After almost three hours of arguments for and against having another place for people to store their extra stuff, the Volusia County Council Dec. 6 voted to allow a mini-warehouse storage complex along State Road 44 east of DeLand.
Although several people living around and near Lake Winnemissett pleaded against the project, the council unanimously agreed to change the land use and the zoning of 4.69 acres on the south side of the state highway east of Kepler Road to allow the commercial development.
“This is low-impact development, without question,” Rob Merrell said.
Merrell is an attorney for Vanacore Holdings LLC, the developer.
Merrell and his client sought to change the land use from Urban Low Intensity to Commercial. Such a change would allow the property to be rezoned from the current Single Family Residential (R-3) to Business Planned Unit Development (BPUD).
Despite the urban or suburban character of the planned storage facility, Merrell told the County Council it would create less traffic and use less potable water than a residential subdivision.
Because Vanacore and a consulting engineer, Parker Mynchenberg, have designed a drainage system that keeps stormwater on the site, Merrell described the mini-warehouse as “clean smart growth.” Mynchenberg noted, too, the stormwater system will prevent nutrients — especially nitrogen and phosphorus — from going into nearby lakes.
With attention focused on stormwater following hurricanes Ian and Nicole, Mynchenberg said the project should not compound woes.
“It’s outside the 100-year flood plain,” he said. “It’s heavily wooded.”
In addition, Merrell said, the 89,900-square-foot facility had been refined to include buffering with trees and landscaping, and “the building is 125 feet back” from the road. The mini-warehouse will also use the ingress and egress of an animal hospital next door, he added.
Moreover, Merrell said, new settlers coming to Florida each day — approximately 1,000 per day statewide — need storage.
“They still want to come here,” he said. “We’re just trying to make a place for them.”
Merrell sought to allay concerns that the warehouse would invite other new requests for commercial land uses and zoning nearby.
“No retail. No offices, except for the office at the front of the storage facility. No industrial or manufacturing,” he promised for the Vanacore site.
The mini-warehouse had its backers.
One was Meaghan Boden, who said she lives in unincorporated Volusia County.
“Storage units are inevitable with the population growth,” she told the County Council.
Another member of the audience, Dennis Thomas, spoke in support.
“You cannot stop growth, and we can use common sense when faced with development,” he said. “I would encourage the council to vote yes for this low-impact facility.”
Lake Winnemissett neighbors were not convinced.
“This project would be very detrimental to our community,” Jeanne Savoie said. “Why are the needs of this developer being prioritized over the needs of the community?”
Savoie suggested residential development would be better than a warehouse.
“We do not have a crisis of storage units; we do have a crisis of affordable housing,” she said.
“Ours is a completely residential neighborhood,” Joan Lee said. “It would change the character of our neighborhood.”
Lee reminded the elected officials that the Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission had voted 4-3 to recommend the County Council reject the request to change the land use and the zoning.
“We want our neighbors living in homes, not commercial buildings,” she concluded. DeLand attorney Astrid de Parry lives on Lake Winnemissett, and she said the mini- warehouse is “completely incompatible with the surrounding area.” “It will draw new traffic to our neighborhood,” she added.
After the prolonged public hearing, the council wrestled with the arguments.
“This is a hard decision,” Council Member Billie Wheeler said. “We work for the people, not just one. … Even a developer has rights, and I don’t know why developers are so cursed. … I think this has low impact.”
“This has been a very emotional issue,” Council Member Ben Johnson said. “This does have low impact on water and sewer … less impact on the neighborhood.”
Vice Chair Barb Girtman, who presided over the meeting in County Chair Jeff Brower’s absence, concluded “the low impact matters.”
With two members absent, the County Council voted 5-0 in favor of the land-use change and the rezoning. Before the rezoning may go into effect, however, the land-use change must be approved by the Volusia Growth Management Commission and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
As well as Brower’s absence, the council is not yet up to its full complement, following the exit of District 5 Council Member Dr. Fred Lowry. Lowry had to leave office last month, after running unsuccessfully for a seat on the Volusia County School Board, leaving the District 5 post empty until former Florida Rep. David Santiago is sworn in in January to take Lowry’s place representing the Deltona area.
Under Florida’s resign-to run law, anyone holding an elected office and running for a different elected office must step down no later than the starting date of the term of the office they are seeking.