By Erika Webb
Economic development is on the rise in Deltona.
Infrastructure improvements, a solid population, decreasing unemployment figures and a streamlined planning and development review process have contributed to a business-friendly environment that is paying off.
At a town hall meeting March 6, Commissioner Zenaida Denizac addressed a large group of residents, business owners and representatives of companies, new to the area.
Economic Development Manager Jerry Mayes and Planning and Development Services Manager Chris Bowley shared plenty of positive tidings.
Mr. Bowley explained that for a young city - Deltona will turn 20 next year - the achievement level is "phenomenal."
In that short time, he said, Deltona's leaders and city staff have accomplished more than some 100-year-old cities.
Since the 2010 census, Mr. Bowley said, Deltona has gained 3,600 people.
City planners focus on a development pattern, he said, noting a balanced development pattern stabilizes land values.
The city of around 86,000 people already meets one of the criteria toward that end--strength in population.
The need for employment centers, industries that fit the land use pattern and population, daytime and lunch crowds have been addressed, and a recent surge in commercial interest proves hard work is paying off.
"Businesses attract businesses," Mr. Bowley said.
The 41-square-mile community is the largest in Volusia County and the second largest in the Central Florida region, he said.
The focus is on industries that fit the land-use pattern, can come in as quickly as possible and be up and running without having to re-plat property and go "through all kinds of steps to get open," Mr. Bowley said.
Wastewater treatment plants, utility and roadway improvements, parks and trails, impact fee moratoriums, an "outstanding" lobbying firm, key organizations and regulation updates and rewrites all represent investments, which promise positive returns.
"Deltona takes what I call a positive approach to how it invests in itself," Mr. Bowley said.
Two streamlining reviews in four years, three impact fee moratoriums, three large-scale code amendments to curtail inconsistencies, keeping the Capital Improvements Element (CEI) updated annually, strategic - geared long range - utilities planning and remaining active on school and transportation issues represent forward steps the city has taken during the course of the recession and housing and development crisis.
Code streamlining, creating uniform landscape buffers, removing cumbersome ordinances and shortening the development review process all are strides toward a more user- and business-friendly code, Mr. Bowley said.
Additionally, a single-phase project now requires no preliminary plat.
"The development review process is a work in progress," he said.
Ultimately, the business sector will be symbiotic with the residential population, creating a more balanced tax base, Mr. Bowley added.
He said the "hallelujah" moment for him came recently when a South Florida developer said, "Deltona is now on our radar."
Commissioner Denizac once told the commission the city needed, economically speaking, a savior.
Her wish was granted in the form of outgoing, positive, solution-oriented Jerry Mayes.
Unemployment in the city dropped from 12.9 percent in 2010 to 6.4 percent at the end of 2013, according to Mr. Mayes.
"Five percent is considered full-employment for a country," Mr. Mayes said.
Epic Theater, Dunkin' Donuts, Racetrac, Subway, Halifax Health, Bethune-Cookman University, McDonalds, Duvall Home Thrift Shop, Dr. Anabell Torres, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Insight Credit Union, Quest Diagnostics, Sav-A-Lot, Academy of Career Training, New Frontier Recovery Center, Cocky Rooster Café and Tractor Supply are among the businesses that are up and running, in the building process, expanding or scouting land to build in Deltona.
There are clusters of new businesses around every entry/exit area in the city, Mr. Mayes said, listing State Road 415 and Howland, Dirksen Drive/ DeBary Avenue/Doyle Road, Saxon Boulevard East or Interstate 4 and Howland Boulevard, near the Interstate 4 interchange as the concentration points.
"Halifax Health is looking at three different locations around the city," he added.
And, he said, Florida Hospital plans to open a 20,000-square-foot facility, dedicated to women's health.
"Walmart Neighborhood Market is looking at our city, in the general vicinity of Saxon..." Mr. Mayes said.
The list of positives went on.
Dunkin' Donuts owner Gary Heckel said he has $1 million in payroll going into the community.
"The community has been great to us," Mr. Heckel said. "The city's been great."
So great that he hopes to have a second location within 18 months, he said.
"Something we don't forget about is we have existing businesses in our city that employ people," Mr. Mayes said, explaining how those thriving businesses end up making improvements, like Larry Kent did at the Burger King on Elkcam Boulevard and Lake Helen Osteen Road.
Mr. Kent said it was very difficult to get anything done before Mr. Mayes arrived, but the pendulum has swung the other way.
"People used to refuse to do work in Deltona," Mr. Kent said, adding that the Burger King-renovation process went very smoothly.
Commissioner Denizac's only lamentation is that Dunkin' Donuts and Racetrac have not established locations across from Pine Ridge High, where she works - not as of yet, that is.
"It's not fair," she joked.
Mr. Bowley and Mr. Mayes said eco-tourism is a major contributor to the daytime and lunch crowd the city hopes to garner.
Thornby Park, with its all-inclusive playground and nearly 40 wooded acres, including 1,000 feet of shoreline on the scenic St. John's River, is a "great example" of an outdoor attraction, Mr. Bowley said.
Mr. Mayes said Audubon Park is another site, which will attract residents and daytime visitors.
"Audubon Park is a passive, recreational facility, featuring nature trails and interpretive venues. As well as being a recreational amenity for the city, the property is also used for stormwater management and natural resource preservation purposes," according to the city's website.
Commissioner Denizac is thrilled with the progress that's been made, including "major improvements in the permitting process."
"If it was up to me, we would have a 'Jerry and Chris Day' here in Deltona," she said.
Is Deltona business-friendly?
"I can assure you, we are," Commissioner Denizac said.