apartments near deland middle
BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN VACANT LAND — A nonprofit wants to build affordable apartments on this land near DeLand Middle School.

The DeLand Planning Board reacted unfavorably to a proposed land-use change to allow an affordable-housing development near DeLand Middle School.

The Volusia Initiative for Church and Community, a nonprofit organization led by City Sanctuary Church Pastor Mark Schrade, presented the proposal for multifamily housing with about 65 units on 3 acres at 1325 Aquarius Ave. The complex would be called Aquarius Landing.

Schrade already owns the 2.95-acre parcel through another nonprofit organization he is affiliated with, DeLand Church of God Inc. The land is currently zoned for low-density residential development, but the nonprofit wants to rezone it for high-density residential development, and then to actually build more units than that.

The parcel’s current zoning, R-1B, allows for a maximum of 5.81 units per acre. The nonprofit wants R-16, which would allow for a maximum of 16 units per acre. To get the zoning they want, the nonprofit must get the land-use changed first.

The nonprofit also wants the city to adopt a new law that will allow developers to build more units than the zoning allows, when affordable housing is being proposed.

Attorney Carolyn Haslam, representing the Volusia Initiative for Church and Community, said density even more dense than the city’s most-dense zoning category — R-16 — is required.

“In order to make it work financially, we need to be able to get to essentially 150 percent of what’s high-density,” Haslam said. “If we did the medium density, essentially the numbers just don’t work on the project.”

To get above the maximum density allowed under R-16 zoning, Haslam and the Volusia Initiative for Church and Community recommended an ordinance that would allow developers to exceed density requirements by as much as 50 percent if the project being proposed was at least 80-percent affordable housing.

That idea was approved by the Planning Board, but requires approval by the DeLand City Commission before developers can take advantage of it.

But after discussing Aquarius Landing, members of the Planning Board said they weren’t comfortable approving such a high-density development so close to DeLand Middle School and more than a few blocks from U.S. Highway 17-92.

“We’re going to put stuff in here at 16-an-acre and dump that traffic into the school traffic, right?” Planning Board Member Buz Nesbit asked.

“They [Aquarius Landing residents] should probably learn when that traffic starts,” Planning Director Mike Holmes replied, “and either get in or out before that.”

The Planning Board is an advisory body, so positive or negative recommendations are passed along to the DeLand City Commission, which makes the final decisions. The city’s planning staff had recommended the Planning Board give a thumbs-up to the project.

But after some discussion, Planning Board Member Jeremy Owens made a motion to not recommend the project for approval by the DeLand City Commission.

“I’m not sure that it’s close enough to 17-92 to be the higher density yet,” Owens said. “I’m good with medium; I’m just not good with jumping that fast.”

The Planning Board recommended the City Commission not approve the land-use change for Aquarius Landing. The vote was 5-1, with members Nesbit, Owens, Albert Neumann, Don Liska and Dan Reed voting against the project, and Chair Virginia Comella voting in its favor.

Pastor and Volusia Initiative for Church and Community leader Schrade said he hopes the City Commission approves the project, because the need for affordable, workforce housing is dire.

“Growth is going to happen. It is happening,” he said. “Sometimes I think we’re more about protecting our community the way it is than creating positive solutions for the people moving here; that’s a way to win.”

The next step for Aquarius Landing is for the City Commission to make a decision on the proposed land-use change. If it’s turned down, the project will have to restart the application process. If it’s approved by the City Commission, the Planning Board will get to take a look at Aquarius Landing’s rezoning application at its next meeting, at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Even if the land-use change is approved for Aquarius Landing, there’s still a ways to go before the project comes to fruition. That’s partly because the state and federal governments have additional hoops for developers of affordable housing to jump through.

“If you approve this right now, we will not be in the dirt until January 2025, and it will take us at least 12 months to 18 months,” project coordinator Rob Cassata said. “The reason these projects [have such a difficult time being funded] is because you have to put so many moving parts together.”


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