In 1999, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) purchased Gemini Springs Addition, 948 acres of conservation lands located just west of Interstate 4 on the shore of Lake Monroe in Volusia County. The funding came from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for mitigation to help offset wetland impacts from FDOT road projects in the area.
This property provides important wildlife habitat, helps protect Gemini Springs and Lake Monroe, and is a valuable recreational asset and tourist attraction for the county and the region.
Now, the City of DeBary wants the SJRWMD to transfer ownership of 102 acres of the Gemini Springs Addition to the city for a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project. Instead of retaining it for conservation, the City would use the property for a private development of 2,400 residential units and 258,000 square feet of non-residential space and a stormwater retention facility. Click here to see DeBary's powerpoint of its latest plans.
The Gemini Springs Addition tract was determined to have significant conservation value when it was purchased by the state and again when it was reassessed a few years ago. The SJRWMD's 2012 District Lands Assessment Implementation Plan recommends donating the land to the county while retaining a conservation easement to ensure continued conservation. This plan does not recommend selling, exchanging for other parcels, or allowing alternative uses on this property. In addition, this property was originally purchased for the express purpose of mitigation for Florida Department of Transportation road projects, intended to help compensate for the functional loss resulting from wetland impacts.
To make matters worse, the Chairman of the SJRWMD Governing Board, John Miklos, has purportedly already given assurances to the DeBary officials that the deal will be approved. Miklos' company, Bio-Tec Consulting Inc., is working for the City to help get the required permits and approval from the SJRWMD and other regulatory agencies for the land transfer and proposed development project.
This is apparently nothing new for Mr. Miklos and his company. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, "Bio-Tech has represented clients in at least 33 cases since Miklos was appointed to the board in March 2010, with 22 coming since he became board chairman." In a follow-up story about an ethics complaint that has been filed against Miklos, the paper reported that a more in-depth search revealed that "the company has been listed as the agent, consultant, or applicant on a total of 118 projects since January 2010."
Using conservation lands for a private development violates the intent of our state constitution and the purpose for which they were purchased. This would also establish a dangerous precedent, potentially putting all of our conservation lands at risk and undermining the intended benefits of mitigation. The fact that the chairman of the SJRWMD Board and his company are working with DeBary to develop conservation lands that are owned by the agency he oversees makes this much more egregious.
HOW TO HELP
- Contact the DeBary City Council members and the City Manager.
Tell them to withdraw plans for a private development project on the Gemini Springs Addition and honor the intent for which these public conservation lands were originally purchased.
DeBary City Counci Members:
Dan Parrott, City Manager firstname.lastname@example.org (386) 668-2040
- Contact John Miklos, the SJRWMD Board Chairman.
Tell him to stop representing his own economic interests over the interests of the public and our river.
John Miklos, SJRWMD Chair email@example.com
- Contact the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board Members.
Tell the Board to ensure that Gemini Springs Addition remains in conservation and that our conservation lands are never used for private development.
SJRWMD Governing Board:
John Miklos,Chairman firstname.lastname@example.org
Fred Roberts, Vice Chairman email@example.com
Chuck Drake, Secretary firstname.lastname@example.org
Carla Yetter, Treasurer email@example.com
Doug Bournique firstname.lastname@example.org
Douglas Burnett email@example.com
Maryam Ghyabi firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Howse email@example.com
John P. Browning Jr. John.P.Browning@sjrwmd.com
Learn more about this issue by reading the outstanding coverage from the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
May 21 - DeBary kept plan details low-profile
May 22 - Our View: Investigate water district
Also, read the letter that St. Johns Riverkeeper sent to the Mayor Johnson and the DeBary City Council expressing opposition to these ill-conceived plans and our letter to the editor that appeared in the News-Journal on May 22.