As a life-long resident of Ormond Beach, I have a real affinity for our unique community here on the banks of the beautiful intercoastal waterway.
I grew up on North Halifax Drive when it was little more than a fire trail, went to elementary school at St. James Episcopal Church, and played in the side yard of the Casements long before it was renovated into the wonderful civic amenity it is today.
Our daughter and son-in-law were married there.
I knew Mr. MacDonald – the proprietor of the original Billy’s Tap Room – and frequently solicited his help whenever our kickball wound up on the roof of what is now the Gaslight Shops on East Granada Boulevard. I found it fascinating that he had dime coins given to him as a boy by John D. Rockefeller in exchange for carrying one of the wealthiest men in historys golf bag to what is now Oceanside Country Club course.
I saw smoke rising in the sky from our backyard the day the Ormond Garage burned – and I have walked across the old draw bridge with my classmates as we visited Santa Claus and the talking tree each Christmas at the former City Hall.
As a child, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. aboard the personal train car of Ormond’s most philanthropic benefactor, Chapman Root – the “Silver Holly” – complete with its multifaceted observation dome.
The car is now part of the Root Family exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Science in Daytona Beach.
My wonderful memories of life here in the “Birthplace of Speed” go on-and-on.
Those of us fortunate enough to call this place home enjoy a rich history and a wealth of outdoor recreation activities and parks, and in so many ways we’ve stayed true to our roots, balancing controlled growth along our main east-west commercial corridor while protecting natural spaces and virgin forests.
I have also been publicly appreciative of the good work of City Manager Joyce Shanahan, who has brought a high degree of stability and transparency to Ormond Beach government, restored public trust in our utilities and maintained an effective dialog with area residents.
However, times they are a changin’.
Last week, as I traveled west on Granada Boulevard, I came upon the horrific scene of utter environmental devastation taking place near the intersection of Tomoka Avenue. A closer inspection found the wholesale destruction of hundreds of old growth specimen trees – to include dozens of ancient oaks – all felled in a gnarled morass.
The wholesale ruin goes on for acres on both sides of Tomoka Avenue, then south on Bennet Lane, with men in heavy equipment actively churning this once pristine forest, which so appropriately buffered the heavily traveled thoroughfare from residential areas to the south, into an ugly black muck of twisted vegetation and splintered limbs.
Like many of you, I heard rumblings that a new WaWa convenience store – co-located with yet another chicken wing drive-thru, and one of those posh specialty grocers some people find so fashionable – was going up, but I really didn’t pay any attention to the when, where or why.
The development goes by the typically pretentious handle – Granada Pointe.
Shame on me.
I know something about this beautifully tucked away area of our community.
In 1992, my wife Patti and I built our first home in the Woodgrove subdivision, a small two-story pink house which sits at the intersection of South Center Street and Tomoka Avenue. If you look closely, you can now see it from Granada Boulevard.
If memory serves, the subdivision was built on an old farm and pasture that once took up much of central Ormond Beach.
From my up-close and personal experience, I can tell you that the area provided habitat for a variety of turtles, snakes, birds, raccoons and small mammals.
Now, nothing lives there – except those unfortunate souls who have just watched their property values settle to the bottom of the toilet.
According to a survey performed by the City of Ormond Beach, there were 34 “historic trees” on the three parcels (one located on the north side of Granada Boulevard), with 15 located on the southern parcels along Tomoka Avenue which are being prepared for “commercial development.” Of these, four trees were said to be in “poor condition.”
The report, dated July 13, 2017, states, “All trees, including the (11) historic trees will be removed (except tree preservation areas below) from the southern parcels as the site requires up to 4’ of fill to bring the buildings, roads and parking areas to proper elevation, excavating for storm water ponds and extensive utility relocation work along Granada Boulevard.”
Of course, to make us all feel better about ourselves for killing century old hardwoods to make way for an up-scale gas station – and the third grocery store within a half-mile of each other – the city has set aside a 10-acre “conservation area” behind the Moose Lodge.
The Ormond Beach Planning Board unanimously approved a rezoning request for the project last July.
At the time, Paul Holub, the local real estate developer who is ramrodding the project, was quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Granada Pointe was designed to minimize impact to the surrounding residential areas, with the landscape buffers, privacy walls and the design of the site’s retention pond.”
Do these speculative developers know no shame?
Perversely, they call this “progress.”
Does Mr. Holub – or our elected officials – truly believe that Woodgrove and surrounding neighborhoods won’t suffer the near constant “impact” of restaurant, retail and grocery operations – to include deliveries, amplified speakers, traffic and outdoor lighting – which will take place 24-hours a day – literally in their backyard?
And what of the inevitable flooding and run-off that results from raising the surface 4’ above current grade? And what happens during periods of torrential rain when storm water retention ponds overflow and drain south across Tomoka Avenue?
Despite the very real concerns of area residents, last August our elected officials on the City Commission unanimously approved the project on the recommendation of city planning director Ric Goss and others.
According to Mr. Goss, those residents who are fretting that their property will flood during storms need not worry – “I think we resolved that issue.”
You think that issue has been resolved?
I hope Mr. Goss is willing to bet his job on his hunch.
Because if this project results in flooding, damage, noise and light pollution to area homes as many suspect, I, for one, will be joining the mass call for Mr. Goss – and any other bureaucrat who had anything to do with this project – to be summarily fired and run out of town on a rail.
In my view, one key problem we face in the Halifax area is a complete lack of accountability by public officials – self-described professionals who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – then quibble away the very real concerns of citizens who have invested all they have to carve out a life here whenever a developer wants to start clearing land.
When our environment is decimated, and people’s lives and livelihoods are placed at risk for the benefit of another cookie cutter commercial development, “We hope” and “I think” doesn’t cut it in my book – and its high time these well-compensated guessers are held to account when they’re wrong.
According to Mr. Holub, “As with most of the projects we have built in the last 30-plus years in Ormond Beach, in the end, once it is built and open, the community will use it and support it and accept it.”
As though we had a choice. . .
(Update: Ormond Beach Planning Director Ric Goss retired at the end of 2017 after serving the city for more than 10-years. The point of holding city officials accountable for their professional opinions stands.)