Housing on former golf course gets DeLand’s OK


BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN BIG DECISION — DeLand City Attorney Darren Elkind, left, and City Manager Michael Pleus are on hand to advise as the City Commission considers testimony — pro and con — about the Beresford Reserve project.

After nearly two years of hearings, the DeLand City Commission on July 25 approved rezoning for Beresford Reserve, a controversial 597-unit housing development on a former golf course and city dump on DeLand’s east side.

The development passed on second reading with a 3-2 vote. Mayor Bob Apgar and City Commissioners Kevin Reid and Charles Paiva voted in favor, and City Commissioners Jessica Davis and Chris Cloudman voted against it.

A nearly packed audience at DeLand City Hall let out deep sighs following the vote.

Unlike most rezoning approvals, it’s going to be some time before the commission sees construction and subdivision plans for the 167-acre Beresford Reserve.

First, the developer must conduct additional soil and water testing to develop an environmental remediation plan that is approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The site, both as a former golf course and a one-time city dump, will require cleanup, and the developer doesn’t yet know the scope of that work.

The remediation process will involve relaying regular updates to the city and the DEP.

Once completed, the 597-unit project will include a 21-acre public park atop the land that was the city dump, as well as walking trails and bike trails throughout the subdivision.

Dr. Wendy Anderson, a vocal opponent of Beresford Reserve, said the decision has made her lose some faith in the political process.

“Of course we’re disappointed,” Anderson said. “Are we surprised? Well.”

This decision, Anderson said, was par for the course from the current slate of city commissioners.

The city commissioners, especially those who voted in favor of the rezoning, praised how far the project has come since it was first presented nearly two years ago.

But those who voted no said concerns remain about the lack of information currently available about contaminants below the former fairways. Commissioners Davis and Cloudman also expressed fears about the density of the subdivision, and the amount of housing development citywide.

How did they vote and why?

The DeLand City Commission has considered the Beresford Reserve project numerous times over the past year. When it came down to the final vote, city commissioners took time to provide lengthy explanations for why they voted the way they did.

Mayor Bob Apgar

Mayor Bob Apgar voted in favor of the rezoning for Beresford Reserve on both first and second reading. Apgar put his faith in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to not “fall asleep at the switch.”

“They’re going to do the job. I think some people have alluded to the fact that they’re uncomfortable with the checks and balances, but I would submit to you that DEP, if they want more testing, they’re going to tell the applicant, ‘More testing’ and tell us,” Apgar said. I know people see things differently, but I happen to trust that process….”

Like several others on the City Commission, Apgar argued that this project was an example of democracy in action. Rather than being flat-out approved when Beresford Reserve was presented as a far denser and less varied project, nearly two years of debate and disagreement have led to a better project.

Chris Cloudman

Commissioner Chris Cloudman, who’s in a three-way race to replace Apgar as mayor this year when Apgar retires, voted against Beresford Reserve on both the first and second readings.

Cloudman’s chief concern, he said, was the amount of new development in DeLand along the same road as the former Southridge Golf Course.

“I have a concern with the fact that Beresford [Avenue], from the west side to the east side already in the last couple of years, we have five developments that were approved; some we’re already building, some will begin in the not-too-distant future, and this would be a sixth along that corridor,” he said. “We’ve yet to feel the effect of the initial developments that are going in along that corridor.”

He also expressed concerns about too-full schools and too-busy roads. Some of those fears were acknowledged by developer Elevation Development’s lawyer, Mark Watts of Cobb Cole, who also said development regulations are in place to address those concerns.

“We still have to follow the law,” Watts said. “We have to — specifically under the development agreement — provide for those additional points at which both the city and the county staff reviews the project and its traffic impacts and school impacts and mitigates for those impacts.”

Cloudman praised the changes that had been made to the project since it was introduced, but also noted that he shared many of the same concerns about the site’s contamination that the other city commissioners had mentioned. Still, Cloudman said, he wasn’t sure who else would foot the bill for testing the land, if not the developer.

“Would it be the seller? The applicant who has not yet purchased the property?” Cloudman asked. “Or the taxpayers, and taking money out of the general fund, which means taking it away from something else. Possibly the amount of road replacement we put into the budget this year.”

Jessica Davis

Commissioner Jessica Davis voted against Beresford Reserve’s rezoning at both the first and second readings. Davis, like Cloudman, stuck to the same argument she has made in past hearings.

She disliked the 40-foot-wide lots and believes the development is too dense.

“We’re trying to solve some of the issues we have in our city with affordable housing,” she said. “This project is like we’re trying to solve a lot of things in one project, which I feel is not how we should approach this.”

Density — the number of houses per acre — was another topic touched upon by Watts.

The 167-acre former golf course is currently zoned for R1-A residential, which could potentially allow a density of 5.8 houses per acre. The developer’s PD agreement calls for a density of about 3.5 homes per acre.

If the developer’s planned development, or PD application, was turned down, the developer could hypothetically return to the city with a denser, less-varied plan that receives less oversight.

“I think the plan that has evolved through that discussion is a far better plan than exists under R1-A currently,” Watts said, later adding, “This is better than what the existing zoning will produce; it’s consistent with your comprehensive plan, it’s consistent with your 2050 plan, it’s consistent with the staff recommendation of approval, the Planning Board recommendation of approval, and we ask for your approval this evening.”

Charles Paiva

Commissioner Charles Paiva voted in favor of the rezoning application for Beresford Reserve, but not without misgivings.

“We have to look at what we can legally defend for reasons to vote against it,” Paiva said. “This one, we’ve taken time. We spent 20 months listening to the public, discussing amongst ourselves to try to get it right.”

At the end of it, Paiva said, he was comfortable voting in favor of the project, not just because of what the city was getting, but because of what the landowner could legally build under the land’s current R1-A zoning. Paiva estimated a non-PD-zoned development could probably fit about 500 cookie-cutter homes on the land. The city already has a “glut” of small, single-family homes, he said.

“In this, there’s 40-foot lots, 50-foot lots, 60-foot lots, 70-foot lots, town homes and rental town homes,” Paiva said. “We need that diversity; this provides it. We need more parkland; this provides it.”

He praised the developer’s inclusion of the 21-acre park, which would be deeded to the city upon completion, as well as the added bike trails.

Kevin Reid

Commissioner Kevin Reid voted in favor of the rezoning application for Beresford Reserve, on both first and second readings, with reservations similar to Paiva’s.

“If this went through the straight-zoning process, I don’t think we would have a project anywhere near close to what is being recommended in this proposal,” Reid said.

Reid also stressed that he would like to see testing done on the land sooner rather than later, and that future testing would include areas based on historical testimony about what might be dumped there. For example, a former Southridge Golf Course employee, one speaker said, had knowledge of entire vehicles buried on the land.

“We’re asking for more testing, and if we move past this process and continue to wait — this property sat for years — when is that testing going to come?” Reid asked. “Does it come before leaching goes further into our soil? Do we even know what’s there?”

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