By Dan Harkins
DELTONA - Christopher Nabicht just retired last year from the Deltona Fire Department, ending a 31-year career as deputy chief.
But he's not ready to give up public service just yet.
That's why he's one of four candidates who've thrown their hats into the ring to win the District 6 seat on the Deltona City Commission. Incumbent Michael Carmolingo also faces Michael Wycuff and George Watral in the Aug. 14 primary.
During half of his time with the department, the 50-year-old worked as a fire inspector, which means that for 16 years he was the department's representative on the city's development review committee.
This perch gave him invaluable experience, he said.
"I have good insight into what's going on in the development process - for developers and for the city as well," he said. "I also have made many relationships with the development community and with many of the players at the city and county level."
He's learned that many have a sour taste in their mouths when it comes to dealing with Deltona leadership.
One recent example, he said, was Commissioner Herb Zischkau's legal fight against the city's purchase of land off Howland Avenue for the construction of a new fire station - a battle paid for by taxpayers.
"Developers have to have confidence that commissioners are going to function as a team and move projects forward," he said. "They don't want to plop down a million or two on a property and design, then someone gets a bug in their bonnet and decides they're going to make a stand for no apparent reason."
Mr. Nabicht grew up in Villa Park, a suburb of Chicago.
"My grandparents moved here in the early '60s," he said, "and we used to vacation down here. Then, my father decided one winter that he'd walked across the Chicago River in sub-zero temperatures for the last time."
They moved to Deltona when Mr. Nabicht was 15. Before graduating in 1980 from DeLand High - the school that accommodated his area of Deltona at that time - he was already taking courses at Daytona Beach Community College for his firefighter certification.
He started as a Deltona firefighter shortly after graduation.
He remembers how early founders of the pre-incorporation Deltona, the Mackle brothers, marketed the area to retirees up north as a beautiful oasis with city services aplenty.
That type of campaign is needed now more than ever, he said, to fill in the gaps still left by the housing crisis.
"You can try and attract a JCPenney or Cheescake Factory or Outback Steakhouse," he said, "but if there's not a demand here for those services, those businesses aren't going to come. But if you develop a that type of population here, a customer base, those services will come because the demographic will demand it."
Another boon to economic development, he said, will be the SunRail stations being planted in the coming years.
The city already has designated a Park-N-Ride lot on the southwest side of the city, on Deltona Boulevard, but another should be placed in the development "activity center" at Howland Boulevard and Interstate 4 to create a customer base of SunRail riders there, too.
Developer Frank DeMarsh recently built an EPIC movie theater at that location, and it's still largely undeveloped.
"I would sit down with Mr. DeMarsh," he said, "and make him realize that it's to his advantage and the community's advantage to create parking there for 300 vehicles (for a shuttle service to the SunRail station in DeBary). That would help create a customer base there that would help support the creation of other things like a grocery store, chain restaurants and on and on."