With a move one attorney called a “non-moratorium moratorium,” the City of DeLand has put developers on notice that annexations for residential development aren’t likely to be approved — at least, not for a while.
The resolution approved unanimously March 21 by the DeLand City Commission doesn’t go far enough for some residents concerned about too much growth happening too fast.
“Are we really doing anything here? At some level, this is kind of toothless, to be honest,” Dr. Wendy Anderson told commissioners. Anderson, who teaches environmental science at Stetson University, is a proponent of low-impact development.
To her point, the resolution — unlike a moratorium — won’t prevent applications for annexation from being filed. It won’t keep the City Commission from reviewing annexations or even approving them. It also won’t affect applications for residential development on land already in the city.
But Mayor Bob Apgar hopes the resolution will give the Planning Department some time to craft changes to the city’s development regulations.
It all started with Taylor Ridge, a proposed 71-home development on 26 acres at the intersection of South Blue Lake Avenue and East Taylor Road. In February, the DeLand City Commission declined to annex the property, which is zoned agricultural in the county, because the city’s lowest-density zoning classification would allow four homes per acre — four times as many homes as would be allowed under the county zoning.
But DeLand development director Rick Werbiskis said the non-moratorium resolution may not give the planning staff a break, either.
“This will have almost no impact on our workload,” Werbiskis told the City Commission. “We see these annexations two to three per year, the larger projects. But the day-to-day activities of the variances, the small annexations, land-use, zoning changes; we’re processing about 15-20 applications a month, and this will have no impact on our workload.”
Nevertheless, city staff will try. The next step is for City Manager Michael Pleus to meet with the planning staff to develop a plan. He’s expected to return to the City Commission at its next regular meeting Monday, April 4, with suggestions.
Mayor Bob Apgar emphasized the need for an update to the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations, some of which have not been touched in 30 years.
“If something is 30 years old, it’s worth re-examination,” he said.
DeLand attorney Michael Woods doesn’t disagree. Woods, of Cobb Cole, has helped guide quite a few development projects from ideas to construction. He talked with The Beacon after the meeting about the city’s resolution.
Woods was the attorney behind Taylor Ridge. He was surprised when the annexation application was denied.
“It was stunning for them to deny the annexation,” Woods said. “I think they were just, in part, frustrated about how many projects they’ve had to approve and thought, ‘Give us a break, give us a pause.’”
Woods’ initial reaction when reading the city’s resolution on residential annexations was frustration.
He worries that the city is tapping the brakes, but not addressing the actual problems involved with the city’s growth. One of those, for example, is simply having enough housing, at the right prices, for the people who want to move here.
“There is an overall challenge on the market, and, to me, it’s a little bit scary as you see the prices continue to rise,” Woods said. “We are also a jurisdiction that I think doesn’t have a lot of non-single-family homes for rental.”
A DeLand native, Woods understands the push and pull of growth. Everyone would like to press pause on the era of DeLand they liked most, he said, but that’s just not reality.
Another problem, Woods said, is that the city hasn’t added zoning categories or regulations to address changes in how neighborhoods are designed to appeal to today’s homebuyer.
So many developers pursue the PUD, or planned-unit-development process, Woods said, because they want to build more dense, diverse developments, but can’t under the city’s code. But pursuing a PUD can result in numerous, sometimes-contentious, public hearings.
He expects a new, less-dense land-use classification will come out of the “non-moratorium” pause, but he would also like the city to use policies already on the books to get past some of the squabbles he sees as surface-level.
“We have a lot of great policies on paper,” Woods said, “And then when the time comes to apply them, we’re back, to argue over 2.2 units per acre [versus] 2.4 units per acre.”
He added, “When the actual project comes forward, we’re back to throwing rocks at it again.”
Ultimately, he hopes for concrete results.
The guiding question, Woods concluded, should be, “How can we do better?”