By Erika Webb
"Downtown DeLeon Springs."
Jubilant members of the DeLeon Springs Community Association think it has a nice ring to it. Since the Volusia County Council voted yes for a district overlay and removal of split zoning on March 14, there's hope a quaint shopping and dining district in the community will soon become reality.
The association's founder, president and "unofficial mayor" of DeLeon Springs, Don Malmborg, initiated the crusade to remove roadblocks to commerce, especially split zoning.
Many of the properties along the North U.S. 17 corridor between Citra Street and Ponce DeLeon Boulevard were zoned commercial in front and residential in back, preventing expansion either way.
Fifty of the 95 parcels within the planning boundary have been zoned Urban Single-Family Residential with some portion of business zoning within the parcel boundary.
At a public meeting last August, 30 to 40 property owners showed up to give their input about the split zoning, lack of water and sewer utilities, and an inability to meet the setback requirements.
The rezoning will apply a business zoning to the parcels with split zoning and will assign an overlay zone to all properties within the corridor.
The new DeLeon Springs Overlay Zone will reduce dimensional requirements and provide design regulations for new commercial development.
"That took us to pre-2004 setback requirements so it's relaxed standards (making it) a little easier to fit things on the property that you need to fit to have a commercial business," association secretary Amy Munizzi said.
It will allow things like parking.
The overlay plan provides for parking area location and access management; a reduction in landscape buffer widths to match the yard requirements, allowing for encroachment into landscape buffer for certain hardscape features; and reduces lot size from one acre to 10,000 square feet.
Volusia County Senior Planning Manager Becky Mendez said the plan to grant conforming status was designed to encourage building on vacant parcels and adding on to existing buildings.
"We reduced the minimum dimensional requirements to encourage infill and redevelopment of businesses," Ms. Mendez said. "Some of the parcels were less than an acre so they were non-conforming. By reducing the minimum standard (to 10,000 feet) it made those properties conforming."
The ordinance will be finalized following state approval of a written resolution, Ms. Munizzi said.
These are some of the things that have stymied the DeLeon Springs business district. There are more to tackle.
"Not having water and sewer utilities has been a killer and the parcels were too small to meet setback requirements," Ms. Munizzi said.
She said Mr. Malmborg tried for years to get people to understand why the removal of split zoning was so critical.
"When we first brought the issue to the council members' attention, some didn't even know what it was," Ms. Munizzi said. "It was established such a long time ago, people don't even know (about it) until they come up against it. People had to go individually to have their properties rezoned and that's very expensive to do."
The next step in creating more feasibility for prospective businesses will be a commercial property tie-in to DeLand's water and sewer lines.
"I think what happened now gives us immediate relief," Ms. Munizzi said. "But the next step is to work on getting water and sewer utilities."
She said the recently-built Dollar General Store required a $28,000 well, "just to flush a couple of toilets."
Septic systems run between $60,000 and $80,000 to install, and without city utilities expensive state-mandated monthly water testing falls on the shoulders of property owners, Ms. Munizzi said.
"Builders, developers and business people don't want to bother with that," she said. "Anybody that knows anything about business knows you have to have water and sewer utilities. They want to go where these things are already in place."
The county is working with the City of DeLand to come up with figures to present to individual property owners for establishing those utility connections.
"We want to stay rural. We love the rural flavor of DeLeon Springs," Ms. Munizzi said.
Recalling a recent League of Cities event she attended, Ms. Munizzi said attendees from outside the area kept saying, "Oh, DeLeon Springs ... we've had pancakes there."
"I said, 'No you haven't, you've had pancakes at the state park," Ms. Munizzi said.
She asked if they remembered driving through the business district, but it hadn't made an impression.
Ms. Munizzi said she hopes rezoning and other efforts of the association will make it easier for the businesses in DeLeon Springs to survive.
"The ultimate goal is not to be big, but we want to have goods and services and jobs for our community," she said.
Meanwhile, members of the association continue turning vision into reality.
Art among the Trees Arts, Crafts, Old Tyme and Bluegrass Music Festival will be Saturday, April 13, at the Porter House, 5030 N. U.S. 17.
More than 25 local artists and craftspeople will display their talents at the juried event, and five bands will take turns performing onstage and in "pickers' tents" where the public is invited to bring instruments and "play with the pros," Ms. Munizzi said.
The association will have a food fundraiser with hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, snow cones, ice cream, cookies, candies, other baked goods and drinks.
Eco-friendly activities for kids, including hands-on learning about "beneficial bugs," such as ladybugs, will be overseen by volunteers from the association and Taylor High School.
"It's a giant step forward for us and was birthed out of our fall festival," Ms. Munizzi said.
The annual fall festival in DeLeon Springs features garage sales and homemade craft and food items, such as jellies and jams.
"Fine artists couldn't compete (with the prices) so we said we would make it a point to have an art show in the spring," Ms. Munizzi said. "There are a lot of fine artists in DeLeon Springs and the Glenwood area. This will give them a chance to shine."