Ormond Beach government is ignoring the will of the people.
By Rob Bridger
The Oct. 8 Ormond Beach "State of the City" celebration — interestingly, held outside the city at the Halifax Plantation clubhouse — touted economic development, quality of life, and a series of public meetings that Mayor Bill Partington said "redefined" how the city communicates with its residents. While there is no doubt this feast of self-congratulation by our elected officials disseminated some truths and facts, it is important to note facts that were left out:
It's been nearly a year since our five sitting commissioners were challenged in an election where 40% of the voters in Ormond Beach cast votes of "no confidence." The incumbent officeholders held their 60% base after receiving a total of $250,000 in campaign contributions from the local business-developer power structure. In stark contrast, the challengers ran with a total of only $25,000 in grassroots contributions.
It's now been a year, and our residents are still waiting for our elected officials to address the issues that divided our community — the repeal of our wetland protection rules and the low impact development zoning that protected West Granada Boulevard.
This is our city, but there has been no government outreach to try to unite us and move us forward. Our town’s citizens feel disrespected, disenfranchised and disconnected from the public decision-making process.
I attended all the OB Life series sponsored last summer at a local church. These presentations — at taxpayer expense — were less about citizen input and dialogue and more about incumbent city leadership’s self-promotion of alleged accomplishments, during the run-up to the November 2018 election. The "redefined" communication that Mayor Partington asserts just didn’t happen. Again, I was there; there was no dialogue; city officials were introduced and left the building; session participants at round tables dropped their questions into fishbowls to be answered later. OB Life was more a political stunt than a genuine effort to engage our city’s citizens in its governance.
This is our city, where residential neighborhoods continue to suffer incursions of, or threats of, intense development with the rubber stamp of Planning Board and City Commission, often against city staff recommendations and against the city’s Comprehensive Plan. These incursions, also over the protest of homeowner residents, have disrupted the quiet enjoyment and quality of life for adjacent property owners at Granada Pointe, Ormond Central, 100 North Halifax, New Britain/Lincoln avenues, Hernandez and Dix avenues, and Chelsea Place.
This is our city, where massive clear-cuts of forest have been approved in floodplains, in contradiction to recommendations in the city land code that discourages large retention ponds and fill, on Sterthaus, West Granada and Clyde Morris. This flood risk development has already occurred on The Loop in Plantation Oaks, recently annexed by the city, where up to 1,500-plus manufactured homes will produce almost zero city property taxes — while requiring Ormond Beach police, fire, water and sewer services.
This is our city, that was able to give back a portion of new assessments in a slightly lower tax rate, but raised water, sewer, solid waste and recycling rates, shifting and putting the largest burden on low-income residents.
This is our city, whose leadership approved moving a perfectly functioning, low traffic 20-year-old police station, so that the land near the high traffic Granada-U.S. 1 intersection can be sold to a developer.
This is our city, that spent over $700,000 to buy the Riverview Church with no publicly stated or approved purpose, and spent yet another $1.3 million of our taxpayer money to install a floating boat dock (for people with yachts?) across from City Hall.
This is our city, that gave out over $1.4 million in downtown Community Redevelopment Area grants over the past 10 years to five different business entities.
This is our city, that has hundreds of homes still on septic tanks, including two subdivisions on both sides of the Tomoka River. But our city leadership has allocated over $1.1 million of Ormond Beach citizens’ tax dollars to design sewer connections for homes in the unincorporated county — Ormond-by-the-Sea — on the north peninsula. Ormond Beach tax dollars for homes that pay property taxes only to the county. On Oct. 13, the Ormond by the Sea Association held a public information forum on the issue of converting from septic to sewer, at the Ormond Beach Library; along with 102 other people, I attended. Very professional, and data-driven presentations were made regarding the impacts of septic systems in Ormond-by-the Sea on the water quality of the Halifax River, an impaired waterway. One of our city commissioners, Dwight Selby, was also in attendance. Regretfully, he left the meeting before I could ask if anything he’d heard from the presentations could persuade him to consider rethinking his pushing for the septic-to-sewer conversion issue.
This is our city, that still has an immense inventory of empty commercial properties on the beach side, in the downtown, in The Trails Shopping Center, and on all our main arteries.
This is our city, that witnessed a commission attempt to win approval for four-year terms, only to have the voters reject longer terms for the third time in less than 20 years, wisely opting to keep two-year terms.
This is our city, whose leadership supported a $40 million Hand Avenue extension over eight lanes of Interstate-95 and a Florida Outstanding Waterway — the environmentally sensitive Tomoka River — purportedly to take traffic off West Granada Boulevard, but for the real purpose of opening up residential and commercial development on the empty wet lands west of the interstate. Now that district governmental authorities have rejected this proposed project as too costly and too damaging to the environment, we have heard nothing from our city as to a "Plan B" for addressing the West Granada gridlock. Our main arteries continue to reflect a philosophy of form over function, with costly landscaped medians constructed down the center of our overcrowded roads. And now, spend another $890,000 to replace native trees in medians along Granada from Orchard Street to I-95 with non-native Medjool date palm trees.
This is our city, that required taxpayers to vote an additional tax on themselves, a $5 million bond, to finally get a beach parking lot at Andy Romano Park. Many of our residents still can't get to the beach.
This is our city, that approved an airport runway extension that will increase noisy air traffic over the heads of citizen residents in 17 nearby subdivisions.
This is our city, that made a deal for an unneeded traffic light at Granada and Tomoka Ave. while the Hull Road-U.S. 1 entrance to our heavily used recreational fields waits for a traffic light that will ensure the safety of children. And, the “suicide alley” where fatal crashes have occurred on Nova Road between Granada and Wilmette Avenue goes unaddressed.
This is our city, that approves large "planned business developments" that allow commissioners to throw out all applicable development rules and arbitrarily negotiate waivers and exemptions on the fly.
This is our city, that remains tightly gripped by the power of money, with goals, decisions, and expenditures of our taxpayer dollars dedicated to the moneyed interests.
This is our city, a city whose governance has lost its way, with no evidence of the will, or the capacity, to restore democratic, responsive government. Fellow citizens of Ormond Beach, friends and neighbors, this is our city. Let’s take it back.
Rob Bridger is a Navy veteran, former HOA president at The Trails, and a former candidate for mayor.