Daytona Beach is like a rock in a river of development dollars. We watch the development dollars flow rapidly around us, admiring the view. But unlike other communities, we don’t actively fish for healthy development dollars that can survive without public subsidy. Instead, we just enjoy the view and wonder why we have such a problem with blight. BUT every once in a while, a pile of big development dollars snags on our rock. Then we spring into action; we drag those big development dollars onto our rock and we beg them to stay. We offer them anything they want and ask nothing in return, if only they will stay on our rock and grace us with their big development. It’s always a supplication.
So what happens when some small development dollars snag on our rock?
Let’s look at one example currently in the pipeline for approval:
A family owns five Jimmy John’s franchises in our area. They would like to add a sixth on our beachside, at the southwest corner of A1A and Butler Avenue. Because they are combining parcels and need some variances, they need a planned development agreement (PD) with the city. Their project will replace a couple of blighted buildings with new construction and all the attendant landscaping. Because their parcels will cross North Coates Street, they are going to resurface North Coates Street from the corner of Butler Avenue to the south edge of their property line. They even verbally agreed, that if the expense were not too high, they would extend that resurfacing further down Coates Street. In short, this project will improve that corner.
Now, truth be told, I am not a fan of chain restaurants and I have never eaten at a Jimmy John’s. BUT I do realize that tourists like to see familiar chains sprinkled amid charming local businesses. Since we currently have a severe shortage of charming local businesses on our beachside, I welcome this Jimmy Johns. Perhaps when Jimmy John’s succeeds, it will be easier to attract small local developers ready to create desperately needed charming projects.
The PD has been negotiated and all parties are in agreement on the scope and structure of the deal. The PD, in its final format, was presented to the Beachside Redevelopment Board on January 10, 2018 for approval. But our “city staff” had a surprise planned. In addition to the fully negotiated and agreed upon PD, which included a drive through, our “city staff” decided to recommend that the applicant pay to rebuild, not just resurface, but rebuild, Butler Ave from A1A to Grandview. The city’s rationale is that this is the price the applicant has to pay for the privilege of having a drive through and Butler Avenue really needs the work. The Beachside Redevelopment Board passed the PD and specifically excluded approval of that ridiculous “city staff” recommendation.
On January 25, 2018 the PD was presented to the Planning Board and it still included that recommendation. I almost felt sorry for Redevelopment Director Reed Berger as he sheepishly admitted the reason they wanted Butler Avenue rebuilt was because the street was past its useful life and the city just hadn’t gotten around to rebuilding it. Oh, and of course, it was the price they needed to pay for being allowed to have the drive through, even though that was already part of the agreed upon PD. He estimated the cost to be $45,000 – that’s a big nut to tack onto a small development project. The Planning Board was even more shocked than the Beachside Redevelopment Board at this unreasonable recommendation; they approved the PD but specifically excluded approval of the “city staff” recommendation.
Here’s the rub – the “city staff” recommendation doesn’t need citizen board approval; it’s just a recommendation. Will this recommendation be presented to the city commission as well? If so, will our city commission pay attention to the recommendations of the citizen boards or the “city staff”?
But here are the bigger questions:
- Why is our “city staff” negotiating in such bad faith? How can they negotiate an agreement acceptable to both parties and then tack on an additional $45,000 expense for this small developer during the approval process?
- It feels to me that our “city staff” is hell-bent on discouraging a small business developer in a blighted neighborhood. Why?
- Why are our city streets in such deplorable shape that we need private developers to rebuild them?
- If we are going to require SOME private developers to rebuild our city streets, why aren’t we asking ALL private developers to make that investment? Where’s that request of Brown and Brown or Consolidated Tomoka, or Minto or The Speedway?
Here, on our rock, waiting in the river of development money, we should be working hard to keep the small piles of development dollars. In our blighted neighborhoods, we cannot afford to throw these vital development dollars back into the river.