After three hours of back-and-forth, the DeLand City Commission postponed the first reading to rezone land for GlassHouse Square, the development that could replace the historic-but-dilapidated Old Jail at 130 W. New York Ave.
The unanimous decision to continue the project was made because there are still elements of the redevelopment that the City Commission wants the developer, GlassHouse Square LLC, to work on.
GlassHouse LLC was selected in 2018 by the City Commission from among three applicants interested in redeveloping the Old Jail and the land it sits on, both of which belong to the City of DeLand.
As proposed, GlassHouse Square will have space for retail businesses, office space and five apartments, complete with a pedestrian walkway connecting Georgia Avenue with West New York Avenue, much like the neighboring Artisan Alley.
Four years later, the project still has details to iron out before the city will give it a green light.
“We’re getting close,” City Commissioner Charles Paiva said, as the City Commission wrapped up hours of debate about the project.
Parking is one of the City Commission’s concerns. The run-down Old Jail parking lot currently has 31 spaces, and the city has gone from asking the developer to build 100 parking spaces to around 50.
On Sept. 26, the parking was still a bit of a mystery.
GlassHouse LLC attorney Alex Ford said he had come up with a potential solution: a “hybrid” solution.
Instead of trying to find room for 50 parking spaces either off or on the Old Jail site, Ford proposed GlassHouse build 20 parking spaces on the development’s property during the first phase of construction, and then pay the city enough money to fund another 20 parking spaces, at a per-space price that’s yet to be determined.
During the project’s second phase, Ford said, the developer would move the 20 Phase 1 parking spaces off-site, and build another 10 parking spaces, bringing GlassHouse’s total to 30 parking spaces, with another 20 paid for.
The City Commission favored the hybrid plan.
“Personally, I don’t like any parking on the site,” City Commissioner Kevin Reid said.
Commissioner Paiva said he would rather see open space on the development than parking. In particular, Paiva expressed a preference for green space.
The type of open space is still up in the air. To enhance Downtown DeLand’s ability to absorb stormwater, commissioners encouraged the developer to consider green space or, at least, some type of semipermeable solution to reduce runoff.
“I’m not sure that a green space works,” attorney Ford said. “You’re going to have a lot of traffic on it, and keeping it up is difficult. Maybe there is some other pervious type of solution that could work.”
GlassHouse had previously proposed building 41 parking spaces on the Old Jail site for Phase 1, but Reid favored every space being built elsewhere, even though the existing parking spaces on the Old Jail lot are heavily used.
“I know there’s a lot of people who rely on those parking spots, but I think walking a little extra supports those businesses, and I don’t think it’s that much further to ask,” he said, “particularly when it’s employees who are parking in those spots … .”
Mayor Bob Apgar was open to the idea of the project’s parking spaces being off-site, but finding land available to buy might slow down the project.
If the parking isn’t on-site, parking for GlassHouse Square must be located within 800 feet of the development. As of Sept. 26, the developer could not say where that parking would be.
Under the hybrid parking plan, Apgar said, the city could ensure at least some parking would be built on-site.
Apgar also said he wanted to see hard deadlines for the project’s progress.
The rezoning development agreement, if approved, gives GlassHouse Square the option to build its redevelopment in two phases.
The first phase would include the 20,000-square-foot two-story building along West New York Avenue meant to house the headquarters for Deltran Operations, USA and other businesses. The second phase would be a second, smaller building fronting on Georgia Avenue that would have commercial space on the ground floor and apartments above.
But the contract doesn’t require GlassHouse to ever build the second phase, another aspect that was discussed by the City Commission. Mayor Apgar said it is common for multiphase projects to change over time, and for planned latter phases to not be built.
Another topic for discussion was the promise the City of DeLand made to Volusia County when it traded the county for the Old Jail: to not use the site for parking.
It was a big deal that the county traded the Old Jail property to the city, the mayor said, and he wants to honor the promise.
“It was specifically said … You’re going to use this property for economic development purposes; you’re not going to use that for parking. That was made clear to the public in everything we said about the property when we took it,” Apgar said. “Speaking for myself, I intend, whether it’s this project or another project, to honor that agreement, that it would be for economic development purposes and add value to our Downtown.”
A neighborhood’s charm
Even more than the number of parking spaces, members of the public — including nearby residents — expressed concern about the developer’s insistence that GlassHouse’s parking be private, and about whether the planned pedestrian walkway connecting West New York and Georgia avenues would be kept open for public use.
Neighboring property owner Barb Shepherd wanted full confirmation that the walkway would be left open and not closed off.
“Walk the neighborhood; we don’t have gates and locks,” she said. “I think that this is a public asset that we’re giving to GlassHouse Square, and if we give it without restrictions on the pedestrian flow between New York and Georgia, I think we’re giving away a huge, tremendous opportunity that we won’t get back.”
Allen Johnson, another DeLandite, talked about this, too.
“The Downtown, especially that area, has a certain openness to it,” Johnson said, later adding, “What I don’t want to see is the privatization of Downtown DeLand and public space … .”
GlassHouse attorney Alex Ford insisted, though, that the developer was committed to the free flow of pedestrian traffic. The development agreement stipulates that the walkway would be “generally” open to the public from 8 a.m. to midnight.
“The idea is, it would generally be open to the public,” Ford said. “How you put that into words is something we need to work on.”
Ford wanted to ensure the walkway was privately owned so that the developer would retain the ability to remove people from the property, if necessary.
“Really, the idea is not to make it an exclusive club where only people who are invited are allowed in,” Ford said. “The idea is to mimic what’s already being successfully applied next door.”
Ford was referring to Artisan Alley’s pedestrian walkway through the Conrad property, with shops and restaurants, that is open to the public.
The vote to continue the first reading of GlassHouse Square’s rezoning was unanimous.
No date was set for when the project will return to the City Commission for another swing at its first reading.
The lengthy discussion about GlassHouse Square brought out other areas the developer needs to keep working on before the City Commission sees the project again.
— While the attorneys for GlassHouse Square and the neighboring Conrad properties have been communicating to develop language for the development agreement to protect the Conrad company buildings from vibratory damage related to construction, the city wants to ensure that language is ironed out.
— To prevent a possible future where Phase 2 of GlassHouse Square isn’t built and a former city property becomes a vacant lot, City Commissioner Charles Paiva suggested potentially adding language to the agreement that would revert the Phase 2 land to city ownership if it is left undeveloped.
— GlassHouse will produce new parking exhibits that account for the newly proposed hybrid plan.
— The project’s parking spaces should be full-size and up to the city’s parking standards. Previously proposed on-site parking had spots that were, per the City Commission, “substandard” in size.
— The city advised GlassHouse to invest more in liability insurance than the $1 million that was budgeted. Conrad Realty attorney Mark Watts suggested the developer consider as much as $5 million in liability insurance to cover potential damage that could be done to GlassHouse’s neighbors.
— Editor’s note: Conrad Realty Co. President Barb Shepherd is publisher of The Beacon, and the newspaper leases its offices from Conrad Realty.