Last Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Southgate, Kentucky – a conflagration that took the lives of 165 people and injured more than 200 – the seventh deadliest night club fire in history.
The carnage resulted in the modernization of fire codes and safety regulations around the world, to include improvements in construction, fire walls, wiring codes, roof support structures, the use of combustible materials, fire exits, occupancy limits, sprinkler systems, and strengthened governmental inspection, oversight, and enforcement.
Because it was the right thing to do – and in the aftermath of a tragedy – regulatory agencies could no longer turn a blind eye to substandard practices, dangerous materials, and construction on-the-cheap. . .
Inconceivably, last year, a Northern Kentucky property developer, builder, and realty group purchased the hallowed site (which some family members claim still hold the unrecovered remains of their loved ones) with plans to begin construction of a “mixed use residential” development known by the macabre name “Memorial Pointe,” which will include 90 homes (from the upper $300’s), 200 luxury apartments, and a senior living facility.
My God. Is nothing sacred?
A previous lawsuit filed by a group called “Beverly Hills Respect the Dead” was settled in 2020 and will allow survivors and family members to raise funds for a memorial to be placed on the approximate location of the supper club’s former Cabaret Room where most of the victims died – with access controlled by the homeowner’s association – and a public memorial, paid for by the developer, to be placed at the bottom of the hill which “characterizes the development site.”
Not much moves me anymore – but this took me aback.
In context, I thought about the current wrangling in Wild West Volusia where a developer is fighting to place a subdivision – which may one day be home to your children and grandchildren – which is to be built on top of a contaminated former golf course that was once a city dump.
You read that right.
According to a December 2021 report by business editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, citizens became concerned when pesticides and dangerous chemicals were detected in preliminary soil tests conducted on the former Sandhill Golf Course site by an engineering consulting firm hired by the Orlando developer.
“The preliminary tests found evidence of both pesticides in the soil from the nearly five decades that the site was a golf course from 1968 until its closure in 2017, as well as contaminants possibly dating back to when portions of the property was a sand mine and city dump used by both area residents and businesses in the 1940s and ’50s.”
Unthinkably, rezoning for the 168-acre site which, when complete, will hold some 600 homes, was approved on first reading by a 3-2 vote in February – with DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar and City Commissioners Kevin Reid and Charles Paiva voting in favor – while City Commissioners Chris Cloudman and Jessica Davis rightfully voted on the side of caution.
(If you vote in the City of DeLand and care about overdevelopment, you might want to jot that down and tape it to the refrigerator.)
The matter will come back before the DeLand City Commission in June once environmental hazard remediation plans are finalized. . .
With former golf courses like Tomoka Oaks, River Bend, and Indigo Lakes firmly in the sights of insatiable developers whose voracious appetite allows no quarter for wildlife, natural places, or environmental dangers – can paving over cemeteries, bulldozing gravestones, and making way for hundreds of zero lot line wood frame cracker boxes be far behind?
I’m asking. Because it appears nothing is out-of-bounds now.
Open any newspaper in Florida and chances are the ‘Local’ section will have at least one article with the lede, “More than 100 people gathered this week to show their displeasure at a proposed land use and zoning change that could bring more than XXXX housing units to their area. . .”
Much to the consternation of malleable elected officials whose campaign coffers are brimming with cash from development interests, We, The Little People are becoming increasingly aware of the fact we are caught in a tightening vice of unchecked sprawl across the width and breadth of the Sunshine State.
The same is true here on the Fun Coast, as residents from Oak Hill to the Flagler County line see malignant growth threatening our quality of life, sensitive wetlands and waterways, and already strained transportation/utilities infrastructure.
Last year about this time, the Deltona City Commission lamented the fact that, like many other municipalities, the public perception is that developers are in control of the land use and rezoning process – because they are.
During a May 3, 2021, meeting “Interim” City Manager-for-Life John Peters suggested a six-month moratorium on RPUD approvals to give the planning staff time to hold workshops and strengthen codes and ordinances.
One year later (?), on May 18, the Deltona Planning and Zoning Board voted to support a pause on new housing development. Although the board’s vote is “advisory only,” the City Commission will consider it when they vote on the measure next month.
According to an excellent article by Al Iverson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, “It would freeze RPUD developments – residential planned unit developments – requesting zoning changes to allow for custom neighborhoods that often are more dense than the land’s regular zoning allows.”
If approved, the moratorium will remain in effect for six-months beginning July 1 and will only affect single-family detached dwellings.
The measure is being debated during massive sprawl which is consuming the whole of Volusia County – to include the recent approval of another 122 homes at Lakeside Landing in Deltona following a rezoning request that came with a $30,000 sweetener – a “donation” from the developer to be used to resurface Monterey and Tradewinds drives.
Thirty grand. . .
According to a Beacon report, “The homes will be built on lots generally smaller than those in the older surrounding neighborhood in the south-central part of Deltona.”
Sound familiar? Regardless of where you live in Volusia County, it should. . .
I wonder if this latest approval was the result of the old “Ask for 131 homes, then make them feel like you made a concession for the 120 you wanted” ruse?
In March, the DeLand City Commission approved a lukewarm resolution limiting annexations for residential development.
What is being called a toothless “non-moratorium moratorium” does nothing to stop developers from submitting applications for annexation for development – or the City Commission for reviewing and approving them – but that is not what it was meant to accomplish.
Clearly, this was a “feel good” move designed to salve the very real fears of DeLand residents who are feeling the claustrophobic effects of explosive growth.
Of course, even a tap-of-the-brakes on the current lucrative growth at all cost scheme will no doubt result in more clamor from the development community as they demand more, more, more from their marionettes on the dais of power in (you name the jurisdiction) under the mantra of “property rights” – which has become a blanket protection for the ‘do what cha’ wanna’ carte blanche developers have come to expect.
In my view, many current local planning and zoning ordinances have been exploited by developers in this cram ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag strategy that is now forcing municipalities to consider increasing consumptive use permits allowing more straws in the public drinking water supply to accommodate this unsustainable growth.
Now, it is time for the pendulum to swing in favor of those of us dealing with the fallout. . .
Look, no one is suggesting that all growth be stopped indefinitely – hell, that’s blasphemous in this build-at-all-cost developer’s paradise.
The idea of temporary good faith moratoria to allow local governments to determine how they want to grow, what low-impact strategies and environmental designs citizens want, and which ordinances and zoning regulations communities need to protect their finite water quantity and quality amidst the pernicious cycle of: Rezone, Increase density, Build cookie cutter sticks-&-glue project, rinse, repeat – makes good civic sense.
In my view, now that even contaminated dumps are no barrier to a developer’s greed, placing reasonable restrictions and protective regulations – then sticking to them – is a moral and ethical imperative.
And only our sacred vote can turn the tide.