EVER WONDER WHY CITIES LIKE DELAND DON’T SOLVE THEIR HOUSING PROBLEMS?
Below is a glimpse of the seemingly impossible six-year struggle we’ve endured with officials in DeLand, merely for trying to do business and build housing solutions valued at over $20 million. (Keep in mind, this was only our first suggested phase of development). The plans we devised would support home ownerships for the artist community with small artist lofts, single family housing for shared living, single family homes designed for traditional mutigenerational living, and a condo building complete with small 650 square foot homes. The overarching goal was to allow people that work in downtown DeLand to be able to afford to live there.
The Madness By the Numbers.
Below are some of the unnecessary roadblocks, setbacks, and countless hurdles which have prevented us from investing in private-sector solutions in order to help solve our community's housing problems.
The number of zoning/code obstacles Breyting has overcome in the last 6 years.
The number of professional architectural and civil engineering firms, general contractors, and zoning attorneys we hired that could not get through the City of DeLand’s zoning processes. These firms ranged from small, local firms from DeLand, Lake Helen, and New Smyrna to sizeable firms in Orlandoand Tysons,VA. We also hired specialized consultants in Oakland, CA and non-profits who advocate for affordable housing and building standards to review our situation and make suggestions.
This number represents how much money was summarily wasted on legal fees, architectural, civil engineering, landscape drawings, and renderings that could not be used because the City of DeLand gave us incorrect and/or incomplete information—or simply changed their minds.
The cost to put a study together to be able to receive approval to use the color white. Ironically, it’s the same color white as the DeLand House Museum, which is used to preserve and promote the history of West Volusia County, including DeLand.
13 months is how long it took to get permission to remove an old, dilapidated home located at 811 Woodland. (Pictured above.) Did we mention this old, historically accurate house was painted white? The irony of the previous comment was not lost on us.
The city stood against us on both sides of the issues. Our intention was to incorporate the home into our larger project or to save the home. However, after the city put up roadblocks to save the home, we requested to take down the old house. The city stood against us on that request as well. The city even required us to pay for an ad advertising “a free home” in the DeLand newspaper for months when no code required this. Furthermore, we are not legally obligated to give away an old structure that can potentially be a liability, but the City of DeLand did it anyway.
The number of projects that Breyting owned and designed that are in alignment with the City of DeLand’s 2050 vision plan. However, city staff told us the projects were not viable and/or don’t fit in the city’s character. So why have a vision plan if the City of DeLand will not empower its staff and change zoning codes to implement the 2050 vision plan? It’s a waste of both public and private resources.
The number of times Breyting submitted plans, received a permit, and completed the buildout for a commercial space. We completed the project and were granted a certificate of occupancy. However, each time—once we applied for a business license—the City of DeLand informed us they missed a requirement and stated that ultimately the owner is responsible—requiring us to pay for their mistake. We were forced to rip out good work and make changes. In the case of our coffee roastery, it sat idle for years until the city made zoning changes.
The number of times the City of DeLand contacted us for one perceived code violation for failing to renew our occupational license in DeLand. Breyting received two phone calls, one e-mail, three people knocking on our door, two letters, and one certified letter. This does not include the number of times they came by and took video and photos. It’s important to note that we were proactive and informed the city at the beginning of the year when we did a name change that the business was not in operation. Furthermore, we unequivocally stated we were emotionally and financially exhausted from their relentless obstacles and we would advise them if/when we opened for business. We then told city staff that called and came to our door that we were not open for business—even giving them a tour of the facility and stated our sign had been removed and our website taken down.
But still, the certified mail and letters came. So, what did we do wrong?
The number of times the City of DeLand proactively gave us a solution to a site or zoning constraint. It’s also the number of times anyone in DeLand attempted to collaborate on possibilities for overcoming obstacles.
The number of years it took to convince the City of DeLand to correct a mistake they made after they allowed and permitted an illegal structure to be built that was not allowed to exist per their own codes. The mandate? You could own the house, but not use it for its intended purpose.
The number of years it took the City of DeLand to amend its codes to allow craft coffee roasteries to sell online and to have tasting rooms. Previously, the only way to have a coffee roastery was to operate a high-foot-traffic coffee shop. This is one of the many reasons Breyting was closed and prohibited from operating our coffee business for years.
That’s the number of times a staff member admitted they made a mistake and promptly removed an obstacle in writing so we could proceed with accurate information and direction. Unfortunately, this only happened once in six years of working with the city of DeLand. The other 100+ misinterpretations of the zoning and building codes took the intervention of a land use attorney.
The number of times the City of DeLand took away our property rights and our ability to improve our properties or make a living. For example, the city can’t tell our zoning attorney what they will allow or won’t allow on a piece of land we own. That infringes on our rights.
Another example? Even before we had an approved project or even a concept, the City of DeLand demanded we use a general contractor for the design phase of our projects, which is not a law or code requirement. This happens extensively with the City of DeLand, where an opinion becomes a mandated command.
The number of homeless people living on our properties which we have either driven—or paid for them to travel—to a city that had a housing program. This does not include Jamie (pictured above) as he spent the remainder of his days living on one of our vacant properties because DeLand does not have adequate programs to help people in need—especially those addicted to alcohol. At times, there has been a seven-month waiting list to get shelter.
One of our biggest regrets is not being able to convince the city to help Jamie, who certainly deserved better. (Jamie’s funeral was held at Breyting). We also sympathize with our local police department which have communicated their frustration with us over the years. They feel helpless to serve the community because they don’t have the laws and programs needed to do their jobs.
What are we advocating for?
Be Honest, Be Humble
How can we ever begin to fix what is broken in our community if we can’t be honest about the brokenness in the first place? The City of DeLand is a perfect example of good people harming their own community because they’re unaware that they are a part of a toxic work culture.
It’s a culture that engages in an adversarial roll with the community and looks for problems instead of solutions. The city is aware of the professionals, non-profit organizations, and cities with the solutions to the problems, but, unfortunately, DeLand has a proverbial chip on its shoulder.
When people say, “St. Augustine has solutions—why can’t we learn from them?” The city replies with “We are not St. Augustine.” The lessons—and the solutions—already exist. And our community does not need to suffer while the city chooses to slowly relearn these painful lessons. Instead, our city management only needs to seek out the knowledge and ask for guidance.
Change The Culture
We want the City of DeLand to start treating us—“We the people”—with the kindness we all deserve. We want the city manager and commissioners to change the culture at the City of DeLand to a philosophy that serves the people and for staff to offer solutions instead of roadblocks.
We also want those in charge to put the same energy and tenacity into helping people as their code enforcement does in penalizing people. We want the city to hire and train staff who inherently want to serve and help people. Instead of staff allowing people to walk out of the city's permitting office confused, frustrated, and feeling helpless we want staff to assist the citizens through the processes.
Implement Values, Ethics, & Code of Conduct Policies
The citizens of DeLand currently cannot hold our city or the staff accountable for mistreating us because the City of DeLand does not have adequate ethics policies, code of conduct policies, or policies for how to treat people.
This means there are very little rules or behaviors to break, so the citizens of DeLand have to rely on staff, the commissioners, the mayor, and the city manager to hold each other accountable. And we can tell you firsthand, they do not hold each other responsible. We want policies and procedures that empower the citizens to hold those who mistreat us accountable. If you search for “code of conduct” on the City of DeLand’s website, you will only see links to code enforcement (special magistrate), code violation, and code of ordinances. This is the fundamental issue—the city is set up to govern by force and dominance instead of fostering a culture that sees its citizens as allies that need their help and support.
Implement A Conflict Resolution Policy
Currently there is not a method for the citizens or staff to ask for resolution to a conflict. There is no one trained to deal with conflict at the City of DeLand and to bring healing to a conflict. Often times management makes you confront staff members directly which leads to resentment. In our case, it led to our project being stalled. And staff should not have to endure the anger and hostility of citizens that are frustrated with a broken system. We want the city to implement a process to bring healing to conflict in our community.
Hold People Accountable
We want the city to hold its staff accountable and stop waiting for years of complaints to pile up or for someone to be able to capture videotape of a staff member mistreating a business owner before management acts.
This same issue is now playing out with the city attorney, who we believe has proven that he oversteps his role as city attorney and acts if he is also a sixth commissioner and planner. It's not appropriate for the city attorney to ask us to consider leaving town, call us rogue developers, and suggest that our Izetta Court project is not financially viable because it requires an elevator. It's also not the city attorney's job to assess our risk or our project's viability. In addition, we don’t think it's ethical for the city attorney to have a dual role of representing real-estate developers while advising the City of DeLand on the same zoning matters. Who is the client? It's a conflict of interest.
Simplify The Process
We want the City of DeLand to simplify its permitting processes so any citizen or business owner can use their services without hiring a law firm to guide them through the process. An example of how the city’s process empowers large development firms? The City of DeLand requires the names of subcontractors and proof of their insurance to be provided before getting a project approved.
To wit, how does a business owner submit plans for financing or put out a set of plans to hire a general contractor so their subcontractors can bid on a project before the city has even approved the project? This is easy to overcome for large development firms because they use credit lines or cash reserves to build and have a large pool of contractors willing to bid on projects they might not be awarded. This needs to change. Business owners are not developers by nature. Instead, they engage in building improvements and should be respected and even guided through the processes. And local investors should not have to go to Wall Street to invest in real estate when they would prefer to invest in their own community—that is, if the processes were more straightforward.
Change The Zoning
While DeLand is experiencing the hardships of the largest housing crisis since the Great Depression, the city is not reacting to the community's needs. There have been published articles about how difficult and archaic the City of DeLand's zoning is. Yet, the city refuses to invest in updating its zoning laws and procedures. We want the city to make immediate changes to the City of DeLand's zoning so affordable housing can exist and thoughtful development is legalized and preferred, and subdivisions, strip malls, and apartment complexes are not the focus for the future growth of DeLand.
Change The Rationale for Zoning Restrictions
We believe the City of DeLand uses the wrong rationale to decide on minimum home sizes, garages, and parking spaces. The rationale cities—including Deland—should be using is, “What can a person afford in our town and what size home would that translate to in today’s world?”
If you do the math, an average person can afford a $155,000.00 mortgage, equating to around a 620-square-foot home in downtown areas. Either Fannie Mae needs to allow 100 mortgages so people can afford the current-size homes, or cities need to allow smaller homes to be built. In addition, we want the city to remove zoning laws that require garages and four parking spots per dwelling, as people in today’s world simply can’t afford (and don’t require) these luxuries. It’s not complicated; a community where people own their homes is safer, happier, provides more tax income for improvements, and protects homes values for everyone.
Value Small Development
We want the city to prioritize local investments and business first. Think Main Street before Wall Street. While the City of DeLand values large projects because it takes fewer staff hours to approve, and it adds revenue to the city's tax base. We can tell you that the DeLand's residents do not want large corporate-owned apartment complexes, hotels, and sub-divisions. They want incremental, thoughtful developments funded and built by the people who call DeLand home. They are eager to benefit the good of the community.
End Zoning Laws That Define What Constitutes A Family
It’s appalling and true. There is a law in DeLand that states it’s illegal for more than two unrelated adults to live together. This law prevents non-profits that advocate for housing for our veterans from operating in DeLand. It also discourages our elderly from living together so they can pool their resources to make ends meet. It also prevents homeowners from renting out rooms they are paying taxes on. Other towns allow one person or couple per bedroom. We want the City of DeLand to end zoning laws that define what constitutes a family and stop making it a crime for unrelated people to live together.
Why Not Build Your Project(s)?
Sadly, we don't trust the city to accurately interpret the codes and honor their written letters. Even when the city admits they are wrong, as one staff member said, "Unfortunately, it's always the owner's financial responsibility, no matter how many mistakes the city makes.”
Other cities allow third-party certifiers, such as Universal Engineering, to review projects for approvals, but DeLand does not allow this free market alternative. This means the city can treat us however they please, and there is no way to hold the city accountable. You can’t ask the courts for help, because the city is immune from lawsuits by virtue of governmental immunity. You can’t ask for the commissioners for assistance to resolve misinformation or conflict within the City of DeLand. Staff point at the commissioners, and the commissioners point at the planners. The city manager relies on the staff. And, as we mentioned, the city attorney creates conflict rather than becoming a problem-solver.
We don’t feel safe in DeLand. So, who is left to advocate for us—the citizens?
Have You Effectively Been Kicked Out Of Town?
Yes—and it’s heart breaking. Fred and I genially wanted to be a part of the community in DeLand. We never dreamed we would be so mistreated.
While the city says they want to work with us in the media, the reality is the commissioners and most of the staff are no longer communicating or working with us. Only the mayor is communicating with us. If you’re from the south, you understand that Southern hospitality grants you the canny ability to be polite while also walking someone to the exit door to never be let in again.
This is exactly what’s occurring.
However, to the city’s credit, city manager Michael Pleus is actively working with the planning department and our zoning attorney to hopefully salvage the years of city staff hours they have put into our projects, for which we are sincerely grateful. If our projects do get approved, that will allow us to sell our projects to local investors and builders who will hopefully pick up the gauntlet and take our projects to the finish line.
Can You Help Us Understand The Problem?
Breyting is dealing with DeLand’s culture—a culture driven by a “For Every Solution, We Will Find a Problem” mentality. No matter what Breyting is proposing, we are met with an obstacle.
Here’s a prime example of this problem-finding mentality at play. Breyting wanted to use water fountains for our projects but were told water fountains are not allowed, and please remove them from the plans. We asked the staff to share with us what code they rely on to make this statement? They replied that while water fountains are allowed, you must submit a plan to deal with people putting soap in them.
Ok, can you please share the code for this? Their subsequent reply was water fountains are allowed, but each water fountain must have its own water meter and electrical meter. Hmm, the code for this please? After a month of wasted time and energy, we finally verified none of this was true.
This problem-finding mentality has been the same for Zen gardens, outdoor grilling areas, slanted roofs, tandem parking, etc. The City of DeLand cultivates an unjust, toxic work culture—and celebrates finding imaginary problems.
Are You Having Building Code Issues?
No. 99 percent of our issues are city zoning issues. The root of all our issues? It’s problematic getting accurate information to nail down site specifications. The setback distances, height requirements, housing density, design standards, and zoning are forever in flux.
At Breyting, we like to think of it as playing whack-a-code. (Think whack-a-mole, but without harming the mole). Once we nail down the zoning requirements with the City of DeLand, the city will introduce a new requirement that no one has heard about and it pops ups and kills the project. Our design teams are experienced in meeting criteria. However, when working with the City of DeLand the criteria is not given to us up front. Furthermore, it will change after we have paid for a concept to be created.
We know it's okay to be human and make mistakes. However, it's not okay to stall projects for years that ultimately cost people millions of dollars.
What’s Next For Breyting?
We are determined to turn our pain into power to help others. Breyting will fail forward from this interaction with the City of DeLand and get back to work investing in another town that shares our core values. Our overarching goal is to find a community that’s willing to work in collaboration with us instead of causing endless headaches and roadblocks.
If you’re a town that would like to consider inviting us to be a part of your community, please contact Von at email@example.com