BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN
COIN TOSS — The umpire performs the football-game-starting ritual coin toss, as the DeLand High School Bulldogs prepare to battle the University High School Titans of Orange City for DeLand’s Homecoming game Oct. 21. DeLand won the match.

Growth, development, sustainability, conservation and affordable housing captured a number of headlines in West Volusia in 2022, a year that opened with a focus on COVID, only to see the virus fade from conversation as the year waned.

As 2022 drew to a close, local elections that brought two new mayors to West Volusia cities captured residents’ attention, along with — sadly — the announcement of a stepped-up effort by law enforcement in response to seven incidents of gun violence, including one death, in south DeLand.

But 2022 may be remembered most for hurricanes Ian and Nicole, which produced historic wind, rains and flooding in West Volusia, along with devastation on Volusia County beaches.

We hope you enjoy our compilation of highlights from the year, and we at The West Volusia Beacon wish all our readers a very happy 2023.

See more: 2022 in Pictures

JANUARY

The five-woman team of DeLandites Linda Ryan, Kim Winters, Kathy Guyer, Barbara Underhill and Kim Martin who organized the ME STRONG 5K decide to retire from the race after a decade. A few months later, the Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation and West Volusia Rotary Clubs would announce plans to take over the incredibly popular 5K fundraiser.

DeLandites Chris and Jessica Levings announce plans to turn Trinity United Methodist Church at 306 W. Wisconsin Ave. in DeLand into a community marketplace and upstairs apartments, with a tentative opening in fall 2023.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread; the hospital system reports 40 COVID-19 patients, with seven in intensive care. Of the hospitalizations, two are children.

Volusia County’s property values were likely to set new records in 2022, county Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett predicted. He was right, too. Property values helped raise the county’s tax roll by 13 percent, or nearly $43 billion.

The DeLand City Commission approves several development projects Jan. 18, setting the stage for more than 860 new homes in five planned developments. The largest among them was Trinity Gardens, a 184-acre housing development that would bring 543 units of housing — including 425 single-family homes and 118 town homes — to the southeast side of DeLand.

DeLand city officials and representatives of GlassHouse Inc. debate parking plans for the former site of the Old Jail in Downtown DeLand. Four years after is was selected to revamp the property, the company has yet to move through all the requirements by the city.

DeLand Fire Department’s new Fire Station 81 opens at 343 W. Howry Ave.

Deltona leaders buy land for their share of a project to extend Orange City’s Rhode Island Avenue over Interstate 4 to connect Orange City and Deltona.

Blue Spring State Park in Orange City shatters manatee-count records when winter storms drop the water temperature in the St. Johns River to around 55 degrees. On Jan. 24, 725 sea cows visited the park.

Black leaders warned the Volusia County School Board that Senate Bill 148, also known as the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” would negatively impact Black history education. The bill was signed into law in April but has since been held up from going into effect by a federal judge.

FEBRUARY

An 18-year-old Stetson University student is arrested after threatening to detonate a bomb at the White House. The student went through pre-trial intervention and the state subsequently dropped the charges.

Savannah-Jane Griffin takes over as executive director of The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia.

Residents were underwhelmed by early plans to overhaul Voorhis Ave. in DeLand — especially after learning the city planned only for a streetscape on one block, between Clara and Florida avenues. By November, the project had ballooned in scope, and city officials were told to go back to the drawing board, and to solicit more community input. 

Orange City Clerk Melani Beringer abruptly resigns Feb. 22, following reports she had failed to properly advertise matters requiring public notice.

MARCH

Volusia County files suit against the West Volusia Hospital Authority in an attempt to recover Medicaid dollars the county says the agency owes. A judge’s ruling in favor of the county has been appealed, and litigation is ongoing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law. Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool sounded a warning at the March 8 Volusia County School Board meeting, and Volusia County quietly removed its “LGBTQ+ Support Guide” from the school district website.

Orange City identifies a new fire station and police department building as top projects, spending the rest of the year trying to figure out how to pay for them.

Deltona city commissioners receive a report about severe delayed maintenance in the city’s parks system.

Volusia County Schools Superintendent Scott Fritz, battling a skeptical School Board, signals he will not ask that his contract be extended. In April, Fritz was abruptly terminated and Dr. Carmen Balgobin took over. She was given a three-year contract in May.

An 11-page report on Lake Helen’s finances and policies opens the City Commission’s eyes to the city’s struggles with operational policies, which City Administrator Lee Evett called “loosey-goosey.” 

APRIL

Communities unite to save the historic Bartram Oak near Astor; a group of local scientists and tree experts work to set the tree on a course for healing from damage by an unknown cause.

The intersection of Orange Camp Road and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway opens as a roundabout, producing 17 crashes in the first four months of operation.

In an email to members, Pastor Ben Collins tells members of The Collective Church that the church will close. However, former congregants have continued to meet at The Dreka Theater in Downtown DeLand.

After four long years of effort, Lake Helen formalizes a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats.

The MainStreet DeLand Association begins a series of five training sessions on diversity and inclusion, which are offered free to all DeLand businesses.

An April 17 storm dumps at least 2 inches of rain on DeLand in just as many hours, highlighting the Downtown area’s longtime flooding problems.

Deltona officials granted a permit for staging heavy equipment and clearing 50 acres on the south side of a 150-acre tract known as I-4 Logistics Park, which will feature a 1-million-square-foot high-cube warehouse and two 500,000-square-foot buildings.

Seattle-based artist Moses Sun paints a mural at the Dr. Noble “Thin Man” Watts Amphitheater in the Spring Hill community of DeLand. 

MAY

Major increases in insurance premiums shock local residents and prompt a special session of the Florida Legislature. 

The AAA finds the statewide average price of gasoline is $4.49 per gallon, up from the previous record average price of $4.38 set in March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

At least 10 specific and particular appropriations for Volusia County in the state’s new budget are labeled by Florida TaxWatch as “turkeys.”

Lake Helen begins the process of improving its aging water system, after a series of errors and an over-chlorination episode aggravated consumers. 

A report shows that most of the buildings of Starke Elementary in DeLand would cost more to fix than to tear down and replace, prompting the Volusia County School Board to plan to build an entirely new school.

As elections shape up, Volusia County School Board races are more political than they’ve been in many election cycles — despite the fact that the races are nonpartisan — as school boards become battlegrounds in ongoing culture wars.

According to data from the United Way’s ALICE report, even in households with two working adults, about 45 percent of all Volusia County families are struggling to afford housing, food and health care. 

After recovering from the sticker shock, the County Council May 17 agrees to build a new $2.5 million courtroom in the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand.

The Deltona Planning and Zoning Board votes to support a moratorium on new residential planned unit developments. It will remain in place until March 2023.

Drama surrounds the race for the Volusia County Council at-large seat after candidate Jake Johansson, former city manager of Port Orange, slammed the exclusion of the only female and Black candidate from a May 12 event held by the Volusia County Teenage Republicans. 

Electricity and water are shut off at the Budget Inn east of DeLand, and more than 50 families must find new places to live. 

The Deltona High School Lady Wolves varsity softball team defeated the Lake Wales Lady Highlanders May 27 to become state champions in FHSAA Class 4A. The final score was 6-3. Coaches Lindsay Ingram, Chris Ramer and Brittany Carraturo coached the team to victory.

Hunter’s Restaurant, which first opened in DeLand in 1949, closes its doors. A new restaurant, Saigon Bistro, will take its place.

Deltona approves 122 homes at Lakeside Landing, a new neighborhood fronting on Lake Sidney.

The DeLand City Commission approves rezoning for Trinity Gardens, a subdivision that will bring 543 new homes to the city’s southeast side.

Dr. Peter Springer, Volusia County’s medical director of 16 years, steps down. As medical director, Springer led a team of more than 1,000 EMTs and paramedics.

JUNE

Volusia County businesses weigh in on the upcoming elections with big donations, notably the Hosseini family. As of June 1, the Hosseini family, behind Intervest Construction Inc., also known as ICI, a homebuilding company, contributed nearly $15,000 to local candidates. 

Dutton House Inc. President Dagny Robertson announces that an anonymous donor has agreed to pay back the full amount of $234,800 from a 2006 ECHO grant to the Volusia County Council. Built in 1911, the historic home in DeLand has been in limbo for years.

Trilogy Kitchen, Trilogy Coffee’s planned second location with a focus on breakfast options, and the DeLand Cat Cafe are planned for on the former Gram’s Kitchen restaurant campus in east DeLand.

Code enforcement complaints lead to DeBary resident William Mantz accruing a collection of fines greater than $100,000 for his lawn. The city said it was overgrown, but Mantz said it was natural and feeding local bees and other insects. As of October, neither party had budged and Mantz’s fine was approaching $200,000.

The state agency and the consulting firm working to transfer ownership of SunRail to the five local partners — including Volusia County — set the long-awaited change for June 30, 2024.

The Volusia County School District and two of its unions move toward a $15 hourly minimum wage for school employees, three months earlier than required by law.

Candidates for seats on the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District board scramble to complete documents before the noon June 17 deadline, after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that changed the rules for the election. When the deadline came and the dust had settled, each of the Soil & Water races had only one qualified candidate. Austin Spivey, James Brinton, Dennis Michael Simpson, Wendy Anderson and Kristine Cunningham all were elected automatically, because they were unopposed. 

A proposal to change a long-standing rule in Pierson prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays dies at the Pierson Town Council

DeLand-built ST 479 Tiger, a World War II tugboat, begins its long journey home from a dock in Stockholm, Sweden. Later in the year, a date was set for the final trip home to Volusia County: Jan. 15, 2023.

JULY

After nearly two years of hearings, the DeLand City Commission approves rezoning for Beresford Reserve, a controversial 597-unit housing development on a former golf course.

DeLand Police Sgt. Tony Tagle receives a Medal of Valor and Lifesaving Award for rescuing two drowning children in New Smyrna Beach. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection investigates possible water pollution from aging diesel tanks unearthed on DeLand’s southwest edge after DeLandite Eddie Fort reported contamination of his well water. The resulting pollution landed Fort in the hospital.

More than three-and-half years after Gregory Ramos, then age 15, strangled his mother and buried her under a fire pit behind a church in DeBary, Brian Porras, a 17-year-old friend who helped stage a burglary to cover up the crime, is sentenced to 364 days in the Volusia County Branch Jail and 14 years of probation. Ramos is serving 45 years in state prison for first-degree murder.

He pleaded no contest to accessory after the fact to second-degree murder, and the judge withheld a finding of guilt, meaning Porras will not be a convicted felon. Ramos is currently serving 45 years in state prison on the count of first-degree murder.

Volusia County deputies set up a checkpoint in the lobby outside Volusia County Council chambers, to search those entering the meeting place.

Foundations to Freedom purchases six DeLand-area properties to develop mostly as halfway houses and drug-treatment centers.

A proposal for new activity at the Creative Arts Café in Lake Helen is criticized harshly by some Volusia County ECHO Advisory Committee members. The ECHO-funded building is one of a handful that are not currently abiding by the restrictions of the grant. The ECHO Advisory Committee will do a site visit Jan. 26, 2022, to assess the improvements made by the Lake Helen Gems, a local civic organization. 

AUGUST

Joe Crews, The Beacon’s business editor since 2013, died at the age of 70 Aug. 6. Crews died of complications due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

DeLand skaters voice their desire for a new park to use, and the city later heard their pleas.

The West Volusia Beacon wins three awards at the annual Florida Media Conference in Ponte Vedra Beach. The awards were in the categories of Online Slideshow (third place), Agricultural and Environmental Reporting (second place), and Education News (second place). 

The longtime operator of the Old Spanish Sugar Mill in DeLeon Springs State Park, Schwarze Enterprises, was outbid by Guest Services Inc. for the contract to provide guest services. The beloved pancake house reopened with new operators Oct. 1

Guest Services Inc., who also operates the concession services at Blue Spring State Park, closed the boat ramp at French Landing in Orange City to commercial kayak vendors Aug. 1.

Three days before the start of school, Volusia County Schools reports 217 teacher vacancies.

By just 30 votes, Webster Barnaby of Deltona bests Elizabeth Fetterhoff of DeLand in the Republican primary race to represent District 29 in the Florida House of Representatives. Downtown DeLand businessman Dan Reed is elected to the DeLand City Commission.

The Florida Department of Transportation announces wide-ranging planned improvements to U.S. Highway 17 in DeLeon Springs, including widening a section of the two-lane road to four lanes, and installing a roundabout at Spring Garden Ranch Road.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Volusia/Flagler Counties opens T. DeWitt Taylor/Pierson Teen Center, its first all-teens center.

SEPTEMBER

Volusia County breaks ground on a new medical examiner facility, at an estimated cost of $18.4 million, on Sept. 9. The current facility has been under scrutiny after failing to meet at least 13 standards set by the National Association of Medical Examiners, including “not shielding the receiving of bodies from public view.”

Work formally stops on the historic Hotel Putnam in Downtown DeLand after the city’s building department discovered structural problems. Little has changed since then, and The Beacon has heard no comment from Axia Group, the firm that purchased the building in 2021.

Residents of the Norwood neighborhood in DeLand woke up to antisemitic flyers in plastic bags on their driveways. The flyers claimed that “EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE IS JEWISH.” They depicted numerous past Jewish leaders of the Federal Reserve with the Star of David edited onto their foreheads.

The City of Deltona axes Acting City Manager John Peters Sept. 19. Peters had announced his intent to resign, but had hoped to stay on until Nov. 17.

With a unanimous vote, the DeBary City Council Sept. 21 legalized chickens and ducks in large-lot neighborhoods zoned RA (Rural Estate) or RR (Rural Residential). Such lots are at least 1 acre.

Hurricane Ian slams Volusia County with historic winds and rainfall. In Volusia County, the worst wind and rain were recorded in New Smyrna Beach with 21 inches of rain and wind gusts as fast as 96 mph. In West Volusia, 55 mph winds were recorded in DeLand and Lake Helen and DeLand received the worst rains with more than 15 inches.

OCTOBER

The Boys and Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler Counties announces plans to build a new Teen Center named after DeLand community advocate Althea Ross Chavers “The Beautiful.”

The DeLand City Commission approves two developments near the city’s southeast boundaries aiming to accomplish a project initially undertaken 30 years ago to draw visitors and locals to the intersection of DeLand, Deltona and Orange City. Rezoning for the two developments, CTC DeLand and DeLand Tech Park, was approved on second reading by the DeLand City Commission Oct. 3.

The DeBary City Council Oct. 19 ratifies an agreement to buy Alexander Island, 170 environmentally sensitive acres along the St. Johns River, for $3.5 million

The Orange City Council Oct. 25 tentatively approves the proposal of a huge warehouse to receive and ship merchandise, known as the North Kentucky Distribution Center

Micah Bennett, the son of Pierson Mayor Samuel G.S. Bennett, is arrested in Naples, Florida, and charged with four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. The case is ongoing in the Collier County court system.

NOVEMBER

DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar presides over his last City Commission meeting Nov. 7.

Fifty-five percent of Volusia County voters cast ballots in the Nov. 8 election, with Republicans far outnumbering Democrats and independent voters. 

In DeLand, City Commissioner Chris Cloudman became the city’s first new mayor in more than 20 years. Meanwhile, in Deltona, a new mayor and a number of new city commissioners got seats on the dais. 

The same was true at the County Council, where a number of seats changed out, including popular incumbent Barb Girtman, who was replaced by DeLand attorney Don Dempsey.

In Orange City, voters made history by electing Lisa Stafford, the first Black woman to sit on the city’s council, and both Orange City and Pierson gained councils with more women than men.

As he was stepping off of the dais for the last time Nov. 10, outgoing Lake Helen City Commissioner Jim Connell was physically and verbally assaulted, police said. The Lake Helen Police Department arrested George Raisler, the husband of former Lake Helen Mayor Daisy Raisler, and charged him with the attack.

Just after people who suffered damages from Hurricane Ian were picking up the pieces, Hurricane Nicole hits Florida Nov. 10, causing devastation on Volusia County’s coast, and refilling flooded areas of West Volusia that were just beginning to dry out after Hurricane Ian.

DECEMBER

The nonprofit Food Brings Hope announces plans to stop providing $250,000 worth of services annually to the Pierson area after a contentious Pierson Town Council meeting.

With a new mayor and a new City Commission, Deltona says no to a 44-acre housing development planned near Pine Ridge High School. 

Volusia County Corrections Director Dr. Mark Flowers is served with a notice of the county’s intent to fire him Dec. 9 after a seven-month investigation concluded he created a hostile work environment and violated the rights of inmates.

With residents still coping with the historic effects of hurricanes Ian and Nicole, many question whether the increase in development over the past 20 years worsened the effects of the storms, but county officials and scientists say there are many variables.

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