CONCERNED NEIGHBOR — Speaking before the Volusia County Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission, Becky Mendez asks the panel to oppose changes in the land use and zoning to enable the development of 82 homes on 29 acres along West Plymouth Avenue, north of DeLand.

Two requests to develop urban-style neighborhoods in the countryside north of DeLand received unfavorable reviews from Volusia County’s professional planners and a key advisory panel.

The Volusia County Council, however, has the final say. Both developments will go before the County Council with recommendations against their approval.

In separate but similar actions April 20, the county’s Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission voted against subdivisions with greater density planned in areas that now have small farms and large home lots.

In both cases — one on West Plymouth Avenue and the other on North Spring Garden Avenue near Brandywine — the property owners asked the county to change the land use from Rural (R) to Urban Low Intensity (ULI), and to change the zoning from Agricultural to Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD).

Both properties are within the utility-service area of the City of DeLand, but many of the people now living close to the sites rely on private wells for potable water and septic tanks for waste disposal.

Changing the land use means changing the county’s state-mandated growth-management plan, also known as the comprehensive plan, or comp plan, for short.

“What I’m hearing from the public, and where I’m at — I haven’t had anybody yet say, ‘Hooray! We’re getting another development,’” PLDRC Chair Ronnie Mills said, before the commission’s vote on the Plymouth Avenue case.

“I believe in economic development. I certainly do, and I also believe in quality of life for our residents, and that’s what I’m hearing,” Mills added, drawing applause from neighbors in the audience.

DeLand to grow northward?

Mills was speaking about the requested land-use change and rezoning of 29.11 acres along West Plymouth Avenue at its intersection with Richfern Road to permit the development of 82 single-family homes. The size of the home lots would be about 6,000 square feet.

The owner of the property is Sun State Ferneries Inc. The tract is close to a now-closed landfill formerly used by Volusia County. Though no longer a dumping site for general household waste, the landfill is authorized to accept storm debris. The property is also bordered by a dog park.

Michael Woods, the attorney representing the property owner, told the PLDRC the land is in the path of future growth, as anticipated more than a decade ago.

“The DeLand 2050 plan was adopted by resolution in 2011,” he said. “It was intended to identify areas where growth should go.”

A neighbor who objects to changing the land use and zoning described the request as “creating an urban development pattern in rural areas.” The neighbor is Becky Mendez, who herself is a professional planner and the director of Orange City’s department of Development Services.

County planners had recommended the PLDRC advise the County Council to deny the request to change both the land use and the zoning. The staff’s report concluded the requested changes would do nothing to discourage “the proliferation of Urban Sprawl,” as well as being inconsistent with comprehensive-plan policies that call for directing urban growth away from agricultural areas. The planning staff also said the requests were not compatible with abutting and nearby land uses, “and is expected to generate a significant amount of traffic in a rural area.”

The PLDRC voted 4-1 to forward the request to the County Council with a recommendation to reject changing the land use and the zoning. Mills, along with commission members Pat Patterson, Edith Shelley and Stony Sixma, formed the majority. Commissioner Frank Costa dissented.

The PLDRC is not up to its full strength. The panel is supposed to have seven members, but the County Council has not yet appointed two members to replace those whose terms expired March 31.

The April 20 meeting was the first for newly appointed Patterson, a former state representative and a former member of the County Council.

More DeLand growth?

The West Plymouth Avenue request set the stage for what would follow — a second request for changes in land use and zoning.

This one concerned 85.54 acres along the west side of North Spring Garden Avenue, also known as State Road 15A, not far from its intersection with U. S. Highway 17.

In this case, the applicant, the DeLand Investment Group LLC, sought approval for a 211-home neighborhood that would be known as English Oaks.

A larger number of people showed up to watch and listen to the proceedings affecting them and their homesteads, as Stephen Shams, a county planner, told the PLDRC there was “substantial public opposition” to the request.

Shams said the county planning office had received letters from people living in the area, and most of them objected to the new subdivision. Both in the emails and comments during the April 20 PLDRC meeting, opponents voiced concerns about traffic, noise, crime and possible flooding, as well as the effects of urban development on wildlife.

“It is quite disturbing to think of a subdivision with 211 homes amongst the surrounding homes on acreage,” Carey Clements wrote in an email to the county’s planners. “The impact to our property from this quantity of homes will consist of an increase in air, noise, trash, water pollution and an increased amount of traffic just to name a few. … The negative impact on wildlife, surrounding trees and vegetation will also be felt by the surrounding home owners.”

At the public hearing, Susan Steusloff voiced concerns in person about traffic.

“Spring Garden [Avenue] cannot handle 400-plus cars coming out on the road, and that’s what it would be with a couple of hundred of hundred homes and two vehicles per home. It’s a parking lot now with the Addison’s Landing development, and this will only add to it,” she said.

Stanley Wickett, who identified himself as president of the Brandywine Homeowners Association, also expressed concerns about drivers using his neighborhood as a shortcut from U.S. Highway 17 to Spring Garden Avenue, and vice versa.

“We enjoy walking in the neighborhood. People walk their dogs,” he said. “We do not have sidewalks. … Being out on our streets can be dangerous. … We get a lot of cut-through traffic.”

The professional planners echoed the public objection to the development application.

“It does not satisfy comprehensive-plan policies,” Shams said. “The request is not compatible … There is considerable public opposition. … Overall, staff recommends denial.”

Representing the landowners, DeLand attorney Mark Watts told the PLDRC there are a variety of lot sizes in the neighborhood, ranging from less than a half-acre to more than 9 acres. The mix of lot sizes around his clients’ land is not in line with the 5-acre minimum standard for A-2 zoning, he said.

“What we’re seeking is Urban Low Intensity,” Watts told the planning commission, calling for the change from rural land use.

Following the process

If the land use were changed from rural to Urban Low Intensity, consideration of rezoning the tract for the proposed RPUD would follow.

Watts further suggested more housing may be forthcoming, because of changes in zoning laws passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by the governor in March, that loosen restrictions on building affordable housing.

“Apartments could be authorized on that site,” Watts said.

Watts acknowledged, however, that “the vast majority of people want to protect their way of life.”

After about two hours of weighing public comments, the PLDRC pondered what to do. Patterson, the newest member of the panel, was absent, having excused himself
for a trip out of town.

That left four members, a bare quorum to vote on the requests for a land-use change and rezoning, and all four would have to vote alike to form a needed majority.

Seeing the matter could result in a 3-1 vote, if Costa favored the request, and thus there would be no majority to advise the County Council, Mills wanted to postpone the vote to a future PLDRC meeting.

“I do not want to send this to council with no recommendation,” he said.

When the vote on the land-use change came, Costa voted with his three colleagues present, agreeing with the recommendation to deny the request. The PLDRC also voted 4-0 to recommend the County Council reject the request for BPUD zoning.

Seeing the tandem votes in their favor, many in the audience heartily applauded.

County Council will decide

Both requests for land-use changes and rezoning for the acreage on West Plymouth Avenue and the North Spring Garden Avenue parcel will now go before the County Council, which has the power to decide the future of the properties.

“We have to balance the growth, and the people that see what’s coming and want to be part of it, with the character and quality of life, as well,” Watts said.


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