It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Asshole Daytona Beach “Visionaries”
Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an article by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean which asked the question many Halifax area residents have known the answer to for years:
“Daytona Beach running out of land?”
According to the News-Journal:
“In just the past four years, 2,386 new single-family homes have been built in Daytona Beach, and another 769 are under construction. Also since the beginning of 2019, 2,250 new multi-family units have been constructed, and an additional 1,094 units are currently under construction.
And in that same four-year span, 131 new commercial buildings have gone up and another 48 are being built now.
Some would call that healthy growth that should be celebrated, but others see it as overdevelopment that never should have been approved.”
I’m not sure those figures include development that has already been shot through the grease and is waiting to break ground.
So, yeah. Count me in the “overdevelopment that never should have been approved” camp.
I don’t know of any existing resident who has sat through three cycles of a traffic signal at (insert the intersection of any major thoroughfare and already overburdened surface street here) or seen development’s corrosive effects on our natural places that would describe this malignant sprawl as “healthy growth.”
Now, Daytona Beach Planning Director Dennis Mrozek is telling his strategically blindfolded City Commission that the city’s growth-at-all-cost approach of shoving ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound sack has now reached critical mass:
“We are at our western boundary,” Mrozek said at the workshop held to discuss growth management. “There is no place else to go.”
What a stark realization that must be for a municipal planning director who now looks like a kid trying to beat oversized square blocks into a few remaining round holes. . .
Is it possible that smart people appointed to positions of high responsibility who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – and those elected policymakers who sell themselves each election cycle as “visionary servant-leaders” – have painted us into a corner?
Because that’s what it sounds like.
“There is no place else to go. . .”
Now, Halifax area residents are asking the tough questions as senior officials use revisionist history to convince us we have never had it better.
For instance, many look at the scope and type of permitted development and ask if these bland, cookie cutter subdivisions and monstrous sticks-and-glue apartment complexes – some of which have the visual appeal of a Khrushchyovka from the former Soviet Union – truly represent the exalted “highest and best” use we hear so much of from speculative developers?
I realize this is subjective, but does the quality and appearance of these massive projects that now blanket our aquifer recharge areas and sensitive pine scrub enhance placemaking and community aesthetics or detract from it?
Now that this “cart before the horse” strategy has allowed build-out and density to outpace our transportation infrastructure can our utilities be far behind? And what will it mean for taxes and our collective quality of life when we begin the necessary process of building and widening roads, bridges, and thoroughfares as we quickly reach gridlock?
When we exceed the carrying capacity of the land, what effect will excessive consumption have on our dwindling natural resources, springs and rivers, and the quality and quantity of our finite water supply?
In a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal detailing efforts to improve the “…dilapidated stretch of Mason Avenue that runs from Clyde Morris Boulevard east to Beach Street,” Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu accused the Florida Department of Transportation of putting a “Band-Aid” on the problem while calling for more left turn lanes, elongated medians, and an improved appearance for the downtrodden gateway.
Conversely, traffic engineering expert Maryam Ghyabi made an equally valid point, given the enormity of the task ahead for area transportation planners:
“We can’t keep ‘good’ hostage for ‘excellent. I think it’s a great project. It’s going to be a major improvement for that corridor.”
Trust me. We’re going to have a lot of these discussions (and tradeoffs) as city, county, and state officials debate the prioritization of “big city” transportation needs on a Hooterville budget – or at least until our local governments and that Camera Stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance make it so painful that taxpayers finally cry “Uncle!” and approve the one-cent transportation sales tax increase they’ve been salivating over for years. . .
Now that we’re all reaping the civic, social, and budgetary whirlwind of overdevelopment – who will be held accountable for the gross lack of planning that has resulted in this patchwork quilt of wood frame “theme” subdivisions, “lifestyle” communities, and “cities within a city” – all serviced by massive strip centers, chain restaurants, and commercial clusters just east of a two-lane pinch point (that monument to mediocrity) at the Tomoka River bridge on LPGA Boulevard?
Most important, without a massive increase in taxes and fees, how will we pay for it all?
(And please don’t give me any of that Happy Horseshit about government belt-tightening or growth ‘paying for itself’ – not gonna happen. . .)
Unchecked sprawl remains the seminal issue of our time – and the reason many Volusia County voters are suspicious of entrenched incumbents and political newcomers whose campaigns are being bankrolled by mega-developers and well-connected insiders who have benefitted most from this tsunami of rubberstamped overdevelopment.
In the News-Journal’s exposé, Daytona Beach Deputy City Manager Jim Morris – a successful land use attorney who found his way to the inner-sanctum of the municipality’s Development and Administrative Services apparatus (?) (with a salary in excess of $214,000 annually) – was quoted, “…the next opportunity for developers might be east of the area that’s seen explosive growth, especially in the city’s historic core that’s needed redevelopment for decades.”
Don’t hold your breath Mid-Town, Beachside, or points east of Boomtown Boulevard.
We’ve heard it all before.
Many smart people I speak with don’t think the smart money is finished adding insult to injury by shoehorning more high-density “planned developments” and mega-warehouses onto the few viable acres that remain.
Unless (cue the Jaws theme) they decide to press the state to allow encroachment on the Tiger Bay Wildlife Refuge. . .
When it comes to the voracious appetite of speculative developers during a feeding frenzy – never say never.
With the Daytona Beach City Commission doing their best to convince worried constituents that the growth enhancing “toilet-to-tap” augmentation strategy of treating flushed wastewater to potable standards is no more than an ugly on-line rumor (pay no attention to the “proof of concept” demonstration testing system that was used to develop and test the process in partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District – or the fact the Florida legislature has preempted local governments from prohibiting the practice as part of the “One Water” statewide comprehensive water strategy) – Mr. Morris dutifully backed their play by painting a rosy picture of the Halifax area’s collective future, frontpage above the fold:
“When Volusia County became one of the first in Florida to charge impact fees, that hurt development, Morris said.
“While other parts of Florida grew, the energy avoided Daytona Beach,” Morris said.
That downward slide is a bad memory now, and the city has become a place with an increasing number of good jobs and nice places to live, he said.
“I think it’s a better place to be now economically than when I was growing up,” Morris said.”
Just a bad memory?
How’s by you?
I wonder if the tens-of-thousands of area residents considered asset limited/income constrained – unable to find affordable housing in a place where a basic one-bedroom apartment now demands an income of at least $17 an hour – think we are in a better place economically?
According to those who pull the strings on our lives and livelihoods from the Ivory Tower of Power, the “good times are here again!” Again. . .
Get used to it, folks. “There is no place else to go. . .”
Asshole County of Volusia
Anyone remember when taxpayers could access the tag office, building and zoning, veterans services, the property appraisers office, traffic court and other county departments all under one roof at the Volusia County Administrative Complex at 250 North Beach Street in Daytona Beach?
You know, before the Halifax area’s “homeless problem” became frontpage news in 2016 when hordes of the great unwashed were forced from their soggy cardboard boxes and dirty blankets tucked in the palmetto scrub and oyster middens of Manatee Island and assembled – en masse – on a very visible perch outside the county building in the heart of downtown Daytona.
Then, in September 2017, the coup de grâce for our convenient one stop shop came when Hurricane Irma caused massive flooding in the building – resulting in repair estimates of $5.4 million and replacement costs of $7 million – in 2018 dollars.
And there she sat. Moldering.
For the next five years. . .
Because it is one thing to tell the public there are no plans to revive a public asset – it is another to remove any doubt by allowing it to strategically rot.
Earlier this week, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe sent me a photograph of the building being razed and the footprint sodded over.
By the time I got there on Monday morning, all that remained of what many old-timers knew as the old Sears Roebuck building was a neatly screened fence, some empty sod pallets, and a homeless man wearing a housedress. . .
I did some asking around and many who are normally “in the know” on Halifax area happenings were as surprised as I was – and when I reached out to some key elected officials – it quickly became clear that our ‘powers that be’ were out-of-the-loop as well. . .
Maybe those of us who pay the bills missed the memo?
In February 2022, Volusia County issued “Hurricane Irma Cost Recovery Update #7” which mentioned “permanent repairs” (“Insurance is expected to pay a large amount toward permanent work, especially on 250 North Beach Street…”) and a request for reimbursement for nearly $500,000 in “mitigation activities” performed at the building in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
But, to my knowledge, the only nugget of substance oozing out of that hermetically sealed information vacuum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex in DeLand came in a September 2018 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“A Volusia County building closed since Hurricane Irma will be torn down and rebuilt using about $13 million that’s anticipated from FEMA and an insurance settlement, the County Council decided Tuesday.
The rebuilt Daytona Beach Administration Building at 250 N. Beach St. — where residents used to pay taxes, obtain new license tags, and consult with property appraiser staff — could set the stage for a bigger project to come.
In the summer of 2017, former county manager Jim Dinneen unveiled a mega plan for a multi-million-dollar courthouse complex on the same site that hinged on the demolition of the administration building. The possibility of consolidating these county services when, and if, a new courthouse rises is still on the table, said George Recktenwald, interim county manager.”
Ah, remember those heady days of “mega plans” that always benefitted all the right last names?
I do. . .
With another out-of-town “expert’s” opinion in hand, then County Manager Jim Dinneen announced plans were being formulated for a monstrous, five-story, $260 million “best-of-the-best” courthouse and county office facility in downtown Daytona – on the site that has just been cleared.
So, what gives?
What should we expect?
With millions-of-dollars over the transom, are county officials collaborating with the City of Daytona Beach on how the property can be used to enhance the “Downtown” experience?
How will the property’s future dovetail with The Framework Group’s massive apartment complex to be built just north of the Brown & Brown headquarters – or fit with the Riverfront Esplanade and proposed North Beach Street improvements?
Given the changing character of the downtown streetscape, is it time for Volusia County to consider getting the property back on the tax rolls and allow the marketplace to dictate its future use?
How much will it all cost?
Hell, how much did we pay for the demolition and sod?
And what became of the dude in the sensible frock?
Always more suspense. . .
Once again, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County – and the good citizens of Daytona Beach who have spent so much time, money, and effort revitalizing their historic downtown – are left to speculate what our ‘best and brightest’ have planned for the large publicly owned piece of the puzzle at 250 North Beach Street?
The next time an incumbent County Council member tut-tuts about “the public trust” – I hope you will remind them that this complete lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the planning process is what has destroyed constituent confidence in any project Volusia County government is associated with.
Then vote like your quality of life depends upon it. . .
Angel Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood
The passing of talk radio icons Marc Bernier and Big John left an informational black hole here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
As a regular listener and frequent contributor to GovStuff Live! I learned much from the thoughtful commentary and varied opinions of that eclectic group of civically active citizens who called in to discuss the issues of the day on Big John’s “…educational, informational, inspirational local forum.”
I miss our good-natured banter and the lively debate of competing ideas that frequently ended in a wager for an Oyster Pub hotdog.
Most of all, I miss my friend Big John. . .
Recently, our intrepid Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood – who has never shied from speaking his mind – has boldly stepped in to fill this community void with the launch of his “Chit Chat” podcast.
Following in the tradition of Bernier and Big John, Sheriff Chitwood is moving behind the microphone to discuss the issues of the day and push topical information to residents.
Last week, Sheriff Chitwood debuted the first episode of Chit Chat with guests Dan Abrams, Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Deputy Sheriff Curtis Wilson of the popular law enforcement reality show On Patrol: Live.
Please find Chit Chat here: https://tinyurl.com/45y2sm3m
According to Sheriff Chitwood, the podcast will not be limited to law enforcement topics alone, and future programs will cover news, sports, politics, and life in general.
In addition, during the premiere episode, Sheriff Chitwood took the opportunity to advertise openings with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Communications Division – a wonderful way of reaching those interested in opportunities in public service!
Kudos to Sheriff Chitwood for using this exciting new format to increase transparency and foster information sharing in Volusia County!
Quote of the Week
“Guest Services Inc., the Virginia-based company that has secured concessionaire contracts with hundreds of state parks nationwide — most recently, and to the chagrin of many, at DeLeon Springs State Park — is ruffling feathers once again in West Volusia.
In mid-July, a group of Orange City small-business owners were taken aback by news that Guest Services Inc. would close the boat ramp at French Landing to commercial kayak vendors as of Aug. 1.
French Landing, at the end of French Avenue just past the entrance to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, is on state-park land.
“The outfitters were never really informed this was going to happen,” Astrid Jackson, owner of Venture Outdoors, told The Beacon.”
–Reporter Eli Witek, writing in The West Volusia Beacon, “First pancakes, now kayaks? Tour companies say concessionaire has run them out of Blue Spring,” September 1, 2020
And so it begins. . .
Out with the old, and in with some officious Tallahassee bureaucrat’s notion of “compliance.”
“Recent, unauthorized commercial activities in the area of Blue Spring State Park known as French Landing have required us to place a heightened emphasis on remaining in compliance with Florida Adminsitrative [sic] Code,” the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state park system, said in response to one business owner’s query. “We understand that this may be inconsistent with your previous experience and apologize for that inconvenience.”
Vendors estimate that $1 million in gross revenue will be lost with local kayak guides and rentals shut down. . .
And Another Thing!
Speaking of Wild West Volusia. . .
Things in the District 5 Volusia County Council race got interesting this week when The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that candidate David Santiago, and his opponent, sitting Deltona City Commissioner Victor Ramos, are exchanging bloody blows after Mr. Santiago’s former employer filed a defamation suit against him.
As I understand it (and I am not sure that I do) former two-term state representative-turned revolving door lobbyist-turned Volusia County Council candidate David Santiago was dismissed from his $150,000 “chief operations development officer” role with Family Health Source, a nonprofit federally qualified health center based in West Volusia.
Apparently, Family Health Source’s CEO Laurie Asbury had concerns over Santiago’s $120,000 gig as a “government consultant” with Tallahassee-based law firm Colodny Fass – a job he accepted after being term limited out of the Florida House of Representatives. . .
According to the News-Journal, Santiago countered that his outside employment was approved by Asbury at the time of hire, claimed wrongful termination, and requested 18-months’ severance. . . Whoa.
(Reminder to Self: Start looking for a “position” with a federally funded nonprofit soonest.)
In turn, Family Health Source conducted an in-house investigation (?) which determined the separation was within policy – a finding that prompted Santiago to write the governing board with allegations of what he described as Asbury’s “gross behavior” – charges he reportedly had not previously disclosed.
According to the report, Santiago alleges that Asbury “…made sexual-based comments and questions to (sic) towards me,” Santiago wrote, saying she used crude terms in comparing male and female body parts. “She would press the conversation and try to get a conversation ongoing. It was very uncomfortable and disturbing to hear this from the CEO.”
In their defense, Family Health Source has filed a defamation suit claiming that Santiago “…communicated false and defamatory statements about Asbury to third-parties,” also “in a negligent manner, without reasonable care as to their truth or falsity.”
Want to hear the juicy part?
“(Victor) Ramos, Santiago’s opponent, was until earlier this month vice chair of Family Health Source’s board.”
You read that right.
According to the report, “Is there motive?” Santiago asked. “I don’t know. … (Ramos’) girlfriend or fiancée just got offered the position that I had.”
Ramos, in an interview last week, confirmed his girlfriend, Bruines Ramirez, has been hired by Family Health Source but had not yet started.
“Her position is totally different,” Ramos said. “I’ll put her résumé up to his any time of day.”
Ramos said he had no say in whether or not to take legal action against Santiago.”
Yeah. It’s a convoluted mess.
Everything Deltona residents have come to expect from their elected “representatives” – and, in my view, a sad indictment of the quality of candidates Volusia County now attracts.
Unfortunately, our choices in these important non-partisan races seem limited to political retreads and malleable marionettes who receive the nod of fragmented local party affiliates – who do little more than scream “RINO!” at one another or wallow in the depths of their “wokeness” – all while the significant local issues we face are ignored.
Those grassroots candidates who are driven by a fire in the belly to serve – the common people who build businesses, contribute to the civic advancement of their communities, and work hard to eke out a living in the Fun Coast’s artificial economy – are quickly turned off by the coarse nature of local politics and the pay-to-play shenanigans that mark what passes for “governance.”
In the recent Volusia County primary, David Santiago garnered the most votes (7,713) on the strength of a war chest totaling $39,180 – much of that originating from mysterious political action committees and a few Volusia County power brokers from the financial services and insurance industries.
According to campaign finance reports, Santiago’s contributions more than double that of his November opponent, Victor Ramos (who received 5,109 votes).
Is this the best we can do?
In my jaded view, these lamebrains, stodgy stalwarts of the status quo, and compromised posers will remain in control of Volusia County politics until We, The Little People begin a serious discussion of how these non-partisan knife fights are funded.
A situation where each dollar donated from those uber-wealthy insiders with a chip in the game comes with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge expectation we are repeatedly told does not exist – yet is exposed with glaring regularity each time a well-heeled mega-donor enters a council or commission chamber to receive a return on investment. . .
It is also increasingly difficult to attract quality candidates for public office when the sole focus of local elections shifts from the issues to the gross sideshow that is the politics of personal destruction – outrageous glossy mailers, open politicking by sitting elected officials from the dais of power, and vicious social media attacks foisted by cunning operatives who turn every human fault and foible into a horrific character assassination.
Who in their right mind would subject themselves to that?
As a result, we are often left to choose between candidates whose actions, loyalties, and hidden platforms are incommensurate with our civic needs and community values.
And history repeats – as it always does for those who refuse to learn from it.
That’s all for me. Have a great Holiday weekend, y’all!