Two Sets of Rules?

On Friday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal placed the latest civic mystery surrounding Russian developer Protogroup front page/above the fold. 

It has occupied that important space a lot over the past few years. . .

In an interesting article by reporter Jim Abbott entitled, “Beach access closed at Daytona Protogroup site: Closure comes as visitors arrive for Bike Week,” we learned that, once again, the pre-construction rules at the Protogroup site were apparently ignored when public beach access was mysteriously blocked earlier this week.

According to reports, guests at the beleaguered Sea Dunes hotel, which sits defiantly at the base of the project’s south tower, reported that the sandy path on the northside of the property was closed to pedestrian traffic, leaving Perry Schafer, a repeat visitor from Nebraska, feeling like a long-time local:

“There’s holes, barricades; it’s like an obstacle course on a public sidewalk,” Schafer said. “It’s about public safety. I can’t believe nobody’s paying attention to that.”

Welcome to the World’s Most Famous Beach, Mr. Schafer. . . 

In exchange for years of inconveniencing motorists and disrupting the lives of area residents with heavy construction activity on the Oakridge Boulevard approach, Volusia County entered a “Use, Easement and Access” agreement with Protogroup which required that Protogroup maintain a temporary walkway and beach access point.

Apparently, early last week, the owner of the Sea Dunes noticed that the required access point was closed. 

When she mentioned it to those who should be monitoring things – everyone from the county’s inspector to Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler were taken by surprise.

Say what?

A massive high-visibility project – the tallest twin-spired skyscraper in Daytona Beach – with an ugly history of controversy and a string of violations and unexplained delays is found in open violation of a formal agreement by blocking public beach access during Bike Week and absolutely no one in a position of regulatory authority noticed? 

Bullshit. 

“None of us knew,” Wheeler said of the closure of the walkway. “I don’t know what else to say other than I’m completely frustrated.”

Well, Ms. Wheeler, you could say you’re a clueless hack who has once again dropped the ball and failed your constituents – but that would require a smidgeon of introspection – something she clearly does not possess. . . 

To add insult, when the City of Daytona Beach was asked about the situation by the News-Journal, City Manager Jim Chisholm’s mouthpiece, Susan Cerbone, figuratively ducked her head out of the fortified portcullis at City Hall and reported that the city’s chief building official ordered the closure due to “construction activity on the site of the project’s North Tower,” although when exactly the walkway was shutdown remains fuzzy:

When Cerbone was asked how long the access has been closed, she quibbled – “for some time.”

I guess the City of Daytona Beach’s building officials cannot be bothered keeping records of such trivialities. . .   

No public notice.  No specificity.  No transparency. 

And no enforcement of the established rules. . . 

Apparently, there is no phone, email, or pony express service connecting Daytona Beach City Hall and the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand – as evidenced by the slack-jawed incognizance exhibited by everyone at Volusia County – from Councilwoman Wheeler on down.

How embarrassing.

What gives? 

One would think that someone at the City of Daytona Beach would have picked up the phone and advised Volusia County that they shutdown public beach access at the Oakridge approach – or that someone, anyone, at Volusia County Beach Management would have noticed that fact before now, right? 

 Right.

According to Councilwoman Wheeler, “They push the limits,” she said of the developer. “It’s just gone on for years and years and years. They have completely abused the relationship of being good partners.”

So why hasn’t anyone done anything about it, dammit? 

I find it interesting that when Protogroup blocked the beach access point in 2018, Susan Cerbone – who accepts public funds ostensibly to act in the public interest – told us that the City of Daytona Beach had closed the walkway for “safety reasons.” 

With city officials running interference – authorizing the violation of an established use agreement with Volusia County – without notifying anyone (including the public), absolutely no one can be held responsible.  

In my view, this on-going insult serves as the perfect example of the Fun Coast Double-Standard

If you own a short-term rental property in Daytona Beach that is located anywhere outside a few thin slivers of arbitrary zoning districts – the City Commission has directed that you be hauled before the special magistrate, prostrated in front of the Bar of Justice, and subjected to Draconian fines of up to $15,000 simply for managing and maintaining a peer-to-peer rental.

Or, God forbid, you own a bar, restaurant, or small business in Daytona Beach and fail to maintain lockstep conformity with the confusing mishmash of rules and regulations governing special events – because, according to Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry (no doubt in his best Kommandant Wilhelm Klink accent) – “There will be CON-SE-QUENC-ES!”

But if you are a member of our influential “Do you know who I am?” set and openly violate Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order limiting COVID-19 vaccinations to the elderly and infirm by arrogantly waltzing your wife past a queue of senior citizens so the both of you can jump the line and receive a life-saving vaccination in a gross display of political privilege – then no harm, no foul – because who you know in this town is infinitely more important than the rules – or the needs of those most vulnerable.   

Want to dredge sensitive environmental lands, churn wetlands into a muddy sludge, or destroy wildlife habitat to build another strip center or “theme” community?  No problem! We’ve got a patented “hurt here/help there” strategy that’s tailormade to pull the wool over John Q’s eyes and let you do everything you want to do – where you want to do it!

But just try and stand up for clean water, environmental protection, conservation of our wild places, or speak out against unchecked development in a meaningful way and watch your life become a series of misunderstandings as you are maligned and marginalized by powerful insiders who reside in the dank corners of the Halls of Power.

If you are a megadeveloper who promises a colossal “game changer” beachfront condominium and convention center – then hang a seemingly permanent “Under Construction” sign out – block traffic, construct an unpermitted “contra-lane” on Oakridge Boulevard, mysteriously swap contractors mid-stream, ignore deadlines, refuse to respond to the legitimate questions of the working press – like reports of the developer borrowing the money from uber-wealthy foreign nationals seeking resident alien status in the United States – and other mysteries surrounding the project’s financing, etc., etc. – then everyone in a regulatory position coddles you with kid gloves – careful not to upset the applecart. 

Are their two sets of rules in Volusia County?

You bet there is. 

In my view, the reason Protogroup, and other developers, can do as they wish while city and county officials act like a distracted professional wrestling referee is because there is nothing anyone can do about it now! 

Our elected and appointed officials castrated themselves the very minute they allowed a project of this enormity and magnitude to proceed with only “loose” agreements and a malleable performance assurance plan in place – and they cemented this impotence by failing to maintain constant oversight, inspection, and monitoring – which has clearly fostered a “do what cha wanna” laissez faire regulatory environment at the construction site – and in the executive suite.  

Of course, no one can independently confirm anything – leaving it to speculation and theories – because no one associated with this debacle will return the phone calls of the working press.     

Tragically, there is no going back.

In an October 2018 piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Jim Abbott, the former chairman of the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee, Tony Grippa, said:

“The city still lacks an overall strategy as it relates to A1A and the beachside corridor, and this is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.”

At this point, however, completion of the project is imperative, Grippa said.

“It would be absolutely devastating to have, in addition to all the old boarded-up buildings, now a new partially completed building,” Grippa said. “That sitting vacant and empty would really hurt the beachside, optically, economically and emotionally.”

Tragic, indeed. 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

________________________________

Please join Barker’s View tomorrow, Monday, March 8, 2021, as I join GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

We’ll be discussing local issues and taking your calls on the Fastest Two-Hours in Radio!

Please find us locally at 1380am “The CAT” – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button). 

11 thoughts on “Two Sets of Rules?

  1. Thank Protogroup for coming to Daytona to help improve the beachside of this “vacation” city.
    It is not unusal for a large building project to take a long time to finish.
    San Antonio Texas, for example, a large 24 story hotel being erected in the busiest part of the City along the River Walk. Taking 3 years, and the City shut down 2 lanes of a tree lane one-way street (St. Mary’s) for them to make it easier to build it.
    Why, cause San Antonio Appreciates tourism and goes above & beyond to help developers.
    Billy Wheeler, are you kidding?

    Like

    1. Hey Mark you always write about the beach.Go talk to the Russians.Would love to know what you do for a living.Guess you love your incompetent government.but what have you done to change it but always bitching.? Yes you did not get your beach interchange.

      Like

      1. I guess you don’t read him all the time, or you haven’t been reading him for long. He put in at least 20+ years (I’m not sure – could be over 25) as a civil servant in Volusia County and has paid his dues. He is retired and has no interest in politics, unfortunately, as he would easily replace any of the people he complains about as he is far more qualified. Before you pick on someone, get your facts straight.

        Like

      2. “Guess you love your incompetent government.but what have you done to change it but always bitching.?”

        I don’t know who Pete is or what he has done to change Volusia, but as I have been observing,
        with some political action along the way,
        Volusia County government for 50 of my 73 years.

        I have been critical of Barker’s view on at least one occasion, but solely because there is no suggestions on “the how” of correcting the mismanagement. Barker does perform a valuable service to the community by condencing details of what is happening. Your criticism is misapplied,…… in my opinion.
        A supermajority of citizens do absolutely nothing to make Volusia a better place. For you to expect Barker to attempt a conference with the Russians is ridiculous.
        So, what have you done? I am not asking that question to be flippant, I really wish to know if you have made a contribution!

        Like

      3. Not talking about Barker but a guy who calls himself Mark who calls himself an civil engineer who says the wood poles behind hard rock are not poisonous.Which Mark are you talking about?

        Like

      4. Doug Bell sorry you dont know when someone is replying to someone else .You see the reply moves to the right like me

        Like

  2. While media all over the state of Florida are insinuating our Republican governor was wrong in favoring rich and influential people, why didn’t the News Urinal do the same thing when all this was taking place in Volusia County?

    Like

  3. Mark, you are expecting an awful lot from a county who has repeatedly demonstrated its incompetence at managing construction projects. Somehow, accountability for the disaster that is the Orange Street bridge project has never happened. Yes, mismanagement by different departments, but why is the stench of Jim Dineen still permeating the political atmosphere?

    We taxpayers will be sweeping up after the Dineen/Kelly/Denys circus for some time, particularly since Manager Rechtenwald (who, coincidentally happens to have a long-standing management role over the Public Works and Development departments that predate his unopposed coronation to his current role) seems to be following the development playbook.

    Bottom line: Jeff Brower and the rest of the council need to give some senior employees the opportunity to spend more time with their families and seek other opportunities for success elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If Wheeler didn’t know about the access way being impeded by construction equipment it’s most likely true. It’s not Wheeler’s job to monitor beach walkways – that’s the job of Beach patrol. We pay that department millions to look after our beaches so I think they’re the ones to be blamed here. Listen, I’m not a fan of Volusia county government, AT ALL. But I feel if you’re going to write a highly charged, borderline nasty article about someone, it needs to be based in the facts. If beach patrol DID in fact alert Ms. Wheeler of the bloackage, then it’s a different issue entirely and she should be held accountable. And no, just because you’ve spent years in local government doesn’t give you a free pass to act rude. This country as a whole needs to calm down and come to its senses.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s