What a difference an election makes!
In stark contrast to its votes before the election, the new Deltona City Commission voted down a developer’s request to enlarge a neighborhood on Deltona’s east side.
Previously, the seven-member City Commission cast split votes in favor of the new housing. On Nov. 28, however, the City Commission — with a new mayor and three new commissioners — voted unanimously, 7-0, not to rezone 43.55 acres next to Pine Ridge High School, and not to allow 145 more homes to be added to Fernanda Place. Fernanda Place now has 252 homes.
The attorney for the developer warned there will be development on the land in question, anyway.
“The property currently has rights,” Mark Watts told the City Commission. “There’s going to be development there.”
Before they voted, commissioners heard complaints about:
— Density, with lots with widths of 45 or 50 feet, smaller than those in Deltona’s older neighborhoods
— Traffic, with Fernanda Boulevard providing the only vehicular ingress and egress from Howland Boulevard
— Parking, which is in short supply, partly because of the smaller lots
Those problems, the residents said, would only worsen if scores of new homes are added to the neighborhood
“We were told there was not going to be any development behind us. It was considered a conservation area because of the animals living there,” Jennifer Sutton, secretary of the Fernanda Place Homeowners Association, told the City Commission.
Starlight Homes had sought a zoning change from Agricultural to Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD) for the tract on the east side of the high school. With the Agricultural zoning, only one home per acre is permitted on the 43.55-acre tract, not the 145 proposed.
A decision on Fernanda Place Phase 3 by the City Commission had been postponed several times over the past eight months or so. When Commissioner Dana McCool asked how many times Phase 3 has been revised or altered, Watts replied, “More than a dozen times.”
Stung by the criticism from people already living there, Starlight subsequently revised Phase 3 to make the project more suitable to city officials. Additional offerings included:
— A second swimming pool for use by the homeowners
— A traffic signal to be installed at the intersection of Howland and Fernanda boulevards
— A dog park to be placed in Phase 3
— More tree preservation, such as not allowing clearing of land east of Osteen Cemetery Road and ensuring the protection of live oaks
— The placement of 56 new off-street parking spaces in the older Phases 1 and 2 of Fernanda Place
— $100,000 to be paid by the developer to Deltona “for affordable housing efforts”
Freshman Commissioner Jody Lee Storozuk was not satisfied.
“Emergency services will be in chaos,” he said, referring to the single entrance and exit point.
Storozuk said the influx of more families would result in “overpopulating the schools. He moved to deny the zoning change for Phase 3, and McCool quickly seconded his motion.
“I have a problem with life and safety issues,” McCool said.
Mayor Santiago Avila Jr. likewise opposed the rezoning, adding he was troubled by the “one way in and out of that development.”
After the commission voted down the ordinance to rezone the property for Phase 3 of Fernanda Place, Watts left the meeting, but he indicated he and his clients are not giving up.
“The property has rights to develop,” he said, adding he may submit a new request for Phase 3.
“We can file tomorrow,” he concluded.
Besides rejecting a controversial zoning change, Mayor Santiago Avila Jr. and the reconstituted Deltona City Commission introduced another noticeable change at City Hall.
Gone are the cordons in the commission chambers that formed a sort of no man’s land between the audience and the dais.
The marked-off zone of separation between the city officials and people attending and watching their leaders at work first appeared in the summer of 2019, when then-Mayor Heidi Herzberg said threats of violence and harm had been made against city leaders.
At that time, too, anyone seeking to enter the City Commission Chambers was required to pass through a metal detector or submit to a wand search by a deputy to make certain no weapons or dangerous contraband would find its way into the room. The screening protocol remains, but the separation zone between the elected leaders and their constituents is gone.
“I’m here to represent the residents of Deltona. I think we showed some of that,” Avila said.
“We’re asking you to trust us,” he also told the audience. “We want the residents to trust us.”