By Cathy Wharton
For Hometown News
Back in the '50s, when James Milton Hunt was growing up in Wilbur-by-the-Sea, the beach was literally his own backyard -- an idyllic playground of surf and sand. His home was just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. Until about 1970, condominiums didn't exist. Homes and businesses that stretched along A1A had unobstructed views of the ocean, and the idea of a high-rise monolith popping up next door was totally unheard of. But the serenity of the coastline would soon change.
Condominium-building had already begun in other seaside towns and cities along the Florida coastline, and by the mid-1970s, developers began turning their compass towards Daytona Beach and its neighboring communities -- Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach Shores and Ponce Inlet -- each with the ocean as its border. Though high-rise, "cracker-box homes" had yet to make an impact on this area, thirsty condo developers were making their mark.
In April 1981, a real estate broker representing a Dutch-based development company, Transol U.S.A. Inc., came to Ponce Inlet to appear before the Town's Planning Commission. The mission was to present a plan that would transform 58 acres of pristine inlet property into a conglomeration of 514 condo townhomes and a shopping center. The proposal involved land that Transol had bought, a portion of which abutted the Lighthouse reservation fence, and the area where the Marine Science Center is located.
When word of the proposed development reached James Hunt, he was ready for action.
He was appalled, as were many others, the destruction of pristine inlet property would even be considered. He immediately went to work, initiating a ground-floor effort to stop the massive project. But Transol had the upper hand.
With planned unit development on its side, Transol's proposed project would in essence encompass the entire tip of Daytona's scenic, undisturbed peninsula. Upon completion, the development would allow investors a private inlet haven unto themselves. With little opposition, and seeming support from the Ponce Inlet Planning Commission, plans for development got underway.
On Sept. 8, 1981, Gov. Bob Graham announced a program called, "Save Our Coasts" to acquire coastal land slated for development. The following day, Mr. Hunt formed the Ponce de Leon Preservation Group. It's slogan, "Don't Condo Our Lighthouse," struck a resounding chord among thousands of concerned citizens.
As the crescendo of opposition grew stronger, Mr. Hunt delivered more than 4,000 petitions to an October 1981 Port Authority meeting. The count later grew to more than 6,000 petitions. In the meantime, Mr. Hunt had applied to the "Save Our Coasts" program for state funds to help buy the inlet property.
Throughout the ensuing weeks and months, the Planning Commission held fast to approval of the PUD plan. Undaunted, Mr. Hunt circulated another petition, this time going door to door to every registered voter in Ponce Inlet. The petition "demanded" preservation of the acreage being threatened, and the citizenry overwhelmingly supported it.
At a meeting of the Planning Commission on Feb. 24, 1982, it reversed its previous vote, thus denying the PUD plan. Contributing to that decision were flood maps that had been made public, showing nearly 90 percent of the proposed PUD land would be ineligible for federal flood insurance. Also, the Volusia County Council, after hearing Mr. Hunt express his concerns, voted to support the preservation of the inlet area.
On April 14, 1982, the Ponce Inlet Town Council voted against the PUD development.
After years of hard work and endless meetings with local, county and state officials, James Hunt's relentless quest to save the inlet finally prevailed. Lighthouse Point Park was officially opened on Nov. 14, 1986.
Today the inlet wilderness area is permanently sealed from corporate encroachment. "The 58 acres of oceanfront land (James Hunt) fought so hard to save from the bulldozers are safe and covered with picnic pavilions, dune walkovers, nature trails and an observation tower."
A dedication ceremony Feb. 18 honored Mr. Hunt. A crowd of more than 50 well-wishers and onlookers, including Mr. Hunt's mother (soon to be 100) and his two daughters, gathered at the Lighthouse Point Park pavilion to congratulate the person whose valiant efforts helped preserve an irreplaceable part of local natural heritage.
Mr. Hunt said a resident once asked him, "Why are you doing this?" His reply: "It's a spiritual thing."