Most of the more than 20 members of the public who spoke at the DeLand City Commission’s Nov. 22 hearing on Beresford Reserve were familiar people, who have expressed concerns about traffic, housing density, overbuilding and contamination from an old city dump at three earlier hearings on the project.
One voice was new, however, and the presentation by environmental scientist Dr. Denise DeGarmo was so compelling that several other speakers each gave up their three-minute time slots so DeGarmo could speak for about a half-hour total.
Top of mind was the period during the 1940s and ’50s when the land was DeLand’s city dump.
DeGarmo — a DeBary resident with a doctorate in international relations and comparative politics, with a focus on environmental studies — has special expertise in the remediation of contaminated sites, especially those contaminated with nuclear material.
There aren’t nukes underneath Southridge, she assured the City Commission and audience, but environmental testing of the area had piqued her interest about what might be found.
She listed a variety of chemicals and metals identified on the site, including “arsenic, barium, chromium, gasoline, a series of heavy metals including lead, copper, nickel cadmium, mercury, silver, zirconium, nitrates, oils and solid waste.”
But DeGarmo’s main interest was the levels of chromium and tetrachloroethene, two chemicals linked to neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.
Another slide of DeGarmo’s presentation showed images of rusted steel barrels sitting near what DeGarmo said are small ponds of water on the former golf course. If previously unidentified detritus and ponds are above ground, DeGarmo said, she is even more worried about the waste underneath.
“We don’t know how much is on-site,” she said. “We don’t know how far that material has moved.”
Without knowing what’s underneath the dump, DeGarmo argued, the city has every reason to hesitate before approving the developer’s rezoning application.
“There are reasons to have concerns about what is present on this property,” DeGarmo said. “They seem serious enough to me that I would expect that you not only respond to your citizens’ concern because you’re supposed to represent them and serve them and protect them.”
Others have raised concerns about contamination lingering from materials dumped on the site before such activities were regulated, but DeGarmo’s presentation seemed to turn the tide.
“We know that the typical golf course contaminants are there,” City Commissioner Chris Cloudman said. “It’s the former city dump site that I’m concerned with. When that was an open dump site, it was the city’s responsibility.”
One in favor
Of 23 speakers Nov. 22 at the Beresford Reserve hearing, only one member of the public spoke explicitly in favor of developing the old Southridge Golf Course.
“You ought to live, like we have, for five-and-a-half years looking across the street at an area that has turned into a dump area,” Carl Payne said.
Payne lives in the Alexandria Pointe neighborhood directly adjacent to the abandoned golf course across South Boston Avenue to the west.
“Trash, homeless — all this stuff that’s over here dilapidated and abandoned,” Payne said. “Forgotten about by everybody.”
Payne said he was frustrated about “scare tactics” thrown out by many speakers, and said developing the golf course, fixing up the roads and adding a park would eliminate an eyesore and raise the property values of Alexandria Pointe residents.
So, the former Southridge Golf Course won’t see any homebuilding soon, at least not before the city retains an independent environmental specialist to make more information available about the Southridge site to both the City Commission and the public.
“I think, from a perspective of transparency and comfort — without having to make a public records request — that there be some process that is established in the PD during the remediation,” Mayor Bob Apgar said. “… Since our staff doesn’t have an expert, to have somebody kind of looking over the shoulder of both [the Florida Department of Environmental Protection] and the developer’s consultant, to ask pertinent questions relative to the remediation plan.”
After four-and-a-half hours of discussion, the DeLand City Commission voted unanimously to hold off on deciding whether to rezone the 168-acre former golf course.
The meeting marked the fourth attempt in almost as many months, to have a first hearing for Beresford Reserve, a 615-unit planned development. The development plan will likely return for the city’s consideration, but not before the new year.
Q: What is the current zoning on the Southridge Golf Course land?
A: The former golf course is currently zoned R1-A residential, with usage as a golf course cleared as a “special exception” under city codes. R1-A zoning allows 5.28 dwelling units per gross acre.
Q: What’s a gross acre?
A: Let’s say, for example, five homes per gross acre are allowed on a 10-acre parcel. But, the developer might not actually be able to build 50 homes. Two of the acres may be swampy and not buildable, and this zoning category may also require 100-foot-wide lots and 30-foot-wide streets. Plus, part of the acreage may have to be set aside for a big stormwater pond. So, when all of those limitations and requirements are factored in, it may be possible to build only 30 or 35 homes. (These kinds of rules in each zoning category, by the way, are the reason many developers choose PD zoning.)
Q: Why not just go ahead and build, if it’s already zoned residential?
A: Elevation Development is seeking to develop the former golf course under PD, or planned-development, zoning. PD zoning not only allows for more flexibility in what is allowed, it allows for closer cooperation between a developer and the city, and allows the city to add regulations not in the regular zoning code. Features like a public park in a private housing development, or varying lot sizes, for example, would not be possible under the current R1-A zoning.
Q: Does Elevation Development own the property?
A: No. The property is owned by Sandhill Enterprises LLC, the same company that purchased the former golf course when it went to auction in 2011. According to the Volusia County Property Appraiser, Sandhill Enterprises’ base of operations is Silver City, New Mexico.
After operating as the Sandhill Golf Course for several years, the owners closed up shop and are now looking to sell. Elevation Development does not own the property, though. By seeking rezoning for development, Elevation has signaled its interest in purchasing the property if Beresford Reserve can become a reality. Typically, a developer will contract to purchase property contingent on governmental approval of the way the developer wants to use the property.
Q: Why didn’t the City Commission just approve the PD zoning, and work out all the details later?
A: Approving PD zoning isn’t just assigning a new label to a piece of property. It also includes approving the details in a “development agreement” that describes the specific rules for that particular piece of property, in lieu of the regular zoning rules. Both the developer and the city want those rules to be in a final form before the rezoning is approved.
Q: What happens if the city says yes?
A: The Nov. 22 meeting was supposed to be the first hearing for a rezoning application (two hearings are required). But the rezoning was continued again (for the fourth time), so rezoning will still require two more hearings. Had the City Commission approved the rezoning Nov. 22, it would have returned for a second reading.
Once the rezoning is approved, the project is still far from breaking ground. Normally, the next step is plat agreements, but Beresford Reserve would be settled on a brownfield site, and a remediation plan for cleaning up any contamination on the site would have to be completed and cleared through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection before the project moved to the platting process. Actual rehabilitation of the site would occur in conjunction with development work, according to DeLand City Attorney Darren Elkind
Amid so many concerns about what lies underneath what could become Beresford Reserve, DeLand attorney Mark Watts, representing developer Elevation Development, said he shared everyone’s worries.
Like it or not, Watts argued, approval for rezoning and development is the best course of action for the property.
Watts pointed out that the city, on its own, can’t simply decide to clean up pollution on private land.
“I absolutely agree with every speaker here tonight that said we need to test and define what’s there. We need to understand how it should be cleaned up. There’s not a mechanism to do that on private land, unless you go through the brownfield program here in Florida,” Watts said. “It borders on reckless to get a frenzy whipped up over issues everybody can agree aren’t fully understood.”
Watts continued, “We don’t have the data to reach the conclusions that are being proposed to you tonight. The way the program works in Florida, we start with the zoning and we go into the remediation from there.”
Under Florida’s current land-development codes, privately owned land cannot be rehabilitated by a municipality just for fun. Abandoned properties can be rehabilitated by municipalities and the state, but the best course of action for the Southridge property, Watts said, would be to tee it up for development and let the developer and the state take it from there.
Southridge has already been designated a brownfield, a designation granted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to land in need of significant remediation before development can occur.
Of course, DeGarmo was concerned about the potential of putting residential housing on a brownfield at all.
But the land is already zoned R1-A residential, and a developer determined to move forward on the Southridge site could ditch the planned-development process and slap as many as 881 homes on the lot with little involvement from the city.
More environmental information will be available at a later date, too. Kimley-Horn, the engineering consultant contracted by Elevation Development to conduct environmental tests on the Southridge property, is working on a report that is not yet ready.
With that in mind, the City Commission floated a number of potential changes to the current planned development, including hiring an independent environmental consultant to serve as the city’s eyes and ears while the site undergoes remediation.
That process would take time, if it moves forward, Watts said.
The 105-acre Country Club Corners commercial and housing development, built on the site of the former DeLand Country Club and golf course, took two full years from its approval to breaking ground as a brownfield project.
It’s also required by law, Watts said, and the developer has no intention of avoiding that responsibility.
The proposed changes were substantive enough, City Attorney Darren Elkind said, that a new PD agreement would have to be drawn up and a new first hearing would have to be held.
Beresford Reserve will come back before the DeLand City Commission for another special meeting sometime after the holiday, Mayor Apgar said.
In the meantime, deliberations will resume between city staff and representatives from Elevation Development.
Southridge speakers: ‘I am Spartacus’
Speaker Kirk Hall of DeLand summed up well what many who spoke on Beresford Reserve said before and after him.
“I’ve been alarmed at the rapidity and scale of development that’s occurred in DeLand recently,” he said. “There’s been significant concerns that have been raised by credible experts to the safety of developing this particular property.”
There would have been more speakers, but several audience members who planned to speak felt Dr. Denise DeGarmo, who has special expertise in site contamination, had not been given ample time to present her argument against developing on the former golf-course-by-way-of-dump.
Instead of speaking themselves, those audience members ceded their three minutes each to DeGarmo, giving her about a half-hour total.
First, DeGarmo shared a 15-minute “expert presentation” slot with Dr. Wendy Anderson, a Stetson University environmental-science professor and veteran opponent of Beresford Reserve.
Anderson set the tone with her introduction, taking aim at the past decision by the DeLand City Commission in the 1980s to grant residential zoning to the golf course property. She challenged the current City Commission to do better.
“Didn’t we know at that point about Love Canal? That you don’t put houses on old dumps?” Anderson asked. “Maybe in Florida you do.”
After Anderson’s statements and the lengthy reading of DeGarmo’s qualifications, DeGarmo had about five minutes left for her presentation, titled “Down in the Dump.”
Until members of the public gave her their time.
Some audience members, clearly upset they didn’t get to see the entirety of DeGarmo’s presentation, let DeGarmo have their time, starting with another veteran opponent of the Southridge development, Dave Ballesteros.
Ballesteros had prepared statements, he told The Beacon, but on his way to the speaker’s podium, he asked DeGarmo if she still had things to say, and when DeGarmo said she did, Ballesteros ceded his time to the doctor.
Reminding us of the movie Spartacus, attendee after attendee declared (albeit silently), “I am Denise DeGarmo,” and ceded their time to the speaker. Around 10 attendees, including individuals who typically come to the podium to give impassioned speeches, did so.
What does the city want?
In voting Nov. 22 to, once again, continue the Beresford Reserve rezoning, DeLand city commissioners specified what they are looking for before they vote on the project. Here’s what commissioners said they want:
• Access to more complete, in-depth information about what remains underground on the part of the Beresford Reserve parcel that was once used as a city dump.
• To retain an independent environmental consultant to keep a watchful eye on rehabilitation of the Beresford Reserve land … and for developer Elevation Development to reimburse the city for costs related to those services.
• Relocation of a planned commercial area from the intersection of South Boston and East Beresford avenues to the northern parcel of Beresford Reserve that lies along East Euclid Avenue.
• A reduction in the number of homes from the current 615 to 600. This would be accomplished by changing nearly 20 lots on the project’s eastern boundary that are 60 feet wide to 70-foot-wide lots, and trimming the number of 40-foot-wide lots to the south of the 21-acre public park. Doing so would allow for potentially expanding the park.
• Relocation of resident-specific amenities away from the public park envisioned for Beresford Reserve’s northeast quadrant, to reduce confusion about which amenities are open to the public.
• An agreement between the city and the developer to ensure the public park is maintained without the responsibility falling on the shoulders of a homeowners association.