By Joe Crews
For Hometown News
While construction has begun on the 32-mile first phase of the SunRail commuter transit system between DeBary and Sand Lake Road in Orlando, Volusia County planners are focusing their attention on an area east of the DeLand station that will be in the second phase of the eventual 61.5-mile project.
The first phase is expected to be operational in 2014, while phase two is scheduled to be online by 2017 from DeLand to Poinciana in Osceola County.
County officials recently conducted a public workshop to unveil two possible scenarios for about 262 acres east of the railroad tracks, south of State Road 44 and generally along the north side of Old New York Avenue, plus an area on the south side of Old New York from West Euclid Avenue to West Beresford Avenue. The proposed boundaries define what would become an Activity Center around the SunRail station.
At the workshop, Volusia County Planning Manager Becky Mendez said the Florida Department of Transportation is "encouraging" what it calls "Transportation-Oriented Developments" - TODs -- around all the stations in the SunRail line.
The existing zoning within the Activity Center is a mix of industrial, agricultural, and residential designations, plus 57 acres that comprised a residential planned unit development called Pelham Square. That development, approved in 2006, was never built.
After working with planners from the city of DeLand and the Florida Department of Transportation for several years, county officials are proposing that 89 acres become the TOD core, while a large swath along the south side of S.R. 44 and the area south of Old New York Avenue become TOD transition areas.
Ms. Mendez presented two scenarios for implementing the TOD.
In the first scenario, the county would designate the entire area an activity center on future land-use maps. That would implement the SunRail TOD "to its fullest extent" and "clearly states the purpose and intent for the area." On the other hand, the existing zoning would be incompatible with the new designation, and would require any new development to comply with the new policies, she said.
The second scenario would allow property owners to develop under existing zoning and does not create incompatible zoning or non-conforming uses of existing properties. But that flexibility could result in development that is incompatible with the TOD concept, she said.
Existing businesses could continue to operate under either scenario, Ms. Mendez said in response to a question from the audience. But if a use becomes non-conforming after either scenario is adopted, those businesses would be prohibited from enlarging or adding structures on their property, and if abandoned for six months or more, would be required to be brought into a use that complies with the future land-use designation before reopening.
Ronnie Mills, a candidate for Volusia County Council who operates a family-owned septic service company on West Avenue near the station, wasn't pleased with either plan.
"(By doing this) you devalue the property, and devalue the business, if not force it out altogether," he said.
Mr. Mills will have several more opportunities to weigh in on the proposals. Ms Mendez said the county's Planning, Land Development and Regulation Commission was to discuss the plan earlier this week (Aug. 14) and at a public hearing tentatively set for Sept. 11.
The County Council could hold its first hearing on the TOD plan at its Oct. 4 meeting, she said, after which the Volusia Growth Management Commission and the state would have to review it. The County Council's second hearing could come sometime in December, she said.
"We're definitely having it discussed at the (Planning, Land Development and Regulation Commission) meeting Aug. 14," she said. "The rest of the hearing schedule is not set in stone."
Mike Holmes, DeLand's planning director, said he thought the county was going in the right direction.
"The county is indicating that if the station is built, they will seek changes to the future land uses," he said. "We've got plenty of time. I'll be interested in seeing what the policies will be when it's done."
In a related matter, state transportation officials announced that the DeBary station and four others in SunRail's first phase are eligible for additional funding for improvements "to increase transportation options for passengers and freight." According to a news release, the funds are designed for projects that help connect passengers and freight to the SunRail system.