Volusia: Giving in to the Giant

I guess it’s the fact that I spent my entire adult life in law enforcement – or maybe I’m just God’s own misanthrope – but I am always suspicious of the underdog.

I know – most folks cheer for the little guy and love a good Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.  Rooting for the perennial loser who finally gets a shot at the big time is the American Way.

Perhaps it’s an unfortunate side effect of working 31-years in a business where people lie to you all day, every day – and dropping your guard, even a little, can get you killed.

No.  I’m always skeptical of the “feel good” story – wary of the latest tear jerking on-line donation campaign – always telling myself there must be more to the story.

After all, I know in my heart that sooner rather than later the wheel will come off the cart, the “rest of the story” will emerge, and things will go tragically sideways.

Friends and family send me those hyper-emotional fairy tales on social media – a squirrel who becomes a hometown hero when he saves the residents from a fire, a wolf who nursed a child in the wild, or an improbable sports clip where a pint-size team from Lickskillet, Indiana overcomes all odds to win the championship.

I always screw-up my face and say, “Bullshit!  Didn’t happen.”

Then I rush off to Snopes to debunk the story so I can throw it back in the face of my 83-year old mother who had the temerity to try and boost my spirits by sharing a simple, uplifting tale of adversity overcome.

“Mom.  Maybe the old man was lonely because he’s an asshole and nobody wants to be around him.  Did you ever think of that?” 

“No, son.  I just thought it was nice that the community rallied around an elderly widower.  How could I have raised such a bitter human being?”

“Well, somethings up with that old bastard.  Trust me.”

That said, I’ll tell you what I can’t abide – bullying by government and the “rich and powerful” (the News-Journal’s descriptor, not mine) who use their incredible influence to push a self-serving corporate and personal agenda over the will of the people.

Look, I realize that most of the time I’m the ultimate loser/underdog – the small titmouse giving the finger to the powerful elephant – but some wrongs just can’t be ignored.

Why?  Because in my heart-of-hearts I know that despite the wants, needs and passion of the people – when government and big money interests intersect – the result is a foregone conclusion.

And, in my view, that’s wrong.

For instance, take the unfolding drama in Wild West Volusia which pits the small Victoria Park community near the interchange of I-4 and Orange Camp Road, against a well-heeled Deland Dodge/Jeep/Chrysler dealer intent on imposing his idea of economic progress.

Brendan Hurley and his I4 Automall, LLC, have big plans to build a mega “Auto Mall” on property abutting the neighborhood – which appears to be the latest craze in automobile sales – wherein five or six different dealerships all co-locate near a major interstate highway and peddle their wares to gridlocked commuters from a perch on the frontage road.

Mr. Hurley’s plans include automotive sales and service, and outparcels with gas pumps, retail space, restaurants, etc.

So, what’s the problem, Barker – dude wants to use his property for a car lot – what’s your beef?

The problem is that the people who live there – folks like you and me – have a vested interest in preserving their quality of life.

Besides, the property isn’t zoned for car lots – and the residents of Victoria Park – a “master planned development,” which generally means unique amenities and specific zoning regulations that enhance and protect the aesthetics and overall lifestyle of the community – are pissed.

And they should be.

When Victoria Park was developed and marketed, the adjoining land use zoning did not permit auto sales.

After all, I’m not sure anyone would have bought property in Victoria Park if the original Master Plan included the amenity of listening to an amplified loudspeaker screaming, “Service, Line Two!” – twelve to fourteen hours-a-day.  Everyday.

Earlier this year, over 250 residents packed into a standing room only meeting of the Volusia County Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission (a group whose effectiveness I’ll leave to your interpretation) expecting an opportunity to vehemently oppose the rezoning which would permit the giant car lot to be developed, literally in their backyards.

Screw the ‘Will of the People’ – Volusia County staff had already recommended approval.

In fact, of the 3,400 residential lots in Victoria Park, county staff only saw fit to send formal notice of the proposed rezoning – you know, an action that could usher in a sprawling 9.6 acre development with a lot of moving parts –  to just 14 “parties.”

Why?

Well, I suspect that was all they were legally required to do – and besides – why get the yokels riled up when it’s easier to follow county manager Jim Dinneen’s proven modus operandi of stealth and subterfuge when ramrodding controversial issues, eh?

According to a recent editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Tough sell on automall,” it was reported that the panel cautiously, “…voted to delay a vote until June to allow the developer and the residents to work out their differences.” 

Actually, the matter was tabled for six-months at the request of Hurley’s high-priced mouthpiece, Mark Watts, an attorney with the venerable Cobb & Cole.

He made that request just one day before the previously noticed planning meeting.

Let’s face it, when you see the flames and pitchforks on the horizon, the best strategy is to fallback and re-package the steaming turd in a different box – camouflage it as anything other than a gigantic car lot.

 According to reports, Mr. Watts wanted the opportunity to hold “community meetings” and gently salve over the villagers concerns with extravagant promises and pretty pictures by renowned architects of just how charming a massive concentration of concrete and steel five-story automotive dealerships can be.

I can hear it now:

“Folks, trust us on this.  It’s called desensitization.  After a while, you just get used to the scream of air wrenches, the 24/7 glow of the giant LED lights, the toot-toot-toot of car haulers, and sales managers bellowing, “Spot that Durango under the lights!” Look here, we’ve got oodles of studies which show that in a few short years you won’t even know it’s there!”     

Yep.  Mr. Watts and that crack team of good hair and expensive suits at Cobb & Cole will make it sound almost pastoral.

Unfortunately, for the good people of Victoria Park, it will be anything but.

Ultimately, it will be like acquiescing and allowing the Jolly Green Giant to stay at your house until he gets back on his feet after the divorce.

He’ll sell you on it by saying, “Dude.  You’ll barely know I’m there.”

But once ol’ Jolly arrives, unpacks and gets comfortable – you’re going to find he takes up a LOT of room.  It’s just his nature.

And despite the smooth assurances, once a giant moves in, he’s damn near impossible to get rid of.  Trust me.

In my view, with a couple of glowing exceptions, communities in West Volusia are doing everything right.

They understand the intrinsic value of a quaint, Old Florida, small town feel – an atmosphere that many cities are struggling – and spending – to recapture.

With so much positive in play on the Westside, is this mega-development in the literal backyard of an established, up-scale community the highest and best use in the long term?

Does it contribute in a significant way to the quality of life for the majority of nearby citizens who have a vested interest in the value and prosperity of the area?  And what about the wasteland left on Woodland Boulevard when everybody up and moves to their new digs on I-4?

I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that big money interests have a chip in the game – and you don’t – despite what those who stand to profit most might tell you.

Frankly, folks – this is one underdog I can get behind.  But it doesn’t look good.

They are going to need more than our cheers.

In my view, it’s high time we stand with the residents of Victoria Park and let our elected officials know that there is some shit we won’t eat.

Photo Credit:  Daytona Beach News-Journal

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