Volusia: Gird your loins for the Big Boom!

The older I get, the more I find myself using inane phrases like, “Back in my day” – or “There was a time in this country when. . .” 

The sad thing is, I can hear myself saying it – yet I am powerless to stop.  It just flows, as though confirming the fact that I’m a wobbly old fart is going to add credence to whatever ridiculous point I’m trying to make.

I suppose it’s part of life’s gradual transition from an active participant in societal pursuits to the doddering old fool in a cardigan.

One day you’re on top of the world – the next, you’re on the porch screaming, “You damn kids, get off my lawn!” 

Look, I am getting older – and some days, after a few too many afternoon cajun martinis, I get way out there on the lunatic fringe.

In my altered state, I can recall a time when our elected officials thought things through before acting upon impulse, sought constituent input to determine shared needs, then weighed them against the potential consequences – you know, ol’ Newton’s equal and opposite reaction thing.

It was a time when well-meaning people took more than a passing interest in their local government and participated in managing the growth, development and appearance of their community.

Never allowing the wants a few outweigh the needs of many.

Why?  Because they felt like their lives, livelihoods and opinions mattered to the neighbors they elected to local office.

It was like local government had an actual concern for the kind of world we will leave our children and grandchildren.

Today, it appears the idea of “growth management” in Volusia County is some quaint, old fashioned notion from a bygone era – like hand-churned peach ice cream or an actual representative democracy.

In fact, most people I talk to these days have simply resigned themselves to the fact that they no longer have any substantive control of their destiny.  The train left the station a long, long time ago, and We, The People, were left standing at the depot.

After all, it’s no longer about us.

When it comes to managing development, and the threat of urban sprawl, the public no longer contribute to the discussion – we know that our two-cents were outbid by a guy with two-quarters anyway.

Instead, we read about our communal fate in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – or get a glimpse of what life will look like from some glitzy corporate press release depicting our elected officials wearing goofy hardhats that are too small for their enormously swelled heads and wielding golden shovels.

When you remove the pesky opinions, suggestions and judgments of your constituents from the process – ramrodding big money ideas of “progress” and “economic development” is easy.

And all it costs our elected officials is their soul.

On the front page of this morning’s News-Journal I found an interesting piece by Aaron London:

“Boom to Grow – Volusia, Flagler among nations fastest growing areas; housing a challenge.” 

 According to a “just-released” report by the United States Census Bureau, the Fun Coast saw a population increase of nearly 15,000 in what our unfortunate out-of-state newspaper proofreaders list as “July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2016.”

I’m going to assume they meant 2015 to 2016 – but who can be sure, eh?

The Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach metropolitan statistical area, which includes our friends in Flagler County (I guess hoity-toity St. John’s County didn’t want to claim them), was the 21st fastest growing “metro area” in the nation during the same time frame.

Yep!  We’re sandwiched right between the thriving metroplexes of Logan, Utah and Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Arkansas/Missouri in the Census Bureau’s top 25!

In my view, this represents both a great opportunity – and the very real threat of rapid, unchecked development.  A real estate gold rush which could threaten our already compromised infrastructure.

You see, most places in the free world anticipate and plan.

They contemplate, solicit input and consider.

They look beyond outlet malls and fancy sporting goods stores and ask the difficult questions, like, where are we going to put all these new arrivals – and what effect will an estimated 15,000 refugees from the frozen north have on our drinking water supply?  Our streets, sewer, roads, parks and public transportation systems?  Where will we educate their children, treat them when they get sick, and provide for their safety and security?

Not in the Volusia County “metro area.”

No, here we immediately consider the all-important question of who stands to make the most money in the fastest, most expedient way possible – then we quickly clear all obstacles and remove any potential risk to the developer with the liberal use of public funds and incentives.

Then we grit our teeth, bend over, and wait for it.

“Build it and they will come!” is the rallying cry.

Damn the torpedoes – and, apparently, our drinking water.

If my math holds, in the next few years we could see over 12,000 new homes in developments stretching from Brevard to Flagler.

That’s an estimated 27,500 new Walmart shoppers, kids. . .

Of course, local realtors and regional home builder’s associations are unfurling their moldy “Happy Days are Here Again!” banners and touting the economic benefits of increasing residential inventory and marketing zero-lot-line wood-frame houses to the masses of rubes relocating to an area with no jobs, no money, and no vision.

And I get it.

Look, home sales are the bread-and-butter of the local real estate industry – and the people who build those houses – along with the skilled labor that make it happen – have suffered long and hard through a dark and very difficult economy.

But do we have the current means to support this massive growth?

Meanwhile – back in Deland – our elected and appointed officials are milling around with their thumb in their ass, overpaying for parking lots, and droning on about how to control the insidious disease of feeding seagulls white bread on the beach.

Rather than preparing, you know, considering the very real consequences of rapid residential growth, analyzing the market and environmental impact of these mega developments – or even thinking through the methods for funding and maintaining the infrastructure required to accommodate the coming hoards of 55-and-over Parrot Heads – it appears the people we have elected and depend upon to ask the tough questions are asleep at the switch.

In some cases, literally.

Perhaps before we start churning thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive lands into “brand-immersive lifestyle destinations” we should consider what effect – positive and negative – these new residential developments will have on our collective quality of life.

Call me a tetchy asshole – but whenever it comes to the nexus of environmental protection, land use regulatory oversight, and a big ol’ heaping pot of developer’s cash – I just naturally assume a failure of government to look out for my interests.

I’m weird like that.

In a revelatory 2012 article in the online magazine, Counterpunch, entitled “How the growth machine ate Florida,” Alan Farago wrote:

Florida is an enduring fascination. It is politically influential and culturally backward. It is a great backdrop for television for which no one can remember the plot. Florida exalts development and possesses unique natural resources. Its chief attractions that drove development in the 1950’s are in states of decay, aquifers, springs, estuaries, rivers, bays and the Everglades alternately treasured and spurned, vaunted and trashed, lit by God’s towering thunderheads and buried in a God forsaken culture of strip malls and anonymous platted subdivisions far from places of work.

 Sound familiar?

I thought so.


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