West Volusia Beacon reporter Al Everson said it best: “What a difference an election makes!”
On Nov. 28, the newly constituted Deltona City Commission voted unanimously to reject a rezoning request that would have permitted an additional 145 homes in Fernanda Place on Deltona’s east side.
With recently elected Mayor Santiago Avila Jr. and three new commissioners on the dais, in a refreshing break from tradition, the elected officials listened to constituent concerns surrounding increased density, traffic, and inadequate parking — and ignored attractive baubles, gewgaws, and developer incentives, such as a swimming pool, a dog park, enhanced tree preservation, and a $100,000 cash spiff to the City of Deltona “for affordable housing efforts” – and voted 7-0 to deny the zoning change from Agricultural to Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD).
The bold move to protect the quality of life for existing residents resulted in an ominous warning from the developer’s normally conciliatory attorney, Mark Watts: “The property currently has rights. There’s going to be development there.”
From Everson’s story: “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.”
And you can bet your sweet bippy they will.
In my view, for the first time in a long time, a local elected body put down the rubber stamp and held firm to existing zoning regulations to protect the character of their community from the rampant overdevelopment that has stressed existing transportation infrastructure, added to flooding concerns, and threatened the quantity and quality of our drinking water supply across Volusia County.
In addition, according to The Beacon’s report, in a refreshing about-face from the “us vs. them” mentality that has gripped Deltona City Hall for years, commissioners removed the “… cordons in the commission chambers that formed a sort of no man’s land between the audience and the dais.”
First implemented by former Mayor Heidi Herzberg during the bad old days of 2019 when Deltona residents were rightfully up-in-arms over the direction of their community, the physical barrier separating citizens from those they elect to represent their interests was a bitter reminder of an ugly and divisive period in the city’s history.
Although the physical screening procedures at the entrance to the commission chamber will remain, Mayor Avila assured the citizens of Deltona that he is committed to representing all residents of Deltona — and extended an olive branch to wary citizens asking that they trust their City Commission going forward.
That’s going to take time, but this meeting was a good start toward mending fences.
I have often said, if the city of Deltona is to remain a legitimate entity, then the elected officials must begin the painful process of sorting through the contentious baggage and set a collective vision, put aside the mean-spirited “gotcha” politics, collusions and accusatory maneuvers, and work cooperatively with stakeholders to achieve civic equilibrium.
While it is too early to tell how things will shake out, in my view, Mayor Avila and the reconstituted Deltona City Commission are making great strides to reverse the sins of the past and restore public confidence at City Hall.
— Barker writes a blog, usually about local government, at barkersview.org. A retired police chief, Barker says he lives as a semi-recluse in an arrogantly shabby home in coastal Central Florida, with his wife and two dogs. This is excerpted from his blog, lightly edited (he swears a lot) and reprinted with his permission.