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Deltona, Volusia's largest city


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Orlando Sentinel,

OSTEEN -- The Rev. Donna Conley wants to hold on to the wild deer that slip across her yard and the raccoons that bathe in her landscaped waterfalls.

Al Pell, a fourth-generation citrus farmer, wants the freedom to let go of his land as he pleases when the day comes to sell.

But even as Volusia County planners work to create boundaries that could help preserve the character of this unmapped rural community, Conley and Pell are looking west to Deltona. They're watching Volusia County's largest city as it pushes east, annexing timberland and pastures by the hundreds of acres.

"The greatest fear for all these people is being annexed by Deltona," said Conley, who lives on 12 acres bordering the St. Johns River. "I wouldn't live in Deltona if you paid me."

Approaching suburbs and oceanfront condominiums already have prompted three other unincorporated communities in Volusia County to seek added protections from intense growth, as Osteen residents are pursuing now, largely to preserve the status quo.

Other communities across the state are also seeking similar safeguards by adopting so-called local land-use plans, said Charlie Gauthier, chief of comprehensive planning for the state Department of Community Affairs, the office charged with ensuring consistency in master-planning documents.

In Volusia County, the plans have yet to prove their mettle. The agricultural community of Samsula has not secured official recognition from the county, and the communities of Enterprise and Wilbur-by-the-Sea have yet to fend off challenges from developers through their plans.

Even the planners themselves are conflicted, not convinced that the local plans will provide the protections they promise.

"The local plan gives the community another flag to wave in the face of annexation," said Ron Paradise, a planner with the county's Growth and Resource Management Department. "But annexations are the big conundrum. If someone wants to annex, we can't stop them."

That doesn't mean residents shouldn't try, said Tom Brooks, another county planner, adding that what he called Deltona's march east is part of the same population explosion that transformed such communities as Oviedo, Clermont and Lake Mary from "cow towns" into suburbs of Orlando in the 1980s and 1990s.

"These communities all feel threatened by areas outside their control," Brooks said. "They feel like growth is chasing them."

The land-use plans, Brooks said, are an attempt to "solidify the status quo," so that a community such as Enterprise can preserve its natural lakefront and historical buildings. Or a place like Samsula, where nearly a third of its residents are natives, can continue planting cropland, Brooks said.

Some farmers, like Pell, see the proposed land-use plans as just another level of bureaucracy that would constrain landowners. He argues that the push to preserve Osteen is actually fueling the rush by landowners to annex into cities.

Earlier in the fall, Pell asked Deltona to annex more than 240 acres of hay fields and pastures east of State Road 415, just north of the Osteen town center.

"You can't stop the growth. You can't expect the state of Florida to grow around Volusia County or Osteen," Pell said.

The 160-year-old community of Enterprise, which first gained additional county protections in March 2003, is already locked in a border scuffle with Deltona over the development of the historic Thornby estate on the north shore of Lake Monroe. Deltona annexed the property, but in mid-October the state Department of Community Affairs rejected the city's plans to pack the land with town homes.

Carol Aymar, a board member and past president of the Enterprise Preservation Society, said it was too early to say yet whether her community's local land-use plan helped influence the initial denial of Deltona's plans. Much of the plan's details are still in draft stages, she said.

"We're expecting continued challenges until there is a change in power in Deltona," Aymar said.

But Bob Nix, development services director for Deltona, said annexations into the city have been voluntary, both from the Enterprise and Osteen areas.

"We don't have an aggressive annexation policy," Nix said. "We try to be sensitive. We try to address compatibility issues and to respect a community like Osteen's right of self-governance."

If Osteen successfully defines its boundaries and preserves the large-lot zoning that rural residents such as Conley cherish, the suburbs will just push deeper into undeveloped areas, said Bill Hudnut, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.

"Florida, in my opinion, HAS TO LEARN TO GROW VERTICALLY THAN HORIZONTALLY :D ," Hudnut said. "You're not going to get there with single-family homes spreading all the way to the Everglades."


Deltona is seeing rapid growth. I hope we can learn to control the sprawl and bring it to density. Looks like Deltona might connect to sanford along I-4 as far as development. Does Deltona have a downtown? Ive never seen one.

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I read today that it has stabilized. Here's a link to the story - www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/News/Headlines/03NewsHEAD02122204.htm

Three houses condemned, i think? Crazy stuff. But that's Deltona for you. I've yet to visit another place quite like it. House after house after house on streets that look like they were planned out on a Etch a Sketch.

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I don't think they were ever sure of an exact cause...heavy rains from the hurricanes seemed to be the general theory. It's in a spot that's pretty prone to sinkholes, it's just that they don't normally open in the winter and they don't normally get that big.

It's a shame about the houses. That's really got to suck. But only in Florida can you claim that a sinkhole ate my house.

There was one a few years ago that opened in the west-bound lanes of I-4 in Lake Mary. That made my commute a real beotch. Yeah, I know. I didn't lose a house. But still, it sucked.

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Most of Central Florida is geologically unstable... the majority of the lakes in Central Florida are formed from sinkholes.

You can also get a sinkhole from the water table being too high, so it eats away at the limestone, and then you can get one if the table is too low (like overpumping for drinking water), so the limestone collapses and brings the dirt down with it.

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Sinkhole has been stabilized!


Brigade attacks Deltona sinkhole


Staff Writer

Last update: December 28, 2004

DELTONA -- In the chilly Monday morning air, a procession of bright yellow trucks backed up to the edge of the 50-foot precipice and dumped their load of sand one after the other.

What Mother Nature took away nearly a week ago -- a large section of roadway and earth -- the half-dozen machines have begun putting back, a job expected to be done by Thursday.

Jerry Brinton stood by and watched, his arms crossed over his chest, his right hand cupped under his chin, his feet planted firmly on solid ground just a few steps away from the sinkhole.

"The good news about this is since it is the holidays, we had plenty of equipment available," the Volusia County engineer said. "Getting the people in to run them was a little harder."

But they were there. Dozens of blue jeans and flannel shirt-clad workers drove the trucks, backhoes and bulldozers -- including Richard Large, the owner of Built Rite Construction. He was easy to spot from the 10-gallon cowboy hat on his head that barely fit into the cage of the small backhoe he was operating.

"It's going really well," Brinton said around 11 a.m. "They are getting this thing filled amazingly fast."

What Brinton thought was a minor problem Dec. 17 became his biggest nightmare when the ground opened up the next morning and a pothole became a gaping sinkhole. At about 225 feet by 160 feet wide and 50 feet deep, it caused the evacuation of 20 homes, the condemnation of one and swallowed four lanes of newly paved roadway. Commuters have to take up to a 6 1/2-mile detour.

Now, it is expected to take 30,000 cubic yards of sand, or 1,500 dump truck loads, to fill it in at a cost of $180,000. Only then will the roadway begin to be rebuilt. Workers are trucking in the sand from the county water retention pond at Graves and Howland boulevards. The dig site is a quarter-mile west of the sinkhole in front of Deltona High School and within the area already closed to traffic.

Mayor John Masiarczyk came to the site Monday with City Manager Fritz Behring.

"I have total confidence they are doing everything they can to take care of this thing," Masiarczyk said.

Perched on one of the only unmanned pieces of equipment, Masiarczyk peered into the abyss that was once a brand new stretch of Howland Boulevard. Looking like a cross between the steps of some ancient Greek ruins and the La Brea tar pits, the black, almost shiny roadway lay warped, separated and buckled at the bottom of the hole.

"Whatcha gonna do?" the mayor asked, shrugging his shoulders.

About 50 yards away, behind the yellow tape, over by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office portable command center trailer, a flock of bystanders stretched for a better look. From a 1-year-old sucking on a pacifier while squirming in a stroller to a group of Port Orange retirees with cameras, the hole had sucked in the curious.

"It is almost like a tourist attraction," said Chris Huffnagle of Port Orange, who had brought his wife, Pat, and his sister and her husband who were visiting from Pennsylvania. "It's phenomenal, we've never seen one before."

But the novelty has worn off for Kathy Johnson, who lives a few blocks from the sinkhole. It added 20-30 minutes to her daily commute to her job at the Orange City Wal-Mart, she said.

"I used to have a straight shot up Howland," Johnson said, "so it's been a pain."

Johnson can count on at least two more months of the longer drive. Engineer Brinton said that's how long they expect it to be before they get the road open again. Officials are most concerned with the immediate -- Monday, when school reopens -- namely Deltona High School, just feet away from the sinkhole.

"There's no doubt it's going to be a mess," City Manager Behring said. "But school officials have worked out a traffic plan that should help." Brinton said that plan involves bringing school buses in through the student parking lot and switching the students' parking to the faculty and staff parking.

In the meantime, the truckloads of sand slowly close the chasm, so cars can retake what Mother Nature has denied them. More than 400 truckloads were dumped into the hole Monday, almost a third of what is estimated it will take to completely fill it, hopefully before New Year's Eve. Brinton, who didn't even want to guess how many hours he has spent at the site in the last week, can't wait.

"A sinkhole was not on my Christmas list this year," he said.


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Just when you thought the gene pool had enough chlorine...

Sinkhole is full -- just in time

A woman drove through it when the pit in Deltona was about 80% filled.

By Erin Ailworth | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted December 30, 2004

DELTONA -- The filling of a giant sinkhole on Howland Boulevard came just in time for one driver.

With the hole about 80 percent filled Tuesday night, a woman in a sport utility vehicle drove past the orange traffic barrels and plowed right into the hole that had been 50 feet deep just two days earlier, deputies said.

Donna Zinck, 38, of Deltona made it across and out of the sinkhole safely. Deputies who were providing security at the site arrested her at about 11 p.m. Tuesday on charges of reckless driving, driving under the influence, driving without headlights and refusing to submit to a DUI test, said Brandon Haught, a spokesman for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

Workers finished filling the massive pit about noon Wednesday after dumping nearly 1,300 truckloads of sand from a nearby dry retention pond.

County Engineer Gerald Brinton, who has been overseeing the work, was thankful crews had made so much progress in the two days of work before Zinck's misadventure.

"Oh, boy, we are lucky -- that would have been devastating," Brinton said. "We've been very fortunate from the standpoint of no injuries."

Zinck, who also was arrested on a DUI charge in June 2003, was headed east on Howland toward Wolf Pack Run when she ran her 1999 Isuzu "over and around the cones . . . [then] over the sinkhole," Haught said.

The pit guzzled an estimated 25,640 cubic yards of sand before leveling out about a foot shy of the asphalt, Brinton said. By 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, a lone man in a white cowboy hat was operating the last piece of heavy machinery. The big, round, spinning red brush on the Rosco Challenger II swept stray sand toward the depression.

Next week, workers will test the sandy filling to make sure the sinkhole is completely stable. Road repairs are expected to take about two months.

While the Deltona sinkhole has been tamed, DeBary homeowners Neil and Ruth "Ann" Jacobsen still are worrying about the strange little hole that has appeared near the side of their house on Spring Glen Drive.

County officials don't think the hubcap-sized opening is a sinkhole, but an insurance agent visiting the couple Wednesday said the hole needed to be tested.

The agent said the cavity looked "like a sinkhole" and that it was close enough to the house that "it better be inspected," said Neil Jacobsen, 74. The homeowner said he wasn't sure when the testing would be done, but he was reassured that the hole hadn't gotten bigger.

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Sinkhole is Volusia's 4th since storms

Volusia leads Central Florida in sinkholes, and FEMA might not help pay for repairs.

By Erin Ailworth

Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted January 11 2005

ORANGE CITY -- Even though giant, home-destroying craters have opened up in Volusia twice in the past month, experts say there is nothing that makes the county more prone to sinkholes than other Central Florida locations.

"I guess the best way to say it is it's the luck of the draw," said Tom Scott, assistant state geologist for Florida Geological Survey.

On Monday, county workers started shoring up the 120-feet-wide, 40-feet-deep sinkhole that opened Sunday near Orange City, swallowing one home whole and part of another. Bulldozers shoved dirt into the pit to stabilize the shoulder and allow road and utility repairs.

Four miles away, an even larger cavity that claimed one home and several lanes of a major road in December has been filled.

But those haven't been the only sinkholes to open in Volusia in recent months. Two smaller sinkholes -- about 10 feet across and 5 to 10 feet deep -- have been verified in the county since the area was soaked by three hurricanes that caused or contributed to the phenomenon. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on another hole discovered next to a DeBary house.

County officials say all this sinkhole activity is definitely "unusual."

Volusia's four confirmed sinkholes since the hurricanes are more than the rest of Central Florida's counties combined. Officials have reported one each in Orange, Seminole and Lake counties.

Volusia's shaky ground has rattled some residents.

Since the hurricanes, the number of people calling to report possible sinkholes has risen sharply, said David Griffis, the county extension manager and a soil expert. Ninety-eight percent of the calls turn out not to be sinkholes, he said. After the storms, Griffis said, his office received about 15 calls a week to report possible holes -- three times the normal volume. When the Deltona sinkhole gulped a section of Howland Boulevard, that number jumped to 25 a week.

Neil and Ruth "Ann" Jacobsen made such a call when a small hole appeared near the side of their DeBary house two weeks ago. Volusia officials don't think the opening is a sinkhole, but the Jacobsens' insurance agent hired experts last week to do some tests. No determination has been made.

"We need to have it taken care of," Ann Jacobsen said Monday of eventual repairs to her hole. "When we hear things like yesterday [the opening of Sunday's sinkhole], we think, 'Let's get it done.' "

County officials are tying the number of voids they've been seeing to rain from three hurricanes and hope to receive federal disaster assistance to finance repairs to the larger sinkholes. They have not yet formally applied for aid, however.

But FEMA officials on Monday said Volusia County is out of luck again.

"They cannot be considered for assistance because it's outside the [hurricane] incident period," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak. "Sinkholes are not unusual in Florida, and you have them with or without hurricanes."

Hudak said the county can try to negotiate with the disaster assistance agency to see what might be done, but she offered no guarantees.

County spokesman Dave Byron insisted the sinkholes were hurricane-related and said Volusia will still seek federal help.

Scott, the state geologist, said the hurricanes may not be the sole cause of these recent sinkholes but the rains probably did accelerate the process.

"We know that when you have a lot of rain more sinkholes occur," Scott said. The water saturates the ground and sometimes the extra weight causes the limestone bedrock to collapse, creating a hole.

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Testing homes for sinkholes not worth it, experts say

By Jeff Libby and Erin Ailworth | Sentinel Staff Writers

Posted January 12, 2005

ORANGE CITY -- After two giant sinkholes destroyed three houses in the past month, the usual creaks and groans in homes have many Central Floridians calling engineers.

"The noise they heard yesterday sounds different now," said Jim Jammal, a Winter Park geotechnical engineer considered the state's foremost expert on sinkholes.

But the peace of mind they are seeking -- a regimen of soil tests to map the stability of the sandy earth separating their home from the limestone-capped aquifer that runs below most of the state -- in most cases could give them another sinking feeling.

The bill for such testing, according to Jammal and other geotechnical engineers, can run from $3,000 to $15,000. In the vast majority of cases, testing just isn't needed, experts said.

"In the state of Florida, there has not been one single fatality that has been associated with sinkhole activity going back to the early 1900s," Jammal said.

"It is a traumatic event. It is scary, because there is a mystery to it, but you get enough warning to vacate the house. I've seen that hundreds of times."

For Rebecca Swainston, the ordeal continued Tuesday as dump trucks and bulldozers filled the hole around her house near Orange City. Officials allowed William and Marilyn Stroud into their cracked home next door to salvage belongings. But they told Swainston she may have to wait until the end of the week when the hole is filled before she can enter her toppled, sunken home.

"I don't know if I want to go in there," she said, saying that she might send a neighbor to see what little can be saved.

Swainston has joined the growing ranks of Floridians who have filed a sinkhole claim.

For Citizens Property Insurance Corp. alone, the state agency that serves as the insurer of last resort, sinkhole-related claims more than doubled in 2004, from 319 to 731 through the end of November. The costs jumped from $2.9 million to $16.9 million.

"We believe private carriers are trying to avoid sinkhole exposure," said Justin Glover, a spokesman for Citizens, which is based in Tallahassee.

Realtors say they have not yet noticed any dip in home sales or increased wariness from potential home buyers.

"It's kind of new yet," said JoAnn Darling, with Blue Springs Realty Inc/GMAC Real Estate in Orange City. "I think people will just wait and see, as far as what is going to happen here."

She said the sinkholes don't usually come up in conversations with potential homeowners.

"Everybody has a concern about it but we know it's a natural phenomenon," she said. "But if we get any more it'll be like a third hurricane -- you expect one, but two or three?"

For engineers, the testing for sinkholes is nothing new, even if all the calls from concerned residents are.

Before building multistory buildings, bridges, stadiums and other large-scale projects in areas prone to sinkholes, engineers routinely check for evidence of unstable ground.

They drill hundreds of feet into the soil to gather samples, use ground-penetrating radar or probe the ground with electronic sensors.

Even with all these tests, engineers describe their work more like trying to forecast the weather.

Tom Scott, one of the state's top geologists, said many of the tests are "hit-or-miss." Many factors, such as a high water table or a layer of clay over the limestone bedrock, can throw off the results.

Even with two significant sinkholes in the past month in Volusia County, and the fact that engineers expect more because of the heavy rains of the last two years, Scott said he still wouldn't consider testing his own home for possible sinkholes.

"The chances of it [a sinkhole] happening to your house are pretty slim," said Scott, assistant state geologist for the Florida Geological Survey. The only way he said he would consider shelling out so much dough would be if Florida sinkholes "opened up so quickly that they were life-threatening." They don't, he said.

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Orlando Sentinel,

DELTONA -- Planning and zoning board members laid the groundwork Wednesday to bring new urbanism to the city.

Touted as the answer to suburban sprawl, new urbanism is a trend in planning that endeavors to create compact, walkable mixed-use neighborhoods where work and home life intermingle, such as in the Celebration area south of Orlando.

Despite objections from a rowdy crowd of more than 150 people, planning and zoning board members voted to create a new future land-use category of "village" in order to accommodate projects coming to the city. Those projects include a recently annexed property whose developers envision as an equestrian neighborhood. They sent forward to city commissioners a proposed ordinance that would facilitate the innovative style of development.

"We need to do it because if we don't do it [create this category], what you're going to see . . . is a disaster," said Bob Nix, city development services director.

Although the category is flexible, under most circumstances, it requires a minimum of 40 percent open space and 5 percent commercial use.

Board members also voted to change the proposed equestrian neighborhood, a 516-acre property known as D Ranch, to the newly created village designation.

The property, on the eastern edge of the city, had been caught in a legal battle between the city and Volusia County since it was annexed in November 2004. County officials had said the annexation was illegal and sued the city to stop it. They recently dropped the annexation battle, clearing the way for the project to get off the ground.

Many audience members spoke out against the new category, saying it would change the character of the surrounding area.

"We all know in Osteen that development is coming," Osteen resident Susan Cummings told the board. "What we really want is some control over that."

Developers are planning upscale plantation-style homes in the midst of shopping and horse facilities. The community would include a horse rink, stables and riding trails and about 1,200 housing units.

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Orlando Sentinel,

DELTONA -- The familiar complaint that "there's nothing to do" rings true for teenagers and adults in this city of 80,000.

Central Florida's second-largest city has no town square, no malls, no movie theaters, no nightclubs and few restaurants beyond the kind with drive-through windows. There isn't even a bowling alley.

City officials, however, think they might have found inspiration at a most unlikely place: a retirement community.

Like Deltona, The Villages has row upon row of homes, but they are broken up by two old-fashioned city centers -- part Main Street, part amusement park -- that draw crowds every night to theaters, coffee shops, swanky clothing stores and gazebos that attract bands and square dancing.

"I feel like I'm in a different country," Deltona City Commissioner David Santiago said Friday as he gaped for the first time at the meticulously maintained facades of The Villages' Southwest-themed Spanish Springs Town Square.

"This is what the people want," he said, motioning around the square. "Ever since the day I ran for office, I hear over and over that there's nowhere to go in Deltona."

When the city incorporated 10 years ago, local leaders and residents complained that they were stuck with more than 50,000 acres of twisting residential streets and nearly no commercial development. Deltona leaders fear the city's future is bleak if it doesn't expand its tax base.

But without centralized open land suitable for a typical downtown, Deltona has remained a city made up mostly of homes whose residents go someplace else to eat out, shop or find entertainment.

"It's basically come down to the point where we say, 'Whose house are we going to hang out at tonight?' " said Heather Cormier, a Deltona High School sophomore. "Unless you want to go out of the way 20, 30 minutes to the mall or hang out somewhere in Daytona, you're pretty much stuck hanging out at other people's houses."

During the past year, city officials have toured The Villages to collect ideas for Deltona. The retirement community of more than 45,000 residents sprawls across three counties northwest of Orlando but is seen as an example of how to integrate lots of housing with plenty to do.

Bob Nix, Deltona's development services director, said staff members even approached The Villages' developers about working with the city. "We talked to them, but they wanted too much money," he said.

But a shopping center developer has come forward in recent weeks with preliminary plans for a 50-acre town square south of Howland Boulevard near Interstate 4 that could be the first step toward city officials' goal of making Deltona more than just a collection of rooftops and sinkholes.

Mike Lynch, regional director for Developers Realty Corp., said Deltona's first town center would be modeled after Celebration and Winter Park Village as well as several of his company's own village-style shopping centers out of state.

It would have about 400,000 square feet of retail space -- nearly half as much as Seminole Towne Center in Sanford, the closest mall to Deltona. It would feature everything from coffee shops and specialty stores to grocery stores and big-box home-improvement chains. An 18-screen movie theater is planned to anchor the street.

The location is just blocks from where a giant sinkhole opened earlier this year, but it has been filled and paved over.

City Manager Fritz Behring called the town-center concept appealing: "Deltona doesn't have a downtown and was never designed to have a downtown. The nice thing is that when people go to The Villages' town center as a destination, they can park their car and walk from shop to shop, restaurant to entertainment. Unlike a strip development, it brings about that old-time, old downtown feeling."

The Villages also features placards detailing a colorful -- but fictional -- history. That's an idea city officials wouldn't mind copying, Nix said, but he doesn't think the developers would be willing to go into so much detail.

The city has already moved forward with other efforts to mimic The Villages. City commissioners adopted development standards in 2004 that envision several new town centers in Deltona and specify a Spanish architectural style -- like Spanish Springs -- on the west side of town and a Florida Cracker architectural vein -- like The Villages' second center -- on the east side.

Until recently, commercial development had almost nowhere to go in Deltona. But the recent annexation of more than 5,000 acres has spurred renewed interest in large centers around town.

Earl Starnes, a former University of Florida professor of regional planning, said The Villages' model would work for Deltona.

"In order to build a viable community, you have to have a balance of opportunity for housing and commercial," he said. "The town council there [in Deltona] would be wise to move in that direction and be certain that they have plenty of road and bicycle and pedestrian access to the center. Otherwise, people have already developed habits of going away from town for shopping. They're going to have to be induced to come back."

Snapping photos of restaurants and shops with facades made to look like ancient churches or old-time gun shops, Santiago said he was hopeful the city can pull it off.

"I love this," he said. "If we could work this out with the developer, I'd be so happy. I'd be spending my weekends there."

Lisa Emmerich can be reached at [email protected] 386-851-7923.

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