Betting on Development in DeBary
Published: Thursday, August 20, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.
If there’s a sure bet in DeBary, it’s that gambling will continue to face close odds.
For the third time since 2008, and the second time in three months, the City Council on Tuesday voted 3-2 to reject a proposal to allow pari-mutuel betting on land near the SunRail station. The city is eager to develop that area, using the commuter rail service as an anchor to attract investment and boost the local economy.
Other SunRail stations south of DeBary already have benefited since the trains began service in May 2014. More than $3 billion worth of projects, such as townhomes, luxury apartments, offices and retail, have been completed, are underway or have been announced within a 10-minute walk of stations in Seminole and Orange counties. The Florida Department of Transportation estimates those developments will generate more than 32,000 jobs.
DeBary has plenty of room for growth — the area surrounding the station is mostly cow pastures — but so far has had limited prospects. The one project that’s been on the table is to build a horse track and card room on a 67-acre property at the corner of Dirksen Drive and U.S. 17-92. DeBary Real Estate Holdings LLC, which owns the land, has a state permit for pari-mutuel betting. In 2008 the City Council spurned that proposal and later voted to ban card rooms in its land-development code. Also, the city’s comprehensive plan formally discourages “bingo, pari-mutuel wagering and card rooms.”
The gambling idea was revived in May when Steve Costa, one of the land-owning partners, requested the prohibitions on gambling be removed. The council shot it down on a 3-2 vote. Recently, Mayor Clint Johnson, who supports the proposal, urged members to reconsider it at this week’s meeting because the Daytona Beach Kennel Club has considered putting a card room in Orange City, right across from the DeBary border.
Again, the effort was trumped by a slim majority of members.
Some residents oppose gambling on moral grounds. For others, though, the question is what is the best bet: Should the city put all its chips on transit-oriented development near the SunRail station similar to what other communities are doing? Or should it place a marker on a local effort using gambling as a catalyst?
In 2011, SunRail released concept art and a vision for each of its proposed stations. For DeBary it conceived a “limited amount of mixed-use in the immediate station area; offices and retail to the south; and multi-family residential to both the north and south that transitions to single family residential furthest from the station.”
That’s the kind of stable, long-term development most communities desire, and that doesn’t carry the baggage gambling does (not just the moral objections, but also skepticism about its economic benefits). But is DeBary capable of attracting the same kind of projects as Lake Mary and Longwood? Could a horse track and card room be a more realistic goal, and even serve as a magnet for the same development? Or would it be a standalone project that could alter the character of the community?
Is one more of a sure thing than the other? Or are they both longshots?
It’s understandable that DeBary would be getting antsy about SunRail development given its neighbors to the south already are reaping its benefits. It just might take a little longer for transit growth to arrive in West Volusia. Plus, the process has just left the station: Last week the city hired a firm to conduct a marketing study of the area that will include consideration of the gambling concept. Officials need to be patient and remain on track.
Betting on Development in DeBary