While the Daytona Beach News-Journal continues to rehash the age-old beach driving debate, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower – who defeated his entrenched opponent by over 40,000 votes on a pro-beach driving platform – is proving to be a man of his word.
In a Sunday opinion piece entitled, “The chair’s gambit,” the News-Journal’s editorial board teased it will soon release the results of the tired beach driving question recently posed by editor Pat Rice.
Meh. Asked and answered – a thousand times.
By all means, let’s kick the issue around one more time, you know, in case there is someone just returning from the dark side of the moon who didn’t realize the influence beach driving had on the last County Chair election. . .
In fact, if the autopsy of former Councilwoman Deb Denys’ failed campaign for County Chair did not determine that her flip-flop on beach driving was the manner and cause of the demise of her political career – perhaps the News-Journal should exhume the corpse and have another look. . .
Regardless of the fact beach driving is supported by the overwhelming majority of those who vote in Volusia County, I suspect Mr. Rice will attempt to couch “the flood of reader responses” as a middle-of-the-road, neither all-in nor all-out analysis, that will perpetuate the age-old debate while supporting the current beach management strategy of using driving and access as a cheap spiff for speculative developers, while still allowing the unique tradition on a precious few miles of the strand.
From the beginning, Chairman Brower made it abundantly clear that beach driving was a priority, so it came as no surprise when we learned he turned down an opportunity to speak at the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach – which became the symbolic epicenter of the beach access debate when, after countless delays and a rush to completion, the developer was gifted 410 feet of traffic-free beach by Volusia County.
Despite the hew and cry of angry taxpayers, the wrongful closure behind Hard Rock was marked by crews driving treated wooden poles into the sand – each leeching pesticides and chemicals identified as human carcinogens (on a public beach?) – “poison poles” which added to the pollution of “do this/don’t do that” signage and other obstructions that has ruined the visual aesthetics of our most important natural amenity.
Trust me. Had Chairman Brower accepted the invitation to the Hard Rock, those constituents who supported his beach driving stance with their sacred vote would have lambasted the move as the ultimate in hypocrisy.
Instead, Mr. Brower has created an opportunity to sit down with the owners and management of Hard Rock – a discussion many hope will result in a reversal of the controversial beach driving ban – an olive branch that will result in many locals embracing and supporting the resort property rather than vilifying the hotel as another example of corporate greed.
In typical fashion, the News-Journal editorial board used the opportunity to question Mr. Brower’s motivations while lavishing the developer with praise – completely rewriting history – with, “First, any discussion of restoring driving to this one small section of beach has to be grounded in the reality that Abdulhussein has done nothing wrong.”
Of course not.
In 2015, at the direction of King J. Hyatt Brown, his handmaidens on the Volusia County Council enacted a series of ordinances which removed beach driving from behind a proposed Hard Rock Hotel – a project that died when the Canadian developer took his football and went home after beach driving advocates filed a lawsuit to preserve this unique aspect of our local heritage.
This dubious “inducement” was then transferred to Abdulhussein’s Summit Hospitality Group when it began the renovation of the infamous Desert Inn – which, after several iterations and off-the-agenda ambushes – transformed into Hard Rock Daytona.
The beach driving ban specifically required certain performance and amenity standards – drop-dead dates that were repeatedly ignored and extended as the project languished – dragging on interminably – giving the appearance of two guys working on weekends.
Yet, at the end of the day, neither hell nor high water would stop Volusia County from ensuring that the developer was granted the driving ban – and the property was rushed to an almost comical state of “completion” then quickly certified as having crossed the finish line by Hard Rock International and Volusia County officials.
An April 2018 piece by Orlando Weekly summed up the series of events that made a mockery of Volusia County’s “performance” requirements:
“Back in Daytona Beach, the focus has largely been on the beach driving ban. The original timelines the developer was required to meet for the beach driving ban to happen were extended, thanks to Hurricane Matthew.
Part of the issue is around what was exactly required by the hotel. The hotel was required to be certified by the Hard Rock brand by the end of February. That did happen but some residents point to the fact the hotel wasn’t fully open by the date as a potential breach of contract, promising even more legal action.
Even with the potential legal action, Summit Hospitality Management Group moved ahead with their plans to block beach driving behind the new resort. Last week new poles, similar to wooden telephone poles, were installed. The poles block vehicular traffic but still allow pedestrian access.”
Based upon this “kinda/sorta” completion and premature certification – former County Manager Jim Dinneen unilaterally decreed that our century old heritage of beach driving would be permanently (read: forever) removed from the strand behind the hotel.
But at what cost?
In 2018, Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, filed a lawsuit challenging the removal of cars from the beach behind Hard Rock – citing that the developer failed to meet the intent and spirit of those pesky performance and completion requirements detailed in the 2015 ordinance.
Then, Volusia County pushed back, claiming that the conditions were met when the property was certified by its corporate headquarters.
In the end, as in times past, the courts determined that Sons of the Beach lacked “standing” – and Hard Rock’s quasi-private beach remained closed to vehicular traffic.
This open dishonesty of Volusia County government – suing taxpayers with their own money and seemingly confederating with a private developer to remove beach access to appease an oligarchical insider – left a festering wound that has never quite healed.
As a result, many residents refused to patronize the hotel – a sense of ill will that exists to this day – animosity resulting from a sense that the very tradition that makes our area unique was stripped away in a predetermined and wholly unfair process that left a residual “trust issue” which continues to plague Volusia County government to this day.
I hope Chairman Brower’s efforts to establish a dialog can change that lingering skepticism by righting a wrong and restoring beach driving and access – a move that will both rebuild the public’s trust in its government – and foster a positive, year-round relationship between long-suffering locals and the Hard Rock Daytona.
It is more than a political gambit – it’s the right thing to do.