A vote on Feb. 24 will decide whether the HOA will donate 10 acres of its land to the county. Some residents worry this will change the rural nature of their community.
Ten acres of wooded land. Bad roads. A proposal for a fire station. A voluntary homeowners association with low participation.
These are the four factors currently impacting the Plantation Pines subdivision in unincorporated Ormond Beach, located in the rural area west of I-95. On Feb. 24, the residents will be faced with a vote some deem unexpected: Should the HOA donated 10 acres of land at the front of the neighborhood to the county for the construction of a new fire station?
The Ormond Beach Observer recently met with 11 Plantation Pines residents against the proposal, who said the first time they heard their community's HOA could be donating land to the county was a couple weeks ago. Worried about losing the buffer of trees that helps maintain the countryside feel to their neighborhood, the fire station is not wanted by some residents. But unless they join the HOA, they won't be able to vote.
Rebecca Rybicki, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1993, said she feels like the proposal shouldn't move forward if even one resident opposes it, whether or not they belong to the HOA.
"They moved in with that land — with that buffer, that protection, that bubble of land — and that’s not fair," Rybicki said. "We all have our reasons as to why we don’t think it's good for our community.”
The history of the deeded land, which spans just under 23 acres, dates back to 1988, when the developer, The Branigar Corporation Inc., gave the recreation land, including a lake, to the HOA.
“The land does not belong to all the residents," HOA President Jim Stoltenborg said. "The land was deeded to the HOA. If you’re a member of the HOA, you can vote on it.”
An offer to the county
The proposal for a fire station is not a new one, Stoltenborg said.
Eight years ago, the HOA offered the land to the county for the relocation of Fire Station 18, which is currently located at 500 Rodeo Road. However, the offer never went anywhere, and it wasn't until after Volusia County approved the allocation of $12 million to improve its fire services back in March 2019, that the conversation resurfaced.
Volusia County Interim Community Information Director Kevin Captain said in an email that a short time after the presentation to the council, a representative from the Plantation Pines HOA reached out to the county and indicated there was an interest in donating land for a fire station.
"The county of Volusia did not make a request for donated land," Captain said. "In this case, the proposed donation was offered."
While it's possible that land may have been donated for fire stations back in the 1970s "in the volunteer days," Captain said there is no knowledge of a similar situation occurring recently.
Why 10 acres? Stoltenborg said it's because the station would have wildfire fighting equipment on the premises. He hopes having a fire station nearby would quicken response times in the rural area as well.
"In addition, property owners also benefit from the reduction of insurance premiums, as fire losses are massive contributors to expensive insurance claims," Captain said. "The type of fire station also matters when it includes new construction, advanced life support service and heavy wildland equipment."
If there was a fire in a home in Plantation Pines, having a station nearby wouldn't make much of a difference, said resident Enzo Marchese, who is a firefighter himself in Orange County.
Houses burn all the time, even in cities.
“And we have the hydrant next to it," Marchese said.
The dirt roads in Plantation Pines likely won't support the fire trucks, either. But seeing as they're privately owned, the county isn't required to assume maintenance.
That's why resident Kevin Rybicki asked why the HOA is offering the land for free at all, when the county won't help with the roads.
“Meanwhile during the rainy season, what are they going to do when the firetrucks come out here, get stuck and can’t go down the roads?” he said.
The HOA has the responsibility to maintain the roads.
The normal range of active members in the HOA is between 55-62, said Stoltenborg. As of Jan. 26, the membership was 26 members.
Plantation Pines has approximately 280 homes. This is aggravating for Stoltenborg.
“A lot of people, and it’s mostly the ones that are ironically not members, are the ones that have been complaining about this," Stoltenborg said.
Changing the neighborhood
Resident Amber Mathisen recently moved into the neighborhood. She bought her home based on its location. She wanted to her family to live in the country.
If the vote to donate the land to the county passes, her home will face the station.
“I don’t want to sit on my front porch and see a parking lot and the back of a Fire Department," Mathisen said. "On top of having all that land cleared, I’m going to see cars and road.”
Resident Ed Best has lived in Plantation Pines for 13 years. The tradeoff doesn't make sense to him. It'll make the neighborhood noisy.
"Every time they send a truck out with the siren on, whoever lives up front there is going to get to listen to that noise," he said.
And for Pauline Rose, buying a home in Plantation Pines was a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city — the traffic, the stoplights and development.
“We just want to be away from everything," Rose said.
They knew what they were getting into regarding public safety issues when they all moved to Plantation Pines, resident Greg Smith said. They didn't move out there to become part of an HOA. But because of the situation, he'll pay the $75 annual dues to be able to vote.
“People in our position kind of look like the bad guys because we don’t want the safety unit in the front of our neighborhood," Smith said.