My favorite District 1 county councilwoman frequently says that she aims to connect, communicate and collaborate. Imagine if the county and its cities actually did that with each other.
As DeLand, Orange City and Volusia County race to move development proposals through the pipeline for the Southwest Activity Center west of the I-4 and State Road 472 interchange toward Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway (aka Kentucky Avenue on the Orange City side), it seems like the three jurisdictions are not connecting, communicating or collaborating with each other. If they were, maybe they would realize that the absolute worst thing that could happen in that zone is to have all four corners dominated by warehouses and distribution centers rather than commercial/retail centers. But warehouses and distribution centers are what each entity seems to be independently driving toward, as if they aren’t talking to each other at all.
This extended interchange area is an increasingly important gateway into DeLand now that the whole southeastern quadrant of town is quickly being built out. It should be a useful stop-off for travelers passing through, a welcoming portal for visitors arriving in central West Volusia, and most importantly, a commercial resource for those of us who live here. Are we really going to pack the whole zone with warehouses and hundreds of 18-wheeler truck trips a day along 472?
I fully understand that the Southwest Activity Center has been planned as a commercial district for about 30 years. I lament that we’re going to lose the trees, the habitat for bears, coyotes, tortoises, indigo snakes, scrub jays, and more. We can pile on the mourning heap. But that’s not my point.
My point is, what kind of commercial enterprise should it be? What kind of enterprises will support the thousands of travelers and visitors, and enhance the quality of life for the 20,000 DeLand residents who will live in the southeastern quadrant of town by 2025, and the 10,000+ Orange City residents who live in its northeastern quadrant?
We were supposed to get a retail and professional center gateway like Heathrow’s Colonial TownPark with restaurants, boutique stores, entertainment venues, and professional offices. What happened to that plan?
And is anybody thinking about the regional hydrologic impact of this many massive buildings that are each several hundred thousand square feet and that create massive areas of impervious surfaces in a critical recharge area of the Blue Spring Springshed? The St. Johns River Water Management District will evaluate the impact of each development as a stand-alone project but not necessarily look at the impact of the whole collection as each project staggers through review. Whose job is it to look at the big picture here?
Commercial districts with buildings with smaller footprints, or buildings apt to be multistory, can more easily include low-impact development strategies to infiltrate more water on-site through a variety of “treatment trains.” These include swales and rain gardens, highly permeable infiltration basins with native plants, and site designs that work around and protect the original wetlands. It’s impossible to implement these solutions on a site that is covered in one big warehouse building and associated parking lot.
Are DeLand, Orange City and Volusia County talking to each other? When the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) agreement expired some 13 years ago, did the “local plan” overlay not require some coordination among the adjacent government entities for a coherent, well-planned district?
Can we pause and bring these entities’ staff, planning boards, commissions and councils together to make a coherent, real local plan for this intersection? If not, then I urge every resident of West Volusia to pay close attention to the Southwest Activity Center proposals moving through the DeLand, Orange City and Volusia County pipelines. And I urge you to show up at meetings to share your thoughts, write letters, and call the decision-makers, and demand that they connect, communicate and collaborate to make better and coordinated decisions.
— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.