After three-and-a-half hours of discussion about everything from parking spaces to a water feature, the DeLand Planning Board agreed to continue discussion about GlassHouse Square, the development expected to replace the Old Jail at 130 W. New York Ave., to next month.
The project has gone back and forth between various city boards in recent months, from a visit to the DeLand City Commission in January for guidance on the number of parking spaces GlassHouse should include, to a visit to the Planning Board last month that was cut short when city staff determined the applicant had not included necessary information.
This month, the Planning Board had concerns where exactly applicant GlassHouse Square LLC intended to put the parking spaces it promised the city and about how construction could affect nearby properties.
Off-site or on-site?
As in past discussions about GlassHouse Square, parking was a hot topic. The latest proposed planned development agreement promises the construction of, at minimum, 40 parking spaces in the first phase, and an additional 10 parking spaces in the second phase.
While the PD agreement said the parking spaces could be off-site — within 800 feet of the GlassHouse development — or on-site, GlassHouse’s lawyer, Alex Ford, said the Planning Board could pretty much count on those spaces being off-site. He also noted that the parking lot would likely be private for employees or residents of the GlassHouse properties.
This worried some of the Planning Board members. The board agreed that when the development plan returns at the July 20 Planning Board meeting, the applicant must have “a very clear parking plan.”
Parking concerns also rankled some members of the public who spoke about the development.
“Everybody knows that if you don’t provide enough on-site parking, they take up all of the available public parking, so this is an issue that must be addressed,” attorney Astrid de Parry told the Planning Board. De Parry represents Conrad Realty, the company owned by Beacon publisher Barb Shepherd that owns the buildings directly east of the Old Jail.
Another speaker concerned about parking was Planning Board Member Dan Reed. Reed, a DeLand businessman and City Commission candidate, recused himself from discussion about GlassHouse Square over a conflict of interest. He did, however, address his Planning Board peers during the public hearing for the project.
Reed’s chief concerns were about potential damages to nearby buildings, and a lack of a clear explanation of where GlassHouse will put parking spaces.
“Before that PD is approved, there should be a parking plan in place,” Reed said. “We can’t just approve PDs and go, ‘Hey, figure out parking whenever you can. Get back to us, though.’”
Another big concern of the Planning Board was engineering protections to ensure nearby buildings wouldn’t be damaged by the construction of GlassHouse Square.
Demolition is to be handled by the city. Once GlassHouse Square LLC can prove it has money sufficient to construct at least the first of the project’s two proposed buildings, as well as having an anchor tenant in Deltran Operations USA, the city will tear the Old Jail down.
Construction won’t be handled by the city, though, and nearby landowners wanted to ensure that the developer’s selected builders will be careful.
What Planning Board members agreed they wanted to see was language in the PD that would guarantee construction of the buildings would be done carefully, so as to protect the nearby historic buildings.
That’s because many of DeLand’s historic buildings were built with sand brick after a fire in 1886 burned down Downtown structures. Sand brick, made with limestone, can be significantly affected by construction and demolition. Nearby landowners, including Shepherd and Reed, said they have already observed damages to their historic structures, which they believe can be attributed to years of nearby construction and heavy trucks rattling New York and Georgia avenues.
The importance of protecting those buildings was imparted by various public speakers.
“Probably never in the history of DeLand have we demolished a major, midcentury modern, monolithic piece of architecture in such close proximity to a bunch of buildings that are essentially built out of sand,” Sidney Johnston said.
Johnston, a Stetson University employee, helped establish the city’s Historic Preservation Board.
“In many ways, I think we should err on the side of caution and go even slower than we’re going now,” Johnston continued, “thinking this through and getting the experts to look at it.”
Local contractor Ken Goldberg agreed.
“It’s a struggle to keep these buildings up,” he said. “If we ever had a major seismic event in DeLand, our town would be a pile of sand.”
Goldberg also said he believed changes made to the project since GlassHouse Square LLC was awarded the bid to redevelop the land the Old Jail occupies rendered the original agreement moot. To maintain “fairness,” he urged the Planning Board to reject the PD rezoning request.
The Planning Board is an advisory board, so a rejection would not stop the GlassHouse in its tracks. Instead, when GlassHouse Square’s rezoning application moves to the City Commission, commissioners would be informed that the Planning Board recommended the application be denied.
After the public comment period, Ford expressed his belief that some of the Planning Board’s desires were outside of the board’s purview.
“If the answer is no, we’re not going to do any development Downtown, that’s a policy position that has a lot of ramifications that really aren’t a zoning-type isuse,” Ford said. “If you’re just going to say, ‘No more development Downtown, because we have these old buildings we want to preserve,’ that I don’t think is an appropriate thing for this board to decide.”
Ford said he and his client hoped the Planning Board would consider passing the PD rezoning application on to the City Commission favorably, with conditions to potentially remedy their issues.
For instance, Ford said standards for protecting nearby buildings could be added to the PD, but he believed mandating those was outside the purview of the Planning Board, and more up to the City Commission.
Still, attorneys Ford and Mark Watts of Cobb Cole, who represents the owners of the nearby Conrad property, said they would work together to implement language into the PD. Watts wants to see, for example, language about independent engineering reviews in the PD agreement.
After contemplating what to do with the PD proposal, the Planning Board unanimously agreed to continue the item to the next Planning Board meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 20.
When it returns, the Planning Board has requested the developer provide specifics on parking, maintenance easements alongside GlassHouse Square and engineering controls to protect the nearby structures.
If approved by the Planning Board, the development will move on to the City Commission for further discussion and, potentially, approval to move forward with the project. GlassHouse Square will also need to make a stop at the Historic Preservation Board, as is required of all developments within the city’s historic district.
Editor’s note: Conrad Realty Co. President Barb Shepherd is publisher of The Beacon, and the newspaper leases its offices from Conrad Realty.