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 Ormond Beach City Commission
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Tuesday, the resolve of the Ormond Beach City Commission was tested by a developer in a high-stakes game of chicken.
After drawing a line in the sand with an out-of-town firm seeking to put a sprawling 300 unit multifamily apartment complex near the busy intersection of Tymber Creek Road and West Granada Boulevard – a two-year convoluted process that saw the project unanimously rejected by the Ormond Beach Planning Board in December 2022 citing concerns over density and the resultant increase in traffic at the already overburdened intersection.
Then, in their infinite wisdom, during the 2023 legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed the “great experiment” known as the Live Local Act – ostensibly designed to encourage “affordable housing” to meet our states growing need – which gives developers unprecedented concessions while neutering local government’s ability to control its community’s growth – and destiny.
In my view, the developer, Varden Capital Properties – a real estate investment firm founded with the objective of “…acquiring undervalued real estate, repositioning the asset and creating positive returns for its investors” – seized the initiative and wielded the new law like a cudgel – essentially threatening, “Nice community you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it…” – suggesting if the Ormond Beach City Commission failed to approve the project at a reduced 270 units (as negotiated by worried area residents) – it could, based on the site and new regulations, result in a massive density increase if workforce housing were incorporated.
When the City Commission tabled discussion of the project’s rezoning and development order last month, the developer’s attorney, Mark Watts, sent a clear warning.
In an April article by Jarleene Almenas, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, we learned:
“The law sets a “bad precedent” from the home rule standpoint, said attorney Mark Watts, who represented the developer at the hearing. But, it is coming, and based on the site, the developer — VCP Ormond Beach II, LLC — could build up to 525 units on the 19-acre property once the law goes into effect. At this time, the developer is asking the city for 270 units, reduced from 300, and is proposing larger buffers and setbacks to lessen impacts on the nearby neighborhoods of Moss Point and Indian Springs.
“The thing that we’re balancing is what type of multifamily will be here, because it’s not a question of if it will be here,” Watts said. “It’s what type, and how much do we want to control that process. The most control you will have is … in this process.”
However, the one card that convinced many residents the developer was bluffing is the fact Varden is not known for including affordable housing in previous projects (that I could find, anyway) – and workforce housing was not included as part of the original Tymber Creek proposal.
In fact, most of Varden’s current “new development” projects involve “luxury class-A multifamily” complexes or, in the case of the proposed Ormond Beach project, a “market rate apartment community” with upscale furnishings and amenities not normally found in low-income housing.
This week, when the chips were down, rather than stand strong for the dwindling quality of life of their claustrophobic constituents dealing with the vice-like crush of overdevelopment from all sides, they caved – rolled over and urinated on themselves like a frightened cur – with the majority voting to approve the rezoning and development order.
According to a report in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Commissioner Travis Sargent said he remained troubled by the density of the proposed apartments. He voted yes for the rezoning for the project, but no for the development order.
“Our hospitals are overloaded, our roads, schools, and here we are making a decision on an experiment,” he said.”
Good for him.
Unfortunately, to add insult, current Commissioner, and declared Mayoral candidate, Susan “Old Yellow Stain” Persis, showed the bright streak down her back when she went so far as to grovel from the dais – begging for mercy like a cowed jellyfish – “I think we’ve all probably had a couple of sleepless nights … so we just trust you, the developer, to treat Ormond Beach special, and that’s what we would really hope, and think about our residents.”
In another crushing blow to what remains of our quality of life, on Wednesday evening, the Daytona Beach City Commission reversed their previous well-thought decision to deny a sprawling 1,600 home development amid traffic concerns.
According to an article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“It wasn’t the quality of the development between Interstate 95 and Tomoka Farms Road that led commissioners to a no vote in March. It was their worry that adding thousands of people to the vacant 415-acre site just south of Interstate 4 was going to cause severe traffic tie-ups in the already congested area where International Speedway Boulevard, Tomoka Farms Road, and Bellevue Avenue intersect.
So the developer worked with a traffic engineer and city and county officials to come up with a plan to reconfigure and improve traffic at that busy nexus near I-95 onramps and offramps. Commissioners liked the suggestions, and they liked the developer’s pledge to pay for the $1.7 million worth of improvements.”
Wow. A paltry $1.7 million in “improvements” was all it took?
Because anyone who has sat in bone-crushing traffic on (insert Halifax area thoroughfare here) staring at the exposed bones of yet another sticks-and-glue apartment complex being erected on every square inch of vacant space – or been trapped east or west of that still unfunded Monument to Mediocrity at the LPGA Boulevard pinch point – wants to know why area elected officials continue to shove ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound bag and call it “progress.”?
With the ominous threat of already approved projects like the massive Avalon Park still looming on the horizon – residents deserve to know the end game – an honest explanation beyond the constant refrain, “Hey, our hands are tied…”
Good luck, neighbors.
When it comes to balancing the needs of existing residents and the wants of insatiable developers – those of us who pay the bills and are forced to suffer in silence lose.
Every. Damn. Time.
Angel DeLand’s NorthWest Square
Over the past 25-years, many communities around the country have made an economic comeback using the walkable urbanism concept and focusing on repurposing existing structures incorporating an eclectic mix of retail, specialty restaurants, housing, arts, and entertainment.
Sadly, that proven idea hasn’t caught on in these parts…
In my view, far too often our redevelopment mavens walk away from the time consuming and expensive proposition of reclaiming, renovating, renewing, and revitalizing blighted buildings in favor of allowing speculative developers to clear more pine scrub and build more, more, more – or showering “panacea projects” with publicly funded incentives and hoping against hope that the latest “gamechanger” has a trickledown effect on the surrounding area.
Last year, the City of DeLand approved a rezoning allowing the century old former Trinity United Methodist Church building to be transformed into a multi-use food hall and community marketplace known as NorthWest Square. The project is the brainchild of Deland residents Chris and Jessica Levings, who purchased the property on W. Wisconsin Avenue last August.
This week, the Levings and their business partners announced that renovations to the building are underway with plans to open early next year.
In an informative article by Sheldon Gardner writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned a few of the spaces proposed vendors:
“A few familiar faces have already secured space in Northwest Square.
Levings said they were relieved to have one of the main priorities, a tap room and wine bar, covered, thanks to Bill Budzinski, owner of The Elusive Grape.
Desert Sage owner Lorna Owens will be selling specialty teas and candles, and Adele Gerbracht and Judi Bradford will run the artist co-op.”
That’s exciting – and represents the kind of private investment in existing structures and established neighborhoods that is so desperately needed in many areas of Volusia County.
Kudos to the City of DeLand, the Levings, and their partners for this visionary mixed-use project.
Perhaps it is time for municipalities (especially east of the Palmetto Curtain) to ease onerous fees, restrictions, and roadblocks to innovation and redevelopment to encourage entrepreneurial investment in vacant buildings and established neighborhoods without artificially skewing the playing field in a free and open marketplace.
Good things happen when government gets out of the way…
Quote of the Week
Daytona Beach, Florida
Median home price: $256,550
“Though a home by the Great American Race costs nearly twice what it might have a few years ago, compared to a lot of Florida, it’s still insanely cheap. That means you’ll have plenty of money left to buy a giant F-350 and cruise along one of the only drive-on beaches in the country. The city is slowly moving away from its spring break image, so you won’t have to deal with as many drunk college students invading the shores each March. Plus, with Orlando just a short drive away, Daytona offers the perfect place for a beach escape with easy access to big-city amenities.”
–Thrillist Contributor Matt Meltzer, “American Beach Towns You Can Actually Afford to Move To,” April 15, 2023
(For the uninitiated, that means, “Welcome to Florida…”)
Earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on a story originally published on the online travel and lifestyle website Thrillist naming Daytona Beach as one of the most “insanely cheap” beach towns in the nation.
Drawing on all the Halifax areas worst stereotypes – from giant trucks to drunk college students and seasonal special events – Mr. Meltzer made it clear that residents of this civic, social, and economic wasteland are just a short drive away from civilization…
It was immediately clear to denizens of Florida’s “Fun Coast” that Mr. Meltzer was off on his estimation of Daytona Beach’s median home price. In an informative article by Brenno Carillo writing in the News-Journal, we learned from a local realtor that the actual average price for a three bedroom/two bath cracker box is now closer to $330,000.
For historical perspective – two years ago – Realtor.com listed the Daytona Beach Resort Area as the third most affordable region, with the median home price in Volusia County estimated at $280,000.
The sad reality is, with the dearth of affordable housing in Volusia County now estimated at 16,000 dwelling units, and 28% of families considered Asset Limited/Income Constrained/Employed (ALICE) – including 14% living below the federal poverty line – many low-income working families have been shut out of the local housing market.
It seems those elusive “high paying jobs” that adorn every application for corporate welfare schemes and state budget appropriations just haven’t materialized at the rate promised by our “economic development” types who continue to swoon over the low-hanging fruit of industrial warehouse scutwork promising $15.00 an hour…
As a result, while our area is touted as “insanely cheap” – perhaps for out-of-state retirees looking for a new life in the sun – in Volusia County, almost 1 in 3 working families are concerned about food insufficiency, access to quality health care, lack of savings, struggling to meet monthly living expenses, and suffering the constant stress of financial instability.
That’s not a positive…
Recently, the United Way of Volusia and Flagler Counties issued their first report on the gap between wages and basic living expenses since 2021.
According to the News-Journal:
“ALICE arrived at a household survival budget of $67,896 for a family of four (including a preschooler) in Volusia County, and $26,892 for a single adult.
Those figures for Flagler County were higher: $70,524 for a family of four and $28,296 for a single adult.”
Amid that distressing reality, this week, US News & World Report published their dubious “Best Places to Live” list which placed Daytona Beach in the top 50 this year.
For the record, Green Bay, Wisconsin took the cake…
According to reports, the ranking employs a subjective methodology “…using government and other data: quality of life, value, job market, and desirability.”
The report cites beach driving, “arts and entertainment” (?), and Daytona International Speedway among our most desirable draws.
Look, call me a skeptic – but I prefer to believe that which I see with my own eyes – rather than rely on “government data” regurgitated by an online magazine, tired pap and fluff that provides elected officials another layer of political insulation by glossing over the serious quality of life issues they continue to kick down the dusty political trail…
As a casual observer of our life and times here on this salty piece of land, I keep an eye on how Volusia County is perceived by those our hospitality gurus spend handsomely to attract. While I am not some marketing and research expert paid to tell the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau what they want to hear – my unsophisticated analysis of anecdotal reviews finds the beauty and accessibility of our drivable beaches remains our most popular draw.
Just about everything else – from chain restaurants to “things to do” – receives low marks.
But that has never stopped our ‘powers that be’ from patting each other on the back – the same tired names touting our slow crawl along the latest “road to recovery” from (insert most recent economic setback here) – or touting the next “gamechanger” we are told will deliver our core tourist area from years of blight and stagnation.
Rather than rely on sensationalized horseshit or arbitrary lists – as a lifelong resident of the Halifax area, I always tell out-of-state friends and family considering a move to our area to come for a long visit and see all we have to offer before making the leap.
There are many civic attributes we can be proud of in coastal Central Florida.
I have spent my life here, raised a family, and I love all the wonderful things the Halifax area has to offer. That is why I never put much stock in our perennial placement on those “other” online lists that are not as kind…
In my view, for decades, our civic “leaders” have ignored the expensive recommendations of their own highly paid consultants and purposely avoided setting a comprehensive vision for our region – an authentic and marketable identity beyond “Wide. Open. Fun.” and the stagnant status quo – something existing residents, and the thousands of families flooding into Volusia County, can embrace.
And Another Thing!
“An expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides…”
For a terrible period of my professional life, I worked for a Ph.D – a Doctor of Philosophy.
One thing I learned from that harrowing experience is that a quick way to pay ten Ph.D’s is to hire one Ph.D – because they have a way of propagating…
For instance, if you hire a Ph.D to paint your house, he or she will invariably subcontract with another to scientifically analyze the molecular structure and bonding capabilities of various tints and coatings – while another studies the surface, considers paintbrush bristles, handles, and poles – while another provides their learned opinion on masking tape adhesion coefficients, and another advises the first on the nap and pile of various rollers – all while others conduct suitability studies and provide a list of painters who will actually do the work, as yet another produces a white paper explaining your freshly painted home’s influence on regional real estate values, etc., etc., etc.
Just don’t ask your original Ph.D to maintain your lawn and take out the trash – that takes another set of agriculture, horticultural, and logistics “experts” to facilitate more empirical research, visioning sessions, and roundtable engagements to develop “parallel consensus through objective data analysis to facilitate changes in organizational culture that facilitates regular lawn maintenance and household refuse management.”
This carping about the “synthesis of known and unknown factors” and hypercritical nitpicking will continue, ad infinitum, until cost estimates have doubled…
I’m kidding. But not by much.
With all due respect to my friends who have earned advanced degrees, I was reminded of that inside joke earlier this week when I read that the Volusia County Council paid $6,000 to Dr. Herb Marlow of Analytica, a “strategic planning” firm which, “…incorporates powerful facilitation and engagement techniques to ensure a tangible link between the underlying data and the desired direction sought by the client,” to “facilitate” a goal setting session.
I know. I don’t get it, either – but I think that’s the point…
As I understand it (and I’m not sure I do), seven ostensibly smart elected officials required the services of a third-party vendor from Newberry, Florida to set a list of simple goals – each painstakingly framed in a way that no one on the dais, or in the Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – could ever be held responsible for failing to meet those dubious objectives.
Apparently, the public session was preceded by one-on-one discussions with council members while Dr. Marlow jotted down a list of “goals and objectives.”
According to a report by Al Everson in the West Volusia Beacon:
“Cutting the size of government, reducing regulations, eliminating redundancies and saving tax dollars were among goals voiced by members of the Volusia County Council in a planning workshop May 10.”
But before you get your hopes up about limiting government, improved transportation infrastructure, water quality, overdevelopment, objective performance evaluations for senior administrators, or a comprehensive beach management plan as the dunes continue to crumble – here is a list of a few of the future “accomplishments” you and I can look forward to from Volusia County government:
Create a more efficient regulatory framework.
Increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, particularly public safety, and economic development.
Develop and implement a plan for expanded recreation and sports tourism activities.
Continue and enhance fiscal stewardship.
Foster and support a solution-oriented culture.
Function as a highly effective Council with demonstrated impact.
(As opposed to a horribly dysfunctional and ineffectual shit show – a murky place where public policy is cobbled together behind closed doors – and things happen despite the elected body’s abysmal leadership and oversight, not because of it?)
Under the “goal” of increasing the “efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, particularly public safety, and economic development,” suggested implementation actions included:
“Identify where Volusia services or practices are duplicating those of another agency and then determine the need to continue the service/practice.”
Always a sound objective for organizations who possess an authentic capacity for self-assessment and a willingness to address duplication and other inefficiencies. Unfortunately, upsetting the bureaucratic applecart has never been Volusia County’s strong suit…
“Identify and then modify processes so that services are provided more efficiently and more effectively.”
Hey, great idea! A process (one would hope) that is a daily, hourly, constant, comprehensive, and continuing responsibility of the County Manager’s office.
“Further delegate decision-making authority on appropriate decisions to staff or PRLDC.”
Is that possible in Volusia County government, where plausible deniability is the operative ethic for senior management?
“Develop public safety training facilities.”
Clearly, Dr. Marlow forgot to meet with Sheriff Mike Chitwood, because I think he has already accomplished that with little, if any, involvement of the Volusia County Council.
This bloated bureaucracy with an operating budget now exceeding $1.1 billion needs an expert to tell them to develop checklists?
“Standardize processes and practices where reasonable, yadda, yadda, yadda…”
Wait. I’m no egghead, but isn’t that an exact duplication of goal #2?
Look, you get it. These are the kind of simplistic/commonsense management and leadership objectives one should already expect from County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – the highest paid public administrator in all the realm – along with his bevy of assistant county managers, deputy directors, senior department heads, etc., etc., etc. – each commanding six-figure salaries and all the perquisites of their high (and horribly redundant) offices.
Now, in keeping with Volusia’s typical “fox in the henhouse” strategy that invalidates all of this – “The Wreck” will “meet with staff” and produce a plan for achieving the Council’s malleable goals – and a method for tracking them.
But who will hold them accountable?
No one. That’s who.
Unlike the county’s consultant, I am not an educated man – but I will bet you a donut that subjective terms like “effectiveness and efficiency” have a different meaning for me than they do for you – and I’m almost positive these concepts will have an even broader meaning to Mr. Recktenwald and his staff.
Because when it comes to hacking the thick rind of fat off a bloated hog, that is rarely a job best left to the hog…
None of that matters. All the right terms were bandied about.
Now that our elected dullards have spent thousands of our tax dollars on another useless naval gazing exercise they can check the “goal setting” box, pat themselves on the back, and stumble into budget season doing what they do best – generating hot air and protecting the status quo while the serious issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of We, The Little People are wholly ignored.
In my view, the first goal of Volusia County government should be to earn the trust of those it exists to serve. And our elected officials shouldn’t need a guy from out-of-town with an impressive sheepskin, nice suit, and a briefcase to help them understand that…
That’s all for me. Have a great Welcome to Rockville weekend, y’all!
2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for May 19, 2023”
Volusia County is like watching the Biden administration and Congress with Feinstein and Fetterman.My home in Ormond was bought 6 years ago for $330.000 and now appraised at $750.000.Dont believe the media.You could not pay me to live in Daytona as inside our home Thursday at 11:30 you could hear banging that were drums from Rockville.Tomorrow going out for my birthday and heading north with neighbors.Remember 3 years ago when I emailed Partington about Avalon and traffic on Granada he replied that he was told Ormond is way underbuilt as he was coming from the tailor and builders.Took ten minutes to pass Nova on Granada as the light changed in 10 seconds driving on Granada.Would love to move but feel safe and love the demographics and availability of doctors,close hospital and all the amenities except a really good restaurant like the dozens we had in Palm Beach Gardens.Seems we turned into franchise junk
good post Peter, noise from rock concert unsustainable. Mayor does not care….