Dazed and reeling from Hurricane Ian, both Volusia County government and the Deltona City Commission talked about taking a break from development.
At the Volusia County Council meeting Oct. 4, and the Deltona City Commission meeting Oct. 3, elected officials struggled with the idea of approving new developments while homes are flooded and ruined in existing developments.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for another development,” County Chair Jeff Brower said Oct. 4. “We need to pause.”
In Deltona, the City Commission was looking at a plat for a new subdivision. The planned neighborhood, known as Island Walk South, is to have 57 homes on 16 acres along Lake Helen Osteen Road — a road that was flooded by Hurricane Ian’s rains.
“That lake is full out there,” Deltona City Commissioner Loren King said. “It’s a one-way street. … I will vote no.”
Ultimately, the City Commission agreed to postpone a vote on the plat until Oct. 17 to allow time for Deltona Community Services Director Ron Paradise and other city staffers to inspect the infrastructure in and around the site.
At the County Council meeting, despite Brower’s conscience, the elected officials said their hands are tied when it comes to approving growth.
“We keep approving these developments,” Brower told his colleagues. “We’re paving over our permeable ground. … I’m going to vote against it. I urge the council to vote against it.”
“It” was plat approval for a subdivision known as Verona Villas, which would put 18 town homes and three single-family homes on a 3.4-acre parcel at the northwest corner of State Road A1A and Spanish Waters Drive, across from the ocean, in the Ormond Beach area.
County staffers pointed out that the developer, MHK of Volusia County, had followed the rules of the pre-development process, and was entitled to approval of the plat. An attempt to stop the project could invite legal action.
“We can’t change the rules now,” Council Member Fred Lowry said. “We would be opening ourselves to a lawsuit.”
“A lawsuit we would probably lose,” Council Member Ben Johnson added.
Ultimately, the plat was approved with a 6-1 vote; Brower was the dissenting vote.
County Council Member Heather Post suggested the council discuss a moratorium, which would allow elected officials and county planners time to review and evaluate the regulations and effects of development.
“We’re bringing this up because people are coming to us,” she said.
The newly formed Environmental and Natural Resources Advisory Committee — known as ENRAC, for short — may be a fitting group to consider a moratorium, County Council Vice Chair Barb Girtman said.
As for the idea of a moratorium on most new development and construction in the non-city parts of the county, “We’re going to discuss it at the next meeting,” Chair Brower told The Beacon.
Deltona already has a moratorium in place on applications for new residential planned-unit developments (RUPDs). That moratorium was to remain in effect through December, but, at the Oct. 3 meeting, the City Commission unanimously agreed to continue it through March 31, 2023.
Other cities have yet to consider the idea.
“We have not yet discussed whether or not there would be a moratorium on new development as a result of the hurricane,” Orange City Manager Dale Arrington said.
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus also confirmed the DeLand City Commission has also not discussed a development moratorium.
Some cities are attempting to alleviate the burden Hurricane Ian damage has put on residents. For instance, while Deltona and portions of unincorporated Volusia County experienced major flooding, Lake Helen’s damage came from falling trees and branches. To that end, the city is working with homeowners to ease the process of repairing the homes.
“No moratorium … But we are waiving building permit fees,” Lake Helen City Administrator Lee Evett told The Beacon. “They still have to get a permit. But we’re waiving the fee for the owner, contractor, or if some private citizen comes in, says ‘I need a permit to repair my house,’ we’re waiving the fees for that.”
DeBary Mayor Karen Chasez said because of progress on stormwater projects, DeBary “experienced far less flooding” after Ian.
“In general, after Ian, high water was seen in areas developed many years ago and not in areas developed in the last 20 years,” Chasez said. “I am aware of possibly two homes in DeBary that had minor water intrusion after Ian. In each case it is my understanding that the water was quickly removed and the area dried.”
Deltona is still contending with major flooding issues, and the St. Johns River at south Lake Monroe has already surpassed historic record heights. As of 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, the river was at 8.53 feet and continuing to rise, higher than the record set in 1953 of 8.51 feet.
At the Oct. 3 Deltona City Commission meeting, Commissioner David Sosa, with evident frustration, told of hearing from residents wondering if they would be charged extra for failing to pay their water bills before the due dates. Sosa sought answers from Interim City Manager Marsha Segal-George.
“Marsha, I tried to call you, like, six times, and I finally gave up,” Sosa told her. “Are we waiving late fees from those people?”
Deltona Water Director Glen Whitcomb indicated the late-payment charges would not be added to the bills, because of the severity of the storm.
The city’s flooding, especially in the northeast portion of Deltona, demands attention, Commissioner King told his colleagues.
“District 1 has been the hardest hit,” he said, adding many streets and roads remain impassable, while some vehicles are underwater.
Because of the many detours, King said he had to drive about 40 minutes to make a trip that normally takes about eight minutes.
“It’s like driving in a maze,” he noted. “You see water pouring out of the ground. … I feel like this water is still rising.”