BY KATHY HERSH
My husband and I moved to DeLand a year-and-a-half ago, escaping the urban nightmare of South Florida.
The great “Ahhhh!” I felt when we got here is beginning to be replaced with an “Oh no, not again!” sense of dread.
During the 39 years we lived in Miami, we watched a pleasant city turn into a snarling mess of traffic that made the average commute to work a gridlocked nightmare.
We lived 10 miles from downtown Miami. Driving to work in rush-hour traffic would take 60 to 90 minutes to crawl north on U.S. 1, the only direct route. Luckily, we lived a short walk from the Metrorail system, and I switched to taking the train to work, a 22-minute ride, which preserved my sanity.
Our neighborhood had a lush tree canopy. Walking and biking our streets was pleasurable. But as more people kept pouring into South Florida, so too came the developers. They gave slick presentations and made promises they didn’t keep.
Our tree ordinances weren’t tough enough, and soon acres of mango groves and 50-year-old trees were destroyed to make way for six-bedroom McMansions on half-acres.
I watched as the canopy that had kept our streets relatively cool was being destroyed. In my own block, a beautiful jacaranda, stately live oaks and a giant royal poinciana were cut down to make way for 3,500-square-foot houses, with three-car garages and paved driveways.
The developers had to pay to remove the trees and were required to plant back a certain percentage of native trees, which were usually oaks with a 1-inch circumference and no chance of maturing into large trees in the space where they were planted.
The increased density and the additional traffic of service and delivery trucks curtailed my once-quiet morning walks and bike rides. The sound of twittering birds was replaced with screaming chain saws.
When they subdivided the lot next door to us and destroyed a half-acre of woods adjacent to our backyard, I bought and installed shade sails over our patio to compensate for the increased heat from the lost canopy next door.
Getting to places around town that once took 10 to 15 minutes turned into 30 and 60 minutes. Finding a place to park on the street was a crapshoot. Parking in downtown Miami was $20-$50 an hour. The traffic, the crowds, and the extortionate rates of valet parking made staying at home seem the saner alternative.
One day, I decided to leave the car at home and take the Metro and walk to my appointments and shopping. I was in a pedestrian crosswalk when the driver of the car that had to stop for me grew impatient at my pace, apparently, and angrily honked his horn.
That was the day I made up my mind that it was time to leave this mess and move to a place where people are treated with courtesy, where trees are considered assets rather than obstacles, and where driving is not a high-risk undertaking.
So we moved to DeLand in 2021. My husband had discovered it 30 years ago on a business trip and was charmed, even though he was a big-city kind of guy. When we decided to escape from South Florida, DeLand was foremost in our minds. We found it bigger than before but still charming.
Like many other residents, we are concerned about the overdevelopment that threatens the quality of life that has been preserved here for more than a century.
Like Miami, developers can’t see the forest for the dollar signs. They are deforesting huge tracts of land to make way for houses crammed onto lots too small to allow space for tree canopy, and seem confident that zoning ordinances are negotiable.
And, when they’re done here, they’ll move on to the next demographic hot spot with cheap land to exploit.
Are we powerless to stop this man-made environmental disaster?
Must our elected officials bargain with greedy developers, making concessions affecting our air quality, our supply of drinking water, and our mental well-being?
— Hersh lives in DeLand.