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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 10 months ago

Save what remains of the Loop

Former Ormond Beach mayoral candidate says the Loop has not yet been saved.
by: Guest Writer

Mayor Partington’s Nov. 26 editorial falsely claims the Loop has been saved. In his editorial, I find it regretful that he is dismissive of public input – equating citizens’ valid concerns about the fate of the Loop to misguided concerns in a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” comedy movie. Over 61,000 people have signed an online petition to save the Loop, and over 11,600 Ormond Beach residents voted in November for a platform to save what remains of the Loop.

As a 17-year City Commissioner, the mayor knows the Ormond Beach community’s 2003 “Save the Loop" movement tried to stop the Plantation Oaks intersection at Old Dixie Highway. Previously, Ormond Beach, as “a substantially affected party” had petitioned the county in 1983 (resolution 83-14), in 1986 (letter from Ormond Beach city attorney), and in 1990 (resolution 90-159) to “pursue a method of limiting access” by disallowing intersections and honoring “the city’s strong recommendations that traffic flow (of the National Gardens Trust Project) be directed south to U.S. 1 and away from Old Dixie highway/North Beach Street.” In November 2002, the County Council approved Plantation Oaks without the detailed traffic studies required by the development order. Density calculations were omitted and the Development of Regional Impact lacked a full accounting of units to be developed in each phase. No study of protected species had been done in the previous 10 years. No scientific analysis was done to determine what buffer width would be necessary to protect the huge live
oaks. Despite the support of thousands of Ormond residents, “Save the Loop” failed to prevent the Plantation Oaks intersection that ripped out 700 ft. of old growth tree line, becoming a precedent for a subsequent equal-sized Old Dixie Highway intersection for Halifax Plantation South.

History contradicts the mayor’s assertion in his editorial that the Loop is “well-saved within guidelines allowed by law and property rights.” That’s just political gobbledygook. Property rights do not include the automatic right to any rezoning that adversely impact adjacent properties, in this case the scenic public road that is the Loop. Community volunteers attempted to “Save the Loop” with no help from Mr. Partington or the Ormond Beach city government. He now, once again abdicates city leadership when he says the county should take the lead on Loop issues by using Volusia Forever funds for the costly purchase of undeveloped, still forested Plantation Oaks lots.

The city’s recent Plantation Oaks annexation failed to negotiate environmental protections, tree preservations, or lot reductions as a condition for approval. Why was there no public referendum on such a large-scale annexation? The planned 1,576 manufactured homes get city water, sewer, police, and fire services while paying no property taxes. The development gets the valuable “Ormond Beach” brand. What did the city get in return besides water and sewer
revenue? The Plantation Oaks property adjacent to the Loop clear-cut thousands of trees, requiring tons of fill and a dozen mega-sized retention ponds, high impact development that directly contradicts recommendations in Ormond’s Land Development Code and fails to meet our city’s high standards.

The mayor’s claim of commitment to “our beautiful natural environment” is contradicted by his long record of weakening our wetland and development rules, and by subsequent specimen tree desecrations at Granada Pointe and Sterthaus Drive. Again, and again, approvals of new commercial developments have trampled the rights of adjacent property owners. The Planned Business Development process allows development rules to be bypassed with waivers and exemptions negotiated with city government. Recently, the mayor and the City Commission rejected a request for a Tree Advisory Board that was made by a respected citizen group in our community. Having such a Board is an Arbor Day Foundation requirement for having its “Tree City” designation.

Over the years our local leaders have squandered one opportunity after another to negotiate for preserving our environment and small city quality of life. Contrary to the Mayor’s assertion, the Loop has not been saved. The Ormond Beach environment – its wetlands, waterways, and its tree canopies – remain in serious peril.

I’m asking our mayor and City Commission to work collaboratively with our newly-elected County Council chairman, our re-elected District 4 County Council representative and our state legislature representative to develop a comprehensive strategy for the Loop. The 175-foot buffer along Old Dixie highway shouldn’t just be a buffer, but protected as a conservation easement. Our city’s Planning Director and staff have had a listing or inventory of parcels around The Loop that could be subject to future development. That’s a starting point for targeting expenditure of federal, state and local funding to purchase available parcels for environmental preservation into perpetuity. There’s so much to do. Let’s not squander another opportunity. Together, let’s save what remains of the Loop.

Editor's note: Regarding the tree city designation, the city claims its Quality of Life board obtains the requirement from the Arbor Day Foundation. Mayor Bill Partington was also given a chance to respond:

"I’m pleased for the opportunity to respond and once again highlight and congratulate the amazing citizens and others who have worked so hard to “Save the Loop.” Over a 20-plus year timeframe, their efforts have created the beautiful scenic drive we enjoy today. We all owe these tireless volunteers, like Rita and Marty Press and Joe Jaynes, a debt of gratitude. Because this property was outside the limits of Ormond Beach for so long, only Volusia County working with these volunteers could protect the Loop and we are so glad they did.

When you boil it down, the opinion piece submitted by Mr. Bridger is incorrect. The good news is at the end, he seems finally ready to work with and for Ormond Beach, Volusia County and the state as well as other nonprofit entities to further enhance the Loop, which is substantially in Volusia County.

I have proposed a citizen committee to review and prioritize sensitive environmental/recreational lands for a bond referendum for potential purchase by the city in partnership with other land preservation groups. A majority of the commission as well as many residents have heartily agreed. This process will give voice to our residents as we look at possibly spending millions of dollars to purchase private property in Ormond Beach for conservation purposes.

In closing, I encourage anyone who is serious about preserving the loop to join and/or donate to the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail. This devoted group of volunteers have worked hard to protect this 30+ mile loop of road covering some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the State of Florida.”

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