The June 14 special meeting of the Volusia County Council was intended as an attempt to chart a course for the future management of Volusia County’s growth. But with only four members of the council able to attend, and some disagreements over the role of a defunct advisory committee, the county chair felt all the council did was “kick the can down the road.”
“A time to debate, but to come together,” was the way Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower opened the County Council’s meeting on how to make ideas on controlling growth into actual policies.
“We’re here today to discuss the future of Volusia County, … to make it a home where our kids will want to stay,” Brower said.
The council was supposed to determine which issues would be subjects of ordinances to be drafted for action at future meetings. What followed was nearly five hours of uncertainty, punctuated with extensive public comment and sometimes sharp words about the direction, speed, substance and complexity of the policymaking process.
“We’re not a one-size-fits-all county,” Council Member Barb Girtman said.
In the end, the council agreed to reform the defunct Environment and Natural Resources Advisory Committee, known as ENRAC for short.
There was no shortage of talk, even though three of the council’s members — Dr. Fred Lowry, Heather Post and Billie Wheeler — were absent, because of family or medical emergencies. That left a bare quorum of four members — Brower, Girtman, Ben Johnson and Danny Robins — to deal with the wide array of recommendations and suggestions from the county’s planning staff and the public, as well as their own frustrations.
Did the purpose of the meeting change?
“This is a follow-up to the [County Council’s] April 12 workshop,” county Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin told the council and the audience. “The County Council requested that we bring this back for final action. … We’re not looking for specifics today. These are general concepts. … We’re looking basically for ‘Proceed’ or ‘Don’t proceed.’”
The county’s professional planners had prepared for the council a framework that included such topics as building permitting, wetlands protection, tree protection, affordable housing, property rights, and sea-level rise. If followed, the planning staff’s timetable for making new policies stretches into 2023.
“It is anticipated that this process will take 12 to 14 months to complete,” a planning memorandum on the framework reads.
That challenge of revising development regulations may require help from a consultant, as well as time and careful thought.
“I’m not comfortable with railroading this thing through,” Johnson told his colleagues, adding the county could be sued by supporters of property rights or by environmentalists. “I don’t have any intention of making a move just to make somebody happy.”
“We’re not known for railroading. We’re known for dragging things out,” Brower said. “We have to get on the water issue now, … not wait another year.”
“I don’t think we should put it off for a year,” Robins said.
The people speak
There was an abundance of public thought for the council. Anyone who wanted to address the governing body was afforded the opportunity.
“Growth does not pay for itself,” Suzanne Scheiber, of Ormond Beach, said. “Increase impact fees. … Use your political power to stop the Pioneer Trail/I-95 interchange because bad ideas like this perpetuate sprawl.”
Dr. Wendy Anderson, who chairs the Volusia Soil & Water Conservation District Board, urged the council to deal with growth with the larger picture in mind, including the cities.
“Do not do this review of your land-development regulations in isolation,” she said. “Do not rely overmuch on consultants. … We have to look at these things holistically.”
Charles McDonald Jr. told the council he is concerned about “individual property rights” and growth occurring outside the county government’s jurisdiction.
“The problem is not with the county. The problem is with the cities,” he said.
“Growth must be accommodated for and managed in a rational way, so as to protect our citizens and our resources,” Suze Peace, of DeLand, said. “Objections to growth happen when it’s sprung on unsuspecting citizens.”
When the time came for the council to make decisions, the elected body did agree to review questions about vested, or “grandfathered,” rights for subdivisions platted or developed before the county adopted its subdivision ordinance in 1976.
“We’re facing situations now where some of those roads are impassable,” Ervin said.
That was one issue of many awaiting consideration by the council.
Recycling an old way
Seeing so much to do in so little allotted time, Johnson urged the council to re-form ENRAC and ask it to submit recommendations on how to control growth. The committee last met in 2003. The new ENRAC, the council decided, will have nine members, five of whom will be appointed by district council members, while the county chair and the at-large council member will each appoint two members. Ideally, too, each of the County Council members elected countywide will choose one from the east side and one from the west side of the county.
The creation of the ENRAC requires the council’s approval of a resolution or ordinance, and that will not occur before July. If the measure passes, the council must then appoint the panel’s members, perhaps in middle or late July. Once the committee is formed, it would probably be August or September before its first meeting is scheduled.
“I only feel like we’re putting it off,” Brower said.
Not so, Johnson countered.
“It’s important that we go about this in a precise manner,” Johnson said. “The final outcome rests with us. … We’re trying to work to a consensus.”
The prolonged debate — plus the lack of a lunchtime recess — wore on council members.
“We’re wasting our time,” Johnson said.
Shortly thereafter, the County Council agreed to adjourn. Brower expressed dismay at the indecisive end.
“I wanted to give the committee [ENRAC] direction, and now they’re going to give us direction,” he said.