After months of back-and-forth among lawyers, environmental activists, members of the public and the DeLand City Commission, the former Southridge Golf Course in southeast DeLand is one step closer to being turned into a 597-unit housing development.
There’s still a ways to go before a single house is built. So what’s next, and what has changed between Beresford Reserve’s first introduction and its hole-in-one from the DeLand City Commission Jan. 31?
And, why did the city approve the plan?
Why approve it?
The decision to allow Beresford Reserve to move forward was a narrow one. Approval on first reading of Elevation Development’s request to rezone the 167-acre former golf course was made by a just-under-par 3-2 vote, with Mayor Bob Apgar and City Commissioners Kevin Reid and Charles Paiva voting in favor, and City Commissioners Chris Cloudman and Jessica Davis against.
Paiva noted that he saw this project as a better option than what the developer would already be allowed to do with less oversight. The former golf course is currently zoned for R1-A residential development, and Elevation Development could pursue development of homes through the city’s typical zoning process, rather than use the planned development, or PD, process they’ve applied for.
Rezoning to PD allows the developer to deviate from the city’s land-development regulations, but it also allows the city to ask for conditions not spelled out in those rules. Additionally, PD zoning also requires more public hearings, and gives the community more input in the process.
“If we voted no, they could still come forward and develop it,” Paiva said.
While Paiva was against the project when it was introduced to the City Commission last year, he has come to recognize how much it has changed since then:
The number of lots has been reduced from an initial 861 to a maximum of 597. That 597 is made up of 45 homes on 40-foot-wide lots, 116 homes on 50-foot-wide lots, 32 homes on 60-foot-wide lots, 61 homes on 70-foot-wide lots and a total of 343 town homes; 189 of those will be rental units and 154 will be for sale.
A commercial area previously proposed near the corner of South Boston and East Beresford avenues has been eliminated.
The number of 40-foot-wide lots has been significantly reduced.
Fifty of the development’s 167 acres will be open green space.
A park planned on top of the area that was once a municipal dump has been expanded to around 21 acres, and ownership of the park will be deeded to the City of DeLand once the park is constructed.
The public park is one of the main reasons City Commissioner Kevin Reid said he was in favor of the project — the city gets something tangible out of it, aside from an increase in its tax base.
Another benefit, developer’s attorney Mark Watts of Cobb Cole pointed out, is that approving the former golf course for development is the quickest and easiest way to ensure the contaminated land is cleaned up.
At a November special meeting discussing the project, Watts said he was just as concerned as anyone about the contaminants — chemicals related to golf course upkeep and a mostly unknown amount of underground debris — on the property. Rezoning the former golf course for development guarantees it will get cleaned up.
“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,” Watts said. “There’s not a mechanism to do that on private land, unless you go through the brownfield program here in Florida.”
But ask Dr. Denise DeGarmo, a DeBary resident with experience in remediation of sites exposed to the byproducts of nuclear energy, weapons and waste — who has spoken against the project — and that’s not thinking far enough outside the box.
“I believe the developers, to achieve their goal of development, believe this may be the quickest way to get it done so these houses can be built,” DeGarmo said. “But I do know, again, that there are other ways that you could remediate this site in a much more environmentally sustainable way.”
Her suggestion? The city buy the property from its current owner, rezone it to prohibit residential development, and keep it green and free of homes.
She and other speakers advocated for the entire site to become a public park. Others, however, countered that the cleanup requirements for a housing development would be much more stringent than for a park.
Comments from the public
There was one proponent among citizen speakers, on behalf of Alexandria Pointe, a neighboring subdivision.
— This speaker was Carl Payne, president of the Alexandria Pointe Homeowners Association, who provided city commissioners with copies of a petition he said was signed by representatives of 76 out of the 102 occupied homes in the subdivision. Based on that, Payne said, he could speak for the Alexandria Pointe residents in saying the project would benefit their neighborhood.
“The commission need not feel obligated to expedite the business interests of this development at the potential expense of the health and safety of our citizens. If you feel your hands are tied by ordinances or codes, I say untie them, and let your moral compass guide your actions. You have no higher calling.” — Buz Nesbit, a member of the DeLand Planning Board and a candidate for DeLand mayor in the 2022 election
“I”m hearing a lot of people say, ‘Vote them out.’ They don’t understand, and a lot of people don’t, the constraints you have in the city, but after listening to what was said tonight, I have to admit, I’m appalled. I can’t even imagine living there. I wouldn’t live there.”
— Sharon Leboffe, a founding member of the Volusia Water Alliance and a Blue Spring Alliance Spring Shed Ambassador
“The safety of our citizens is the most important part … .”
— Donna Pepin, a member of the West Volusia Hospital Authority board
“Abstractly, if you move away from the contamination issues and you look at the project, the project, OK, almost everything that the commission has asked for is within the confines of this development.”
— Bob Apgar, mayor of DeLand, who voted for the rezoning. Apgar is serving his fifth and final term as mayor, having announced he will retire.
“While I’m not keen on necessarily accepting inferences or speculation on what’s in the landfill, in the dump, I would also feel more comfortable knowing a little more about what’s there..”
— Chris Cloudman, a DeLand city commissioner who voted against the rezoning, and a candidate for DeLand mayor in the 2022 election
“This is a critical piece of geography, and we need to maximize it.”
— Dr. Wendy Anderson of DeLand, a professor of environmental studies at Stetson University and chair of the Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District
“It’s a lot for us all to ponder.”
— Jessica Davis, a DeLand city commissioner, who voted against the rezoning
The elephant under the golf course
It’s impossible to discuss development of the former Southridge Golf Course without addressing the site’s contamination.
Golf courses have historically been maintained with chemicals like dieldrin and arsenic, substances that are highly toxic to humans.
The property was designated a brownfield site in 2020, a classification that brings the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in to ensure that cleanup of heavy metals, chemicals or other contaminants is completed before development can take place on a property.
And, there’s more than just typical golf-course contaminants on the Southridge site — a chunk of the property was used as a municipal dump for a time in the mid-20th century, and there’s no telling what lies buried beneath the back nine.
According to an environmental report by consultant Kimley-Horn, ground-penetrating radar has revealed much of the subterranean debris to be “construction and demolition materials,” like wood, concrete, glass and more.
After a November 2021 discussion about the potential development, the City of DeLand retained two independent environmental consultants at the expense of Elevation Development.
The city’s consultants were geologist Greg Self with the Florida-based environmental consultant TERRA-COM, and Pegeen Hanrahan, a former mayor of Gainesville and professional engineer with experience investigating brownfields.
The two were tasked with examining previously submitted environmental reports with a fresh eye, and Hanrahan presented their findings to the DeLand City Commission Jan. 31.
Their verdict? There’s a lot more work to be done, but remediation, at least based on current information, is possible.
Hanrahan recognized that at this stage — very early in the brownfield remediation process, she said — there are many unknowns. Hanrahan advised that more soil and groundwater testing be done to ensure nearby wells — including municipal water wells — are not contaminated. She also recommended that cleanup of the site be managed carefully to avoid potential airborne contamination.
“When a patient has to undergo surgery to remove a tumor,” Hanrahan said, “there is a risk of infection occurring. It is not unlike that.”
The investigation came in the form of nine suggestions and conclusions, all of which were submitted to the developer as additional requirements in the planned-development agreement.
• Ask the FDEP to require the installation of at least one test well that reaches the Floridan aquifer, and one sentinel well between the site and the public wellfields, which are mostly within a mile to the west of the old golf course. While some wells have been dug and tested on the site, none has gone as deep as the Floridan aquifer. A “sentinel well” would be used to alert officials if the contamination is migrating toward drinking-water wells.
• Require on-site controls that reduce the risk of airborne contamination during the remediation process.
Prohibit soil-mixing, or the process of mixing clean soil and contaminated soil to reduce the total sum of contaminants.
• Require clean fill dirt be brought in for all residential areas that are not capped with concrete or other approved building materials.
• “Remain flexible,” and allow FDEP to have the final say when it comes to the final location of amenities and residential areas. In short, if FDEP says 70 houses have to be eliminated or relocated, those houses have to go.
• FDEP will require additional testing of the golf course and dump areas before a remediation plan is approved.
• The nature of the site as a brownfield does not mean it’s unfit for development — and development for residential housing would require a higher cleanup standard than other uses. Per Hanrahan, “Under ideal circumstances, it would be helpful to have the site fully characterized and the remedial action plan completed prior to zoning, but FDEP retains the ability to limit development in some areas or for some uses if warranted.” She also notes that if Elevation Development walks away from the project, remediation of the site will stall, and “a new party to complete it would need to be found.”
• The City Commission should consider appointing a site-specific brownfield committee to provide additional oversight to the development of a remediation plan. If the city chooses this route, Dr. Denise DeGarmo said, she would be interested in being on the committee.
• Regardless of whether the plot is approved for development, Hanrahan recommended the city ask the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County to offer water testing to the owners of an estimated 17 private wells near the site.
The city’s wants
The city laid out some additional stipulations commissioners would like to see added to the PD agreement if it is to be approved on second reading:
• Copies of all submissions and responses to and from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
• Periodic reports from Elevation Development on the project’s status.
• Final-approval authority on the public park and related facilities, as well as any fees to be charged for park activities.
• Elevation Development will pay a proportional share of public park maintenance costs upfront.
• If a community-development district is created, an interlocal agreement would be adopted to assure no changes in use without City Commission approval.
The next step is for Beresford Reserve to return to the DeLand City Commission to request approval on second reading of the rezoning. That’s expected at a City Commission meeting in March.