DELAND – The complex balance of new development, environmental preservation and property rights took center stage inside County Council chambers Tuesday, drawing dozens of residents who took turns venting their worries and sharing their hopes.
“We have developed before our infrastructure has been in place,” said Suzanne Scheiber, Founder of Dream Green Volusia and an Ormond Beach resident. “In plain English, growth is not paying for itself. … The land use changes through the years have diminished our quality of life and raised our taxes.”
Scheiber rattled off a list of recommendations from Dream Green Volusia that include implementing low-impact development, increasing impact fees, halting density expansion and establishing larger buffers around environmentally sensitive land.
She was one of about three dozen people who took turns broaching the thorny intersection of construction and nature. For nearly two hours, residents stepped up to the microphone one after another to share their thoughts and suggestions.
“The greed must stop,” said Daytona Beach resident Chris Daun. “It’s ruining our community and our quality of life.”
Some at Tuesday’s meeting said the individual property rights of landowners in Volusia County need to remain a priority, too. Some growth control measures could infringe on their rights, they said.
“I have my rights, too,” said Wendell Dallarosa, a fifth-generation Floridian who owns thousands of acres in Volusia County. “This seems to me like mob rule. … I think you should slow this train down.”
Another longtime landowner said he already has restrictions on his land and “any more regulations makes no sense.” A third landowner said, “I don’t like being told what to do with my property,” and he added that he doesn’t want to “pay more taxes because someone wants to see the bottom of the Indian River.”
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Daytona Beach attorney Glenn Storch has been involved in development projects over the past few decades, and the sixth-generation Floridian said he’s come to believe that collaboration among the differing interests and finding a consensus is the best approach.
County Council members hope to do just that with a new Environmental Resources Advisory Committee they’re going to establish this summer. The committee will have a mix of environmentalists, developers, residents, landowners and business owners, and members will be appointed by County Council members. Committee meetings will be open to the public.
Council members and the new committee will focus on seven issues: Protected species, sea level rise, tree preservation, wetlands, the Indian River Lagoon, construction and planning.
Putting growth and development under the microscope
On April 12, the County Council held a workshop to discuss growth, land development and permitting happening in the county. At the workshop, staff from the Growth and Resource Management Department recommended changes and updates to the county’s various plans and regulations.
County staff will now review land use measures, geographic information and population data to work toward potential changes.
Local property and business owners will be able to weigh in on the findings at public meetings. Staff will then draft amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan as well as the zoning ordinance or land development regulations.
Suze Peace of DeLand is glad to see citizens will have a chance to be a part of the process. She said too often residents don’t understand what’s happening with development and feel blindsided by it.
“Citizens feel in the dark,” Peace said. “We feel left out.”
Wendy Anderson, chair of the Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District, encouraged Council members to work with cities throughout Volusia.
“Do a regional plan. Don’t set up different rules,” said Anderson, professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Stetson University.
She said projects keep getting approved in isolation with no thought to the wider impacts. She also said developers and attorneys shouldn’t “define the rules.”
‘Pump the brakes a little bit’
County Chair Jeff Brower said he doesn’t want the growth management efforts to stall out.
“People are afraid we’re going to kick this down the road,” Brower said.
Councilman Ben Johnson, however, said it’s a very important issue that needs enough time for study and exploration.
“I’m not comfortable doing anything that will be railroaded through,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to just do something to do something. And if we do some things too fast, we’re putting ourselves in major liability.”
Brower said he’s not trying to rush anything.
“We’re not known for railroading. We’re known for dragging things out,” Brower said. “We don’t have an infinite amount of time. I’m asking that we don’t put it off another year without taking action.”
Brower was reacting in part to a report from staff members saying they were awaiting the outcome of a grant application for money that would be used to look at implementing low-impact development in Volusia County. Staff said it would take until May 2023 to complete that review of low-impact development, but everything else could be studied in the meantime.
Councilman Danny Robins said he wants to be methodical and see where low-impact growth is working, and what the impacts would be to the county budget. And Robins said he didn’t want to make too many decisions Tuesday with three Council members not at the meeting: Fred Lowry, Heather Post and Billie Wheeler.
“I think we need to pump the brakes a little bit,” Robins said.
‘An opportunity to do better’
Johnson said ultimately some negotiating will have to take place.
“Nobody’s going to get everything they want,” he said.
Warren Richards remembers being able to look down into local spring-fed lakes as a child and see 20 feet down. Now he said he can barely see two feet down.
“Your property rights should not threaten or destroy my pursuit of life, liberty and happiness by affecting our water,” Richards said.
Not everyone at Tuesday’s meeting was overly worried. An Ormond-by-theSea man said he sees “an opportunity to do better” with environmental protection.
“We thank the staff of the county for preparing such detailed and well-researched land studies, and for proposing a uniform, rational plan to preserve environmental quality of life and property rights,” said Kenneth Nusbaum, chairman of the Marine Discovery Center Board of Directors.
“When it comes to protecting the biosphere, on which our life literally depends, there is no us and them,” said Daytona Beach resident and environmentalist Jenny Nazak. “There’s only us.”
You can reach Eileen at Eileen.Zaffiro@news-jrnl.com