As more of Central Florida’s vacant land makes way for urban development, Volusia County and the City of DeLand are uniting to save a piece of wilderness already surrounded by homes and roads on DeLand’s east side.
“This piece of land is going to be swallowed up,” County Chair Jeff Brower warned, as he sought support for the county to join DeLand in buying 128 unspoiled acres between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway and Victoria Gardens. “This is not part of the Wildlife Corridor, but it probably should be.”
The County Council on Feb. 7 agreed to partner with DeLand to purchase the tract, now owned by the Volusia Groves and Cattle Co., for $4.3 million. The county will pay the lion’s share, 70 percent, or $3.01 million, and the city will pay the remaining $1.29 million. The county is using Volusia Forever funds to cover its share of the purchase price. Both parties will split the closing costs.
The property, mostly high and dry in its undeveloped state, also serves as a groundwater-recharge site.
Under the interlocal agreement ratified by the County Council and the City Commission, the land will become a conservation easement and a passive nature park.
DeLand Mayor Chris Cloudman argued for the acquisition of the property.
“There aren’t large tracts of land within the city of DeLand left at this point that we can preserve,” he said. “There is potential to also solve another request from the public, which is to give more recreational opportunities to the people who live within our community.”
The conservation easement lists some possible leisure activities that will be available on the land.
“Resource-based recreational activities include, but are not limited to, tent camping, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, horseback riding, hiking, walking, sightseeing, non-vehicular trails, bicycling, birding and environmental education.”
The Volusia Forever Advisory Committee had recommended the county acquire the land, and it had placed the property on its “A list” of recommended high-priority purchases.
County Resource Stewardship Director Brad Burbaugh expressed confidence the property will remain a showcase of what once was the Florida frontier.
“Our investment will be protected by the conservation easement,” he told the County Council.
Both the county and the city will own the acreage — for a time — and the city will maintain it.
“After closing, and in exchange for the CE [conservation easement] in favor of the County, the County of Volusia will transfer its fee ownership interest to the City who will become sole owners of the property,” an official summary of the deal reads. “Also, within one year of closing, the City is required to develop a conservation land management plan that is [to be] reviewed by the County.”
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus urged the county to take the “opportunity to preserve a piece of old Florida land.”
A neighbor, Shirley Burnette, underscored the natural state of the property and appealed for it to be preserved as is.
“I have personally seen bobcats, deer, bears,” she told the County Council. “I have heard great-horn owls.… The land is excellent habitat.”
A report prepared for the Volusia Forever Advisory Committee detailed many plant species on the property, including saw palmetto, gallberry, coastalplain staggerbush, fetterbush, poison ivy, ferns, Virginia creeper, shiny blueberry, Darrow’s and dwarf huckleberry, lyonia and goldenrod. The trees on the land include live oak, water oak, Florida elm, blackgum, cypress and slash pine, red maple, swamp redbay, Southern magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, loblolly bay, Virginia willow and wax myrtle.
Animal species on the tract include the scarlet kingsnake, black racer, diamondback rattlesnake, water moccasin, white ibis, sandhill crane, along with squirrels, “various hawks, turkey, wood duck, cottontail rabbit, cotton rat, cotton mouse, raccoon, striped skunk, black bear, bobcat, and white-tailed deer.”
Freshman County Council Member Don Dempsey, whose District 1 covers DeLand and most of West Volusia, voiced reservations about the price of the property. The price of $4.3 million is almost $33,600 per acre.
“We’re paying subdivision prices for farmland, and I think we should wait,” Dempsey said. “I just think we should be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, both the city and the county.”
“There’s a lot of speculation that there’s going to be another crash coming on, and let’s just see what happens with market values in another three or four years,” he added.
“I hear your concerns, but subdivision prices can be paid by Kolter Homes or someone,” Cloudman told Dempsey.
County Vice Chair Danny Robins also had misgivings about the cost.
“I don’t think there’s a person in this room that doesn’t want the property. I just want it for less,” he said.
That may not be possible, Pleus noted.
“I know that the appraised value came back a lot, Mr. Robins, but I will tell you that, you know, it is in the middle of a city,” Pleus said.
Brower cautioned that the opportunity to buy the property may go away.
“This is the seller’s right,” he told his colleagues. “When is the best time to tell your wife that you love her? Before somebody else does.”
The desire to buy and save the property trumped worries about the cost.
“Although I’m not happy with the price, I’m interested in preserving it,” freshman Council Member Jake Johansson said.
“My biggest fear … is that this will slip from us,” first-time Council Member Matt Reinhart said.
Reinhart seconded Johansson’s motion for the county to join with DeLand to buy the property. The vote for the joint purchase was 5-2 in favor of the deal.
Brower, Johansson, Reinhart and Council Members David Santiago and Troy Kent formed the majority. Dempsey and Robins dissented.
The lens on the rose colored glasses I wear when looking at this deal are very scuffed up….
The purchase of the 128-acre Moore Lake land parcel by Volusia County and the City of DeLand for $4.29 million is not the best deal for the citizens.
Having this land in conservation is great, however, I feel the price tag was to much, the owners of the land could have been more generous considering their family has made fortunes off most of the developments that are around the property in question and through some very generous zoning changes that have been detrimental to the environment, and the value of the land in question was drastically increase when the City of DeLand annexed it in and changed the zoning to residential. County Council Member Danny Robins mentioned he would have had better feelings about the purchase of the property if the property east of the property in question was included that is around a second lake and I agree. Perhaps the owners of the other property, DEPROP, LLC led by Astrid de Parry, P.A. 107 East Church Street DeLand, FL 32724 will come forward and make a very fair and equitable offer to the County and City. I know Astrid is very community minded and environmentally conscious and what a legacy she could leave.
As a community we could have so much more for so much less if we had better visionaries coupled with better long term planners and better governance. Sadly so much of the development in the area has already been approved and many opportunities have been lost. And we should never be using tax dollars to buy land for stormwater runoff for new developments and it is undeniable that is one of the reasons for this purchase. There were home/land owners from abutting properties in developments that said they didn’t flood because runoff went into the property in question.
In our euphoria over the purchase of this property let us please learn from our mistakes and how greed, poor planning, and poor governance got us here. We also must start making the developers and landowners we are enriching to give back more.
I want to thank all members of the County Council for their lengthy and thoughtful debate and I want to thank Deland’s Mayor Cluadman and City Manager Pleus, their hard work and efforts must be taken into account.
There is agreement with many of your points. Unfortunately, it seems the Apgar legacy of greed, poor planning, and poor governace continues with the current council and Cobb Cole gang.