expert in previous Cresswind hearings. She has long been critical of putting 600 homes at one of DeLand’s gateways and right along a body of water.
But landscape architect Don Hearing, speaking for Cresswind developer Kolter Homes, stressed the company’s dedication to protecting Lake Winnemissett and the environment at large.
Take, for instance, the “treatment train,” which will naturally reduce the volume of nitrogen and phosphorus introduced to waterways by passing runoff water through a number of roadblocks before it can go to waterways or the aquifer under our feet. One part of the treatment train will be “bioswales.”
Anderson explained: “A depression that is natural, or designed with deep-rooted, native vegetation that helps slow down water that runs off of impervious surfaces like roads, and even compacted sod or sand. The bioswale either takes up that water with any dissolved nutrients or helps it infiltrate deeper into the ground.”
Were Cresswind one of her students, Anderson said, she would give it an A-minus, not an A-plus. That’s because, Anderson said, she still mourns the loss of so many trees that will be felled to make way for Cresswind’s construction.
The total project calls for the removal of 11,542 “inches” of tree — measured in diameter from a point 4.5 feet from the ground. Of those, 1,999 inches will be replaced by new trees, City Forester Mariellen Calabro said. However, many inches that aren’t replaced by trees will be replaced by cash.
Cresswind’s developers owe DeLand $715,725, half of which will be paid to the Tree Replacement Reserve Account, per Calabro, and the other half will be paid in bonds for future use.
Cresswind would not look this way, Mark Watts of Cobb Cole in DeLand, representing the applicant, said, if not for the involvement of the public.
“I think this is one of the projects we’ve focused on the most in terms of how we’re protecting the environment,” he said. “This really does set a new standard.”
Members of the public and some Lake Winnemissett residents, however, did not accept the development sitting down, changes or not.
Among them was Nancy LaRiviere, a regular opponent of Cresswind who has spoken at numerous hearings for the project. One concern of hers, she said, was that the environmental provisions are all talk.
“If Lake Winnemissett turns green, I will personally sue the city, Kolter, and possibly the individuals of Lake Park Estates,” LaRiviere said.
LaRiviere, along with other residents, brought water bottles for the city commissioners. In one, she said, was clear water taken from Lake Winnemissett. The other contained murky water that she said was taken from a pond in the Victoria Park subdivision.
Developer Kolter also built the Victoria Park and Victoria Hills neighborhoods in DeLand.
Other speakers took a different tack, like Barry Brassard.
“What we must do now is be very diligent about how the rules are followed, and they’ve done a great job making a template for future developments,” Brassard said. “We must make sure the procedures are adhered to and inspections are proper, and that the right thing to do is done.”
And then there was John Engle, a Lake Winnemissett resident who reminded city commissioners that next year is an election year.
“Sentiments in this town have changed recently, and the tides have turned against you, against the reckless expansion allowed by this City Commission,” said Engle, who identified his residence as the “East New York parking lot.” Traffic congestion on New York Avenue, especially during rush hours, has been a key concern with regard to adding more homes.
He continued, “Between this project and Beresford Reserve, that you’re going to hear next week, you have broken the proverbial camel’s back. The city is against you. A yes vote today and a yes vote next week is a no vote on your re-election next year. Do what is right, or you will be fired and your legacies will be tarnished.”
But the Nov. 15 vote — on a plat — was different from earlier votes on the development. When discussing rezoning, for example, the City Commission has more legal wiggle room than it does when voting only on whether a plat meets specific requirements.
“Unlike a rezoning hearing, where the commission has much more discretion to deny an application … when it comes to approval of a plat, a preliminary plat, your discretion is far more limited,” City Attorney Darren Elkind said. “If the application meets with the technical requirements of the zoning code, and of the land-development regulations and other applicable regulations, then you have to approve it. The law is very clear on that point.”
When Cresswind sought rezoning for the 318 acres near Lake Winnemissett in 2020, it was approved by a 4-1 vote on its first reading and a 3-2 vote on its second reading, which was held during a special meeting to allow for more discussion time.
The lone dissenting vote initially was City Commissioner Charles Paiva, and he was joined by City Commissioner Chris Cloudman when the development came back before the City Commission. Voting on the plat Nov. 15, both men voted in favor.
The book is not completely shut on Cresswind. Phase 1 is just one of four phases that will have to come before the DeLand Planning Board and the DeLand City Commission for final approvals before construction can begin.
If history serves as any guide, you can bet Lake Winnemissett residents will continue to show up to demand what is best for the lake at their doorsteps.