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A STORIED HISTORY — The former Southridge Golf Course, whose rusty and twisted entry gate is shown at left, is the subject of a controversial development proposal that will be heard by the DeLand City Commission Monday, Nov. 22. But this is hardly the property’s first time in the spotlight, from the appointment of an official rat-killer to the land’s role in DeLand city elections. Noah Hertz combs the newspaper archives to bring you highlights from the Southridge legacy. BEACON PHOTO/BARB SHEPHERD

You’re invited 

WHAT? The first reading of a rezoning request for the former Southridge Golf Course, to allow a mixed-use development 

WHEN? At 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22 

WHERE? In City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave. 

 

The old Southridge Golf Course in southeast DeLand has had the attention of city staff, city commissioners and members of the public for months now, since plans to develop more than 600 homes there surfaced.

But this is far from the first time this land has been in the spotlight.  

From concerns about heavy pesticides used there during the golf-course days, to the property’s history as a city dump, Southridge has a heck of a legacy.

The following are some of the greatest hits from local news archives.

On Saturday, March 2, 1940, the DeLand Sun News announced that the City of DeLand had purchased a 160-acre parcel bounded by Hill and Beresford avenues for a whopping $750 in back taxes. 

The land was previously owned by Livingston Holding Co. of St. Augustine, the newspaper reported. The deal was agreed upon during a closed session of the City Commission that Saturday morning.

The Sun News said the property was purchased for use as a city dump and a “reforestation project.”

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the city dump made headlines numerous times in the Sun News, thanks to a rat problem, attempts to reclaim iron scrap metal dumped there, and the smell emanating from the property.

There was also the “Mystery of Dead Horse in City Dump,” according to one 1948 headline, when the horse’s body was found amid the household discards and whatever else had been dumped there. 

“It’s bad enough when they bring dead dogs out here,” a dump employee told the Sun News. “But horses, that’s carrying things a little too far.”

The dump’s rat problem was reported as a serious issue in 1941, when City Health Officer George Frison said, “I feel that the most urgent problem from a public-health standpoint is the problem of rat eradication from our city, particularly in the stores handling foodstuffs. I believe one of the sources of the rats is our city dump.”

In an effort to curb the rat scourge, the city began dumping rat poison on the dump. This enraged DeLand resident Curly Rose, who, in 1951, came before the DeLand City Council to argue that rat poison on the dump was a danger to children and dogs. 

Immediately, the city’s elected officials deputized 79-year-old Rose as “official rat exterminator,” and told him he could “choose his own weapons.” 

The Sun News reported, “Curly began rat-killing with a .22 caliber pistol, but finding the rats too evasive, switched to a rifle.”

Rose wasn’t the only one firing weapons at the dump. Stetson University’s crack-shot ROTC rifle team was referred to as “orphans of the corps” in a 1957 Sun News article, because “members practice at the National Guard Armory when available, but most of the time in clay pits … .” Those pits included the dump, where the team won a “Third Army” title in a match there.

The city dump is not referenced many other times in the early 1950s, but it became a hot topic again in the runup to local elections in the late 1950s.

J.A. Buffo, a candidate for City Commission in 1958, proclaimed in his campaign advertisement in the Sun News: “Let’s give the folks who live in the area of our city dump some consideration.” 

Another candidate that year, D.W. Ewing, promised he would “Work to eliminate, if possible, the city dump, and for proper incineration of the city refuse.” This was the second plank in his policy platform. Only one concern ranked higher: “Work to improve Ward 2.” 

Come 1961, three men, incumbents R.E. Lee, Marshall Lane and James West, were running for re-election to their seats on the DeLand City Commission. In a campaign advertisement, they listed among their noteworthy accomplishments while in office: “Moved the city dump to an outlying area.” 

Sure enough, on Aug. 17, 1959, the City Commission had sold off 122.6 acres of the former dump to husband-and-wife duo George and May Stetter. 

This land was the talk of the town for several years, as Sun News columnist Bernard Bishop noted in a March 1963 edition of his “City Hall Chatter” column. 

“The city’s sale of the land for about $500 an acre has been controversial from the outset,” Bishop wrote. “In the agreement, the city promised to pave the border streets and to furnish sewer and water lines up to the property as general development of the land progressed.” 

By 1965, Bishop remarked, the city had agreed to pave the perimeter streets — East Euclid and Beresford avenues to the north and south, and Boston and Hill avenues to the west and east. The city also agreed to handle the sewer outlets and connections. 

By July 1968, construction was nearing completion on DeLand’s newest golf course: Southridge. 

“A portion of the course is over what was once the site of DeLand’s city dump,” Sun News writer Otto Allen noted. “It was abandoned as a dump site about 10 years ago.”

Allen continued, “Needless to say, converting raw acreage into a golf course in less than one year is quite an accomplishment.” 

I’ll say!

The Stetters also envisioned housing near the old city dump, and this dream was semi-realized when George Stetter received approval from the DeLand Planning Board in the early 1970s to build “the Southridge condominiums.” 

Following its conversion from a dump to a golf course frequented by DeLand residents, Southridge largely remained out of the news, except for reports such as, “A pair of holes-in-one were recorded recently at the Southridge Golf Course … .” and, later, “Treated effluent to soon irrigate Southridge Golf.”

Ownership of the golf course stayed in the family. When patriarch and enterprising DeLand builder George Stetter died in 1976, his wife, May, became the proprietor until her death in 1981. 

The 1989 document transferring the deed to the Southridge Golf Course property among family members, is from the law office of Bob Apgar, a city commissioner at the time. Could Apgar have guessed that, more than three decades later, he would be DeLand’s mayor and in charge of the Nov. 22 City Commission meeting where a controversial development proposal for the golf-course property will be considered?

Ownership passed to her son, Dick Gardner, until 2003, when Dick Gardner’s daughter Tony Gardner took over, according to a 2011 article in The West Volusia Beacon.

And, the current proposal for housing on the land is not the first.

In 2006, DeLand-Deltona Beacon reporter Barb Shepherd reported that the Gardner family had entered into “serious negotiations” with Pulte Homes Inc., now known as PulteGroup Inc. 

Then-owner Tony Gardner lamented the cost of operating a golf course in 2006. 

“Our water prices have doubled; our utilities have tripled,” Gardner said. “The tax bill on one of our parcels went up 700 percent. … Those kinds of things make it impossible for us to keep operating.” 

Per Shepherd’s article, “But keep operating they will, during the long and uncertain process of environmental testing, rezoning and development approval.” 

The Pulte Homes transaction never went through, however. In 2011, the Southridge Golf Course was sold at auction to Sandhill Enterprises LLC for $688,500. Bidding had begun in the July 28 auction at $250.

Sandhill Enterprises kept the golf course running until the summer of 2016. The Volusia County Property Appraiser’s Office still lists Sandhill Enterprises LLC as the owner, with a Silver City, New Mexico, mailing address.

In September 2020, Elevation Development’s proposal for a mixed-use development surfaced, proposing single-family homes, multifamily units and some commercial development on the site.

It has been the talk of the town ever since. The proposal has galvanized those concerned about overdevelopment in DeLand and the impacts on traffic and tax bills.

On this week’s Opinions page, columnist Dr. Wendy Anderson, an environmentalist and one of the leaders of the public protests about the development, questions whether the city has investigated deeply enough what might be buried in the old dump.

Some of those who object to Elevation Development’s plan have urged the city to reject it and buy the land for a public park, instead.

It wouldn’t be the first time the creation of a park and a former golf course were linked. In a column from March 1963, the DeLand Sun News’ Bernard Bishop notes that money from the sale of the old College Arms Golf Course was supposed to be used for municipal recreation, but apparently had been diverted in the city budget.

The latest chapter in Southridge’s legacy will be written when Elevation Development comes before the DeLand City Commission to request rezoning for Beresford Reserve, the now 168-acre, 615-unit proposed housing development

Due to popular demand by the public to speak on the project, Mayor Bob Apgar made the decision to move the rezoning request to a special meeting Nov. 22, so the rezoning will be the only item on the agenda.

To get the go-ahead to draw up construction plans, Beresford Reserve’s rezoning to planned development must be approved twice by the City Commission, in what are called “first” and “second” readings. 

The first reading is what’s on the agenda for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, in the City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave. 

All meetings are open to the public, but attendees are encouraged to arrive early to get a seat. Meetings are also available to watch live online at the city’s website, www.delandfl.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=1.

IT’S ALL PART OF THE HISTORY — The monument shown in the Beacon file photo at left was installed at Southridge Golf Course in 2008 in memory of Bill Morgan, the course’s first and only golf pro for some 40 years until his death. Morgan was well known for his interest in working with youths in our area, and his overall interest in golf.

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