DELAND – Volusia County Council voted on Tuesday to abandon an off-beach parking lot in New Smyrna Beach after outcry from residents and city officials.
Rather, a dune crossing was agreed for 16th Avenue.
The decision has brought tears to the family who own the house to the north. Kenneth Parker said his family spent more than $ 250,000 fighting the county in court over safety and environmental concerns.
“We are not opposed to solving your (parking) problem, but you have other options,” he pleaded with council.
“The council is chargedâ¦ with protecting the environment, protecting the beaches and protecting the dunes,” said his wife Diane Parker, who added that the resulting traffic would be dangerous for residents and pedestrians. “I am moved by the strain this has placed on our family.”
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The county spent about $ 110,000 on a parking lot plan, including more than $ 87,000 for designs, $ 2,600 for permits and $ 20,300 for a court hearing.
âThis does not include staff time. These are checks cashed to consultants,â noted Coastal Manager Jessica Winterwerp.
Staff logged approximately 2,525 hours on the project, of which 325 were from the legal department.
“Let’s stop this bleeding so we can move on,” said Councilor Danny Robins, who represents New Smyrna Beach. “We are not going to use past administrations as a crutch. We are the leaders now.”
“I’m really horrified by all of this,” said Councilor Heather Post, gesturing to abandon the parking lot in favor of a dune crossing.
All voted for the motion except for Councilor Ben Johnson.
Johnson said he was upset that the county was being portrayed as the villain because the city of New Smyrna Beach initially requested a project on 16th Avenue, although it was not the one the county had settled on.
“I feel like we’ve had the carpet under our feet,” agreed Councilor Fred Lowry.
In 2017, New Smyrna Beach city officials requested a 16th Avenue vehicle ramp project.
In early 2018, the county council contracted with Vero Beach-based engineering firm Coastal Tech-GEC to design and license a new vehicle ramp, but abandoned plans after New Smyrna Beach canceled its support when residents have spoken out against the issue.
During the year, the county revamped the proposal and instead drew up plans for a small parking lot and dune crossing.
In June 2019, the council approved the plan for 10 parking spaces, a disabled accessible space, a dune passage that complies with the United States Disability Act, a bicycle rack and a shower. Restoration of the dunes, landscaping as well as a retaining wall and fence were also planned.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved their permits in 2020, but construction has been delayed by the court challenge.
A multi-day hearing was held via Zoom in June, and Tallahassee-based administrative law judge E. Gary Early is expected to deliver his ruling by October.
The item was put on Tuesday’s agenda after New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen showed up at the June 22 meeting to ask them to put the project on hold.
âI would love to have a thoughtful dialogue about the issues we’re trying to solve and see if there are any alternatives,â Owen said at the meeting.
A vocal opposition
Not a single person spoke out in favor of the proposal on Tuesday, and the Parkers were joined by several others in their opposition.
New Smyrna Beach Deputy Mayor Jake Sachs said he was concerned about something more than just a walk around the site.
“I am very afraid that we are destroying our neighborhood,” he said. “We are NSB, New Smyrna Beach, not DSP, New Smyrna Parking.”
Leslie Sachs said she too would only support a dune crossing, citing the protection of sand dunes from erosion and the need to preserve local flora and fauna.
âPlease keep the charm and protect us,â she said.
John Nicholson, of Daytona Beach, said when the 10 spaces fill up “in the blink of an eye,” the remaining cars will fill the neighborhood.
âEvery square inch of the property you own, you want to put it under asphalt,â he told city council. “There will never be a natural, normal approach – what the beach looked likeâ¦ It’s unattractive.”
Board members weighed the options
The site is now quite eroded, but it is possible to walk or cycle to the beach, according to Winterwerp.
âThe public currently has access to it. It is not restricted,â Winterwerp said. “Adding a staircase would only improve the structure.”
Councilor Barb Girtman asked if a walkway has been built, where can people park? County director George Recktenwald said there really was no place. Johnson said he was not interested in spending that much to build a walkway just for the neighborhood.
There was another option – Winterwerp said Beach Safety could use it as an emergency access point with a bit of work.
Councilor Billie Wheeler asked why council isn’t just taking a break, as the mayor has requested, to fully explore what would make the most sense.
âPersonally, I would rather take a break than make the wrong decision and have to go back,â she said.
County President Jeff Brower said he believed a dune-preserving footbridge would help control erosion.
âAn old dune like this, as heavily vegetated as it is – you can’t get better protection than that,â he said.
âI’m just having a hard time removing these dunes,â Wheeler agreed, acknowledging the need for parking and the frustration of wasting so much money on this particular project.
Johnson said every off-beach parking spot is important because the county could one day lose its federal license allowing beach driving.
âOur beach is our greatest asset in this county,â he said.
In total, county staff estimate they have invested more than $ 10.5 million in off-beach parking in southeast Volusia County since the 1980s. That’s 1,076 parking spaces, of which 452 are chargeable.