wendy anderson bob apgar deland stetson university
VIEWS ON GROWTH — DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar and Stetson University environmental professor Wendy Anderson talk at the conclusion of a long DeLand City Commission meeting that featured debate over a development project. Anderson has been a frequent speaker at City Commission meetings, to advocate for sustainable-growth practices. She has also written a number of commentaries for our Opinions pages. BEACON PHOTO/BARB SHEPHERD

Editor’s note: We’re glad to share these perspectives on DeLand’s growth, which we believe readers will find enlightening. This commentary is excerpted from remarks made by DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar at his second-to-last City Commission meeting Oct. 17.
At these last few meetings before his retirement Nov. 15, Apgar has been sharing his wish list for DeLand’s future, and lessons and perspectives learned during his 34 years as a DeLand elected official.
In the Tuesday, Nov. 8, election, DeLand voters will choose between current DeLand City Commissioner Chris Cloudman and former Volusia County administrator Reggie Williams to replace Apgar in the mayor’s seat. It will be the first time in 21 years that DeLand has had a new mayor.
I want to share some thoughts and frustrations and suggestions regarding growth. Small towns across Florida are not the same in terms of population as they were in the 1950s and ’60s, especially in Central Florida post-Disney.
When I graduated from DeLand High School, there was one person in my class from Deltona, and that was the daughter of the person the Mackle Brothers sent here to start the subdivision.
Things have changed. Central Florida’s very different, and it’s probably not going back.
The DeLand City Commission’s job as our community grows is to continue to grow responsibly and smart. We’ve done that. The key is, preserve our values, our small-town feel, our college and Downtown vibrancy, and the overall quality of life.
Outside perceptions play into this discussion. There was a recent article online that emanated from someone outside the area. The author had visited here, and they referred to DeLand as a “hamlet.” That person perceived DeLand to be a very small community.
The new owners of the Table were quoted in The Beacon as saying DeLand reminded them of the small town they had moved from: Palmer, Alaska. They referred to the small-town feel. Palmer, Alaska, is 6,000 people. We’re 39,000.
As insiders, we know we’ve grown, but people who are looking at our community still perceive us as small.
The other thing is, DeLand has gotten and continues to get a lot of positive publicity in a variety of media. That kind of publicity has been ongoing for more than 20 years, and maybe even close to 30, but it has increased remarkably over the past 10.
We can’t puff out our chests with pride and not expect that others will want to visit DeLand, some of whom decide to move here to live, or move a business or company here.
Being noticed, being on people’s radar, has continued to be a factor in our growth, and Stetson University’s growth. Existing businesses also benefit from visitors.
Two examples about being noticed: One was a couple I met that had lived in Central America for 25 years. When they decided to relocate back to the United States, they went online and identified three or four communities to visit. DeLand was one of them, and they chose to live here.
Recently, I was talking with someone who reacquainted with someone they had known in their youth in New York. That person had moved to a town farther north in Florida, but asked this person about DeLand because they had read publicity. They came and visited, came to an event and, guess what? They moved to DeLand.
We can’t have the best of both worlds. We can’t get noticed and expect people to not want what we have. And, if you don’t get noticed, what does that do to the rest of our community?
I know people in my age group who have returned to DeLand. They’ve lived in other places for long periods of time and made friends there, but they’ve chosen to come back to DeLand, because of the values we embrace and because they want to be here.
Your experiences may be different from mine, but as I’ve talked to people about DeLand and growth, I found that longtime DeLand residents, some whose families have been here multiple generations, those folks are generally happier with DeLand’s growth.
Sure, they have complaints, about traffic and things of that nature, but they’re happy with more opportunities, the vibrancy of Downtown, more things to do, more jobs and more business. They knew DeLand in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
I find most of the complaints about growth come from those folks who’ve been here 10 to 15 years or less. They complain about clear-cut subdivisions, cookie-cutter homes, density and so forth, but they live in the same subdivisions that, over the years, we had the same comments about: clear-cut, cookie-cutter homes, and so on.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s “I got mine; you’re not entitled to yours.” And, at the same time, those are the same folks that most often seem to ask me, “When are we going to get a Panera, or a Whole Foods, or a Trader Joe’s or an Outback?”
Those “asks” require demographics, they require population, they require income. They want us to have more jobs.
You can’t have some of the things that you want without some growth in income and in rooftops. And, jobs are driven by that.
There is a silent majority, and it’s normal everywhere that people against projects go up and voice their views, and they need to be heard.
But there is a silent majority, too. This year, two DeLand City Commission incumbents were re-elected by convincing margins. People who are dissatisfied don’t do that. The one mayoral candidate who most advocated change and no growth finished dead last in the mayoral race.
Members of the business community, too, report feeling positive about growth.
The real challenge is in maintaining our small-town feel and quality of life, and the City Commission’s been on the right track.
Don’t be afraid of growth. The important thing is to grow smart.
— Apgar was first elected to the DeLand City Commission in 1983. He has served the past 21 years as the city’s mayor.


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