By Erika Webb
Peaceable persistence pays off. Just ask members of the DeLeon Springs Community Association, or DSCA.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Volusia County Council agreed a district overlay with relaxed setbacks and the removal of split zoning would be beneficial to DeLeon Springs. The council also agreed the county needs to have a mixed-use zoning category, and directed staff to take steps toward creating it.
Planning staff asked the council to overlay the zone in the narrowly defined area fronting U.S. 17, from Ponce DeLeon Boulevard to Citra Street; reduce the setbacks and establish B-4 zoning, getting rid of split zoning in that area; and create a mixed-use zoning category, so people could potentially live above stores, allowing people to live and work in the "downtown."
The DSCA has been at this for a while now.
Members of the little association that could want to create a vibrant business community within what is known as a "census designated area" -- neither a city nor a town. DeLeon Springs has been like the foster child of Volusia County, and its lack of belonging was beginning to show.
DSCA president Don Malmborg said zoning was "push started" 50 years ago when, "they had to start someplace." The result was split zoning. Properties along U.S. 17 are zoned commercial in the front and residential in the back. Those who want to build onto the back of existing buildings to expand their businesses are unable to do so because they are not in the right zoning classification. Permitting for new construction has been a nightmare, Mr. Malmborg said.
Combined with two other major issues in the area -- underground water contamination and lack of water and sewer utilities for commercial properties -- it seemed like people who wanted to see the community thrive would never get their wish.
Amy Munizzi is one of those people. As the DSCA secretary and a DeLeon Springs property owner, soon-to-be full time resident, she considers recent strides made with the county monumental.
She said split zoning is a countywide problem.
"It's very exciting that DeLeon Springs is the catalyst for creating change to benefit, not only DeLeon Springs, but the whole county," she said.
Members of the DSCA would like to see existing buildings refurbished and open for business.
Ms. Munizzi said she thinks people have differing ideas when it comes to what DeLeon Springs should look like.
She said many envision "a tiny DeLand" where the community's citizens have jobs, places to shop and viable business opportunities.
"We want to remain small and quaint, and we want to focus on our natural attributes," she said.
Rural does not mean poverty stricken, Ms. Munizzi said.
"People think of a rural area as a bunch of uneducated people, running after you with pitchforks and that's just not accurate," Ms. Munizzi said. "These citizens are sharp, educated, intelligent people. That's why we (the association) present them with facts. We're not pushing an agenda."
The problem with mimicking DeLand is logistical -- current conditions prevent DeLeon Springs from having a "walkable" downtown.
"Though our vision is a small, hometown kind of place similar to DeLand, we're not able to do that," she said. "DeLand has a two-lane with traffic going 25 miles per hour. Ours is a four-lane with 18 wheelers barreling through at 50."
Ms. Munizzi said that's why the district overlay and multi-use zoning are so important.
"This will allow us to have parallel and perpendicular streets where people could turn off, park, walk and shop," she said.
She said it literally takes a general to forge through everything standing in the way of building in the "downtown" district.
"The only thing that's been built there in probably 30 years is the Dollar General," Ms. Munizzi said. "And while we're very thankful to have them, it took almost an entire block for them to fit their infrastructure."
Due to the lack of municipal amenities, a potential business owner looking to build would be responsible for installing a commercial-sized septic tank with a drain field, both of which take up a large amount of land. The parking lot cannot be built over those things so that means more land. Then, Ms. Munizzi added, there must be a "huge" underground fire system utilizing water from the property-owner's well and mandated water-retention area.
She said the $1.2 million Dollar General endeavor is affordable for a corporation, but not fathomable for the average person or group attempting to build a new business in DeLeon Springs.
"That kind of outlay effectively puts our local business person out of business," she said. "That's where DeLeon Springs is. You have to have that kind of land to fit all of that; who can afford to buy three parcels and put them together and you haven't even turned the first shovel yet?"
But Ms. Munizzi and other DSCA members are realistic and logical. They look for solutions instead of placing blame.
"It's not Volusia County. They've done nothing wrong," she said. "It's the reality of what you have to do for yourself as a business if you don't have water and sewer utilities."
It's been six months since members of the DSCA first approached the county, and Ms. Munizzi feels like a huge victory has been won.
Becky Mendez, Volusia senior planning manager, said rezoning is "pretty straightforward" and once the planning staff drafts the overlay, they will present it to the council, sometime in early 2013.
Ms. Munizzi credits Mr. Malmborg with his vision, tenacity and his love for DeLeon Springs and its people.
"He wants to see things happen for this place," she said. "We originally talked about a five-year plan. He wanted a three-year plan."