Commissioners weigh in on future of redevelopment project
Parking is so plentiful in the southwest part of Downtown DeLand that Mike Prelec Jr., prospective developer of the Old Jail property on West New York Avenue, concluded that building private parking for the office and retail space his company intends to build on the Old Jail site would be “a waste of money.”
Prelec and other representatives of Glasshouse Square LLC — which is under contract with the city to redevelop the Old Jail — attended the Jan. 3 DeLand City Commission meeting to give a report on their progress, and to gauge commissioners’ willingness to be flexible about the amount of parking Glasshouse will be required to build.
Prelec told the City Commission he had walked the neighborhood following a midday meeting at City Hall on a recent Tuesday, and found plenty of available spots.
“The Downtown area in this quadrant does not need more parking … ,” Prelec told commissioners. “For us to spend that money on parking becomes a waste.”
Glasshouse attorney Alex Ford said that during negotiations over the past year for an agreement that would govern planned-development (PD) zoning of the Old Jail site, city officials had variously told Glasshouse that 31, then 35, then 100 spaces, would be required.
The project is not financially viable, Ford told the City Commission, if 100 spaces are required.
“The project does not financially work with that requirement,” Ford told commissioners.
The parking Glasshouse agreed to build during contract negotiations in 2020 was supposed to replace 35 spaces now on the Old Jail site, plus add spaces to meet the demand of the residential, retail and office spaces the company plans to build.
But attorney Ford and City Commissioner Kevin Reid argued that perhaps the 35 spaces now at the Old Jail shouldn’t be considered existing public parking.
Reid pointed out that the parking area on the site of the Old Jail is poorly maintained and full of potholes.
“I wouldn’t consider those available parking spots,” Reid said. “It really shouldn’t be used as a parking lot. That being said, I know it is used as a parking lot.”
And Ford pointed out that the city’s agreement with Volusia County, which transferred the Old Jail property to the city’s control, included a promise that the property wouldn’t be used for parking.
“I don’t think it should be considered public parking currently, I think it should be parking associated with the specific use that’s there,” Ford said.
DeLand Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis said city development regulations would ordinarily require about 112 parking spaces for a development of the size Glasshouse originally proposed. But Ford pointed out that PD zoning allows the city to waive any and all parking requirements.
City officials noted that Glasshouse now plans to build a two-story building fronting New York Avenue, instead of the three stories the company originally proposed. Werbiskis said eliminating the third story would probably reduce the parking requirement by about 40 spaces.
Should Glasshouse disagree with whatever number of parking spaces the city ultimately decides to require, Werbiskis said, Glasshouse would be required to pay for a parking study to determine the need for parking. Ford said, however, that his client is loath to spend $30,000 on a parking study, especially when its conclusions might be in doubt.
Ford said Glasshouse wondered whether the city would allow the company to donate $170,000 to a parking fund, instead of building parking. Ford pointed out that any new parking built with that money would be for everyone, instead of in a private lot Glasshouse could choose to restrict for its development only.
City officials said that would be enough money for about 17 parking spaces, depending on the cost of needed land and other factors.
But Mayor Bob Apgar said the cash contribution might not be a good deal, since it puts the burden on the city.
“If they pay the money into the fund, it’s zero [spaces] until we provide the parking places,” Apgar said. “There needs to be some dedicated spaces for them.”
In June 2018, the City of DeLand solicited proposals for redevelopment of the Old Jail at 130 W. New York Ave. Three proposals were received and, in December 2018, Glasshouse was selected as the top pick. A contract for the redevelopment was signed by both parties in July 2020.
Part of the reason city commissioners favored the Glasshouse proposal was the promise that the company would move the headquarters of Deltran Operations USA to the site, bringing 55 well-paid staff members to work, shop and eat in Downtown DeLand.
The Glasshouse and Deltran companies share owners in common, including Mike Prelec Jr.
Commissioners generally agreed that the Glasshouse proposal is a beautiful, even “transformative” one, in the words of Commissioner Charles Paiva, that they would like to see come to fruition.
But Paiva said he was not OK with Glasshouse merely replacing the parking now in use on the Old Jail site, especially since the city is giving the company the Old Jail land, giving Glasshouse tax breaks, and using taxpayer funds to demolish the jail building.
“I’m a big proponent; I’d love for it to happen,” Paiva said. “But I do feel like, for what we’re giving, I feel like we need to get a little more on the parking.”
By consensus, commissioners signaled a reluctance to require fewer than 60 parking spaces.
“I like the look of it, as well, but I just want to be sure we’re not cutting corners,” Commissioner Jessica Davis said. Davis advocated sticking to the 100-space requirement.
Mayor Apgar urged Glasshouse, if they have decided the project isn’t financially feasible, to walk away from what has become a more-than-three-year process.
“It’s not fair to the city, it’s not fair to the [Downtown] neighbors, it’s not fair to the Prelec family … to continue to move forward with what may be a blind hole,” Apgar said. “If it’s not going to work, I’d rather everybody shake hands, smile and then go have a beer or whatever and move on with life.”
Apgar continued, “I know Glasshouse has invested a lot of time and energy to get to this point, but if it’s a blind alley, I just want everybody to be realistic.”