I went to DeLand City Hall recently for a DeLand 2050 plan visioning session, prepared to share my vision.
I was late because I had to finish work, and the meeting format was different from what I had anticipated, so I wasn’t able to give city commissioners the benefit of my brilliance.
So I’m sharing it here, with you and (I hope) them. It’s pretty simple.
My vision for DeLand’s future can be summed up in two words: Small matters.
We could use three words, even: Small matters more. Small is better.
Or four: Incentivize small; discourage big.
Let’s look at DeLand like an investor would, and try to put our finger on what has made it so attractive to tourists and developers alike, so we can continue to grow and progress in a way that will continue to be attractive. This makes good economic sense.
If you talk with people about what they love about DeLand, you’ll hear words like “quaint” and “historic” and “genuine.” Creativity comes up.
I promise, no one will tell you they moved to DeLand, or that they love to visit DeLand, because of its chain restaurants and mega developments.
“Oh, it looks so much like Altamonte Springs!” no one ever gushed. “The traffic jams are so exciting! There’s so much to look at while you wait for three stoplight cycles to get through an intersection.”
I chatted recently with DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar, for one of our stories about development. He and I talked about the development of the Brandywine and Trails West subdivisions on the city’s north side.
In those days 45 years ago or so, Apgar recalled, “development” was accomplished by local builders who generally bought one lot and created one home at a time. No clear-cutting, no burning of massive piles of vegetation.
Even further back into DeLand’s past, the central business district was created in the same one-at-a-time way. Each parcel, each building, each business reflected the tastes, preferences and financial circumstances of the individual who developed it.
That crazy quilt of individualism — reflected today by the individual shop owners — is what makes Downtown DeLand genuine and attractive.
We’re at risk today of losing our smallness, on our borders as well as in our core.
Under the leadership of a new mayor who will take office in 2022, DeLand almost certainly will be taking a hard look at its comprehensive plan and land-development regulations — no matter who wins the election.
The groundswell of public sentiment for doing a better job of controlling growth is too strong to be ignored.
As we do that difficult work, my vision is that we find ways to protect and promote smallness. We need to give the guy or gal with a $100,000 project all the incentives, and let the out-of-towner with the fancy lawyer and the $20 million bank loan figure it out on their own.