The Volusia County Council has cleared the path for the construction of a fuel farm near the city of Ormond Beach.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the County Council voted 5-2 against enacting a nine-month moratorium on properties zoned I-2 "Heavy Industrial," the only thing standing in the way of staff processing a site plan submitted last December by Belvedere Terminals for the property at 874 Hull Road. The conceptual site plan submitted by the company showed six proposed 40-foot-tall tanks for the unincorporated Volusia County property.
The county's refusal to process the application led Belvedere Terminals to file suit against the county on Jan. 2, two days before the County Council initially met to vote on the "pending" moratorium, which members opted to postpone until Feb. 6.
Then on Jan. 30, a Volusia County Circuit judge upheld the county's decision not to process the application due to the pending moratorium.
Only Councilman Troy Kent — who represents District 4, which includes Ormond Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea — and County Chair Jeff Brower were in favor of enacting the moratorium. The rest of the council believed staff should process the site plan, trusting the county review process to address the many citizen concerns regarding the development.
Councilman David Santiago said enacting a moratorium wasn't a "silver bullet" — or a simple solution to the problem.
"The site plan process is the best option for you," Councilman David Santiago said. "This whole process has been poisoned from the beginning and has put us in a difficult spot to do things and utilize tools that may have been effective."
Brower disagreed that the current county process is the solution.
"The moratorium is not a silver bullet — neither is going through the regular process," Brower said. "I have time and time again seen projects that I think, 'There's no way this will ever pass' and then the process comes up, we go through the whole thing and we're told, 'Well, it checked every box.'"
In a statement, Belvedere Terminals Chief Operating Officer Mike Benedetto said his company is pleased the moratorium was rejected, as it would have "hurt private property rights in all of Volusia County."
"Belvedere will continue to act with complete transparency," he said. "We welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss concerns with anyone interested in learning about the facts regarding this project, which is an invitation we have extended to even our most vocal opponents. We are also open to attending public meetings — including town halls — to facilitate this open dialogue, if it is helpful. It is important to note that Belvedere’s system is a safer, cleaner, more reliable and lower cost way to bring vital fuel products to Floridians."
'You sold us out to a fuel farm'
Almost 40 people spoke during the council meeting, the majority of whom pleaded with the council to approve a moratorium.
Ormond Beach resident Elena Krafft referenced the recent temporary injunction hearing between the county and Belvedere Terminals, and said that during the hearing, it became clear that Belvedere Terminals not having an in-progress site plan application in the county strengthened the county's legal standing.
"That's not to say it will eliminate all legal risk, but it would greatly diminish it," Krafft said. "So if you vote no on the moratorium today, you're not only voting no on protecting the health, safety and quality of life of Ormond Beach residents, you're voting no on protecting the tax dollars of all Volusia County residents. While we weren't looking, you sold us out to a fuel farm, blaming it on lower level staff."
Three Ormond Beach city officials spoke at the meeting as well — Mayor Bill Partington and City Commissioners Lori Tolland and Susan Persis.
Since the fuel farm project became known in the community last August, Ormond Beach officials have been vocal in their opposition, passing motions to deny Belvedere Terminals annexation, utilities and even splitting legal fees with Ormond Beach company S.R. Perrott, which is currently challenging the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's issuance of an air construction permit to the fuel farm company. A judge is expected to rule on the challenge later this month.
Partington called enacting a moratorium a move of "profound importance for the future wellbeing of Ormond Beach and its residents."
"The push for a moratorium is not about halting one project, but about taking a necessary pause to reassess and modernize the zoning of development plans," he said. "This reevaluation is crucial to ensure that our growth aligns with the current and future needs of the county and Ormond Beach."
On behalf of over 600 local businesses, Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbie Cotton also spoke at the meeting in favor of a moratorium.
Since the property was rezoned to I-2 in 2006, Volusia County has changed, she said. Ormond Beach's population has changed.
"It's time for you as the county to look at [the zoning] and take a pause, and reevaluate what is the best fit for that area," Cotton said. "It's good exercise for the county and it's good business."
A win for Belvedere Terminals
Belvedere Terminals, represented by GrayRobinson, sent the County Council a letter on Monday, Feb. 5, opposing the moratorium.
In the letter, attorney Nicholas Dancaescu wrote that the property was zoned I-2 long before the project was proposed.
"Only after this project became known did discussions about ‘stopping the project’ begin – all long before anyone had asked for information regarding the use, plan, safety, impacts, and other inquiries and information which is typically reviewed by County Staff in the site plan application process," Dancaescu's letter states. "This moratorium is to prevent a single project, on a single property in Volusia County. In effect, the County Council is telling staff they do not trust them to properly analyze this Project and ensure the information and data provided and presented are sufficient to allay the concerns which, up to now, are based in speculation and assumptions."
There are only five properties in Volusia County currently zoned I-2. All five properties are located on Hull Road and Hull Trail, near Ormond's city limits, and are owned by the Florida East Coast Railway, Waste Management Inc. of FL and JMJ Ventures Group LLC.
But, county staff said at the meeting that there are over 800 acres of properties with industrial zoning that could seek rezoning to I-2 in the future.
The county's I-2 zoning currently functions as a "catch-all," without a specific list of uses, according to a statement made by Paolo Soria, senior assistant county attorney during a Nov. 21, 2023 meeting where the council unanimously directed staff to review the zoning and pursue the moratorium.
Dancaescu argued that the moratorium was improper and would have violated Belvedere Terminals' rights, Florida law and the county's own charter, had it passed. He said approving the moratorium would lead to additional and longer lasting litigation.
"Also, often lost in these discussions amidst the fear-mongering of certain groups is the purpose and outcome of this facility — to increase the fuel supply security for Florida, and particularly during a ‘bottlenecking’ event such as a hurricane," he wrote.
Whose hot potato is it?
Santiago and Councilman Don Dempsey criticized the city of Ormond Beach's role in the issue, with Santiago saying that the city "has taken a backseat" by not amending the interlocal service boundary agreement with the county to include the property at 874 Hull Road — a move the city has previously stated would force it to grant Belvedere Terminals a right to utilities and annexation, two actions the City Commission has directed staff to refuse.
In its opposition, the city has also since eliminated its own I-2 zoning.
Santiago argued that the ISBA would allow the city to "put their money where their mouth is."
"They don't want the hot potato," he said. "They want the hot potato to stay here. They take the hot potato, they can take action right away and do what [citizens] want them to do."
The County Council, Santiago argued, has to look at issues as a whole, adding that some of the tactics used by the citizen opposition has hurt their cause.
Ormond Beach spoke loudly and clearly on the fuel farm, Kent said. The city doesn't want it.
But as the property is in unincorporated Volusia County, it falls under the county's responsibility.
"This is on our shoulders at the county," Kent said. "I'm not afraid. I won't shirk my responsibility to another community and push it off on them. I'm willing to do what I think is the right thing here and now, today."
Yes, there is fear in the community, Brower said. But not just from citizens. Council members have expressed being afraid about getting sued, about the tax base and what legislature may do to interfere.
It's not about whether the site plan review process will discover the project is dangerous, Brower said.
"It's dangerous in a residential neighborhood," he said.
Ormond Beach did take action, he added.
"They are not passing the buck," Brower said. "They took bold action and said, 'We don't want it. We won't annex this area. We won't give utilities to it.' So for us to say to Ormond Beach, 'You didn't do your job and you're trying to put the hard stuff on us?' No, they're hoping that we stand up and do our job as well."
Citizens react to failed moratorium
Ormond Beach resident Robin Magleora was in tears after the council voted the moratorium down.
"We've been battling this for six months and we've had loud voices," she said. "... Today, our elected officials, the people that we elected into office to protect us, to do what's right by the citizens of Volusia County, they didn't do that. Instead, they chose the side of a company."
Ormond Beach resident Fran Canfield, president of the Bear Creek homeowner's association, said the council's vote was a "sucker punch."
"We didn't expect this," Canfield said. "We expected our elected officials to stand by us and their mission statement to the constituents of Volusia County to protect our health and our safety and our lifestyle."
Ormond Beach resident Joyce Bailey said she was also in tears after the council's decision, as she lives about a mile and a half away from the proposed fuel farm site. She's lived in her home since 1967 and is considering moving.
"I'm very upset," she said. "I don't feel like they have our back."
With Senate Bills 1624 and 1628 being reviewed by legislature — bills that would benefit fuel and energy facilities as they seek to prohibit local governments from amending land development regulations that would conflict with a facility’s classification, and “require local governments to seek to minimize or eliminate” potential negative impacts of their actions — Magleora said the moratorium was extremely important.
She doesn't believe the site plan review process will take into account citizens' concerns.
"They had the opportunity today to take nine to 12 months to be able to go back to the zoning and change it, and that's not happening because they voted it down," Magleora said.