DAYTONA BEACH — Motorists whizzing along State Road 40/West Granada Boulevard a mile west of Interstate 95, can see new signs proclaiming: “Coming Soon Avalon Park Daytona Beach.”
If all goes as planned, the massive 3,015-acre master-planned community could welcome its first residents by 2022. The developer has even contacted the Volusia County School District about future school needs as the project develops.
But the project also has attracted resistance from some who are worried about the traffic and environmental impact it will create, and the vacant land that could soon turn into homes, roads and businesses.
Avalon Park would be the largest such development ever built in Volusia County, offering as many as 10,000 homes and apartments and 1 million square feet of commercial space.
“Everything is moving along,” said Beat Kahli, the Orlando developer looking to create Avalon Park Daytona Beach. “We’re planning on breaking ground on utilities and roads in 2021. It definitely won’t be at the beginning of the year and hopefully it won’t be at the end. It’ll probably be sometime in the middle of the year.”
Kahli’s Avalon Park Group submitted a request to the City of Daytona Beach in March to approve a comprehensive plan amendment. He said his vision is to build a “town” where people can “live, learn, work and play” without having to leave its borders.
The city staff is still reviewing the request. Kahli said he is committed no matter what to develop the project. In July, he completed his $40.9 million purchase of the land from CTO Realty Growth Inc. CTO is the Daytona Beach-based real estate investment trust that recently changed its name from Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co.
Other developers consider
The development site consists of four adjoining land parcels south of State Road 40/Granada that stretch westward from Interstate 95 to Tiger Bay State Forest.
The two largest land parcels were previously under contract to be sold to two other developers: Mori Hosseini, the chairman and CEO of Daytona Beach-based ICI Homes, and a South Florida developer that CTO never identified. Both looked into developing projects that would essentially compete with each other both for residents as well as prospective retail tenants.
Hosseini in past interviews had said he wanted to develop a 2,500-home “fuil life” community that would have included a 200,000-square-foot grocery store-anchored retail center.
The mystery developer was looking to develop the 1,600 acres immediately east of it into a community that would have offered up to 3,250 homes and a 200,000-square-foot retail center. The latter also potentially would have been anchored by a grocery store.
By acquiring all four land parcels, Kahli said he believes he can create one large master-planned community that makes more sense for the area than having developers build four smaller, separate projects.
“I believe if you buy a large parcel, you can afford to do a lot more good than if you have a lot of smaller developments where everyone wants to get the ‘highest and best use’ (i.e., getting the maximum return on their investment),” Kahli said.
Kahli said he intends to permanently set aside up to 1,000 acres on the west side of Avalon Park Daytona Beach as a conservation area. The nature preserve would serve as a buffer between his development and Tiger Bay State Forest.
Kahli also said he wants to consolidate the commercial space at Avalon Park Daytona Beach to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown. The business district would consist of multi-story buildings that could offer office space on the upper floors as well as street-level shops and restaurants. The downtown would be similar to what he built at his Avalon Park Orlando community.
“We own the majority of the downtown at Avalon Park Orlando,” he said. “That has allowed us to subsidize it and take a risk to attract businesses and amenities such as a YMCA.”
Not everyone is happy about Kahli’s ambitious plans for Daytona Beach.
“What we have in front of us is something that will fundamentally change the character of the Daytona Beach resort area and not for the positive,” said Mark Barker, an Ormond Beach resident and retired Holly Hill police chief who now writes a blog on local politics. “We don’t have the infrastructure (in terms of roads with enough lanes) to support it and I worry about our water supply. What he’s talking about is building a city within a city.”
Ken Strickland, a Daytona Beach civic activist, also expressed concerns that Avalon Park Daytona Beach could potentially add tens of thousands of new residents on the city’s west side. The LPGA area south of where Kahli is planning his community is one that’s already bursting at the seams with new home construction and commercial development.
In recent years, the LPGA area has seen the development of the Jimmy Buffett-themed Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older community and ICI Homes’ Mosaic “full life” community next door.
Developer Minto Communities recently completed its 1,000th home at Latitude Margaritaville, just two years after welcoming its first residents there. They recently announced plans to increase the number of homes by 500, for a total of 3,900 homes.
ICI’s all-ages Mosaic community will have 1,200 homes when it is fully built out.
The LPGA area in recent years has seen the opening of two major shopping centers: Tanger Outlets and Tomoka Town Center as well as the Publix-anchored Latitude Landings neighborhood retail center. Several luxury apartment complexes have also been built, with more on the way. The area also is home to a Trader Joe’s distribution center, which opened along the east side of I-95 in 2015, and an Amazon last-mile delivery station next door, which opened in September 2019.
All of that development is on land that was vacant less than a decade ago.
“I would rather see some infill development (in Daytona Beach’s older established areas) on beachside and Midtown,” said Strickland who lost his bid to be elected mayor this past summer to incumbent Derrick Henry. One of Strickland’s campaign platforms was a call for “better control on new development.”
Strickland said encouraging development in older parts of the city that are suffering from blight “would make a lot more sense than developing further west where our wetlands and our aquifer recharge area is.”
Kahli said the criticisms his proposed Daytona Beach project has received are nothing new to him. He faced similar opposition when he began developing Avalon Park Orlando more than 30 years ago. Some of those critics are now fans of the community, he said.
“We’re 99% completed now,” he said of Avalon Park Orlando which upon full build-out will have more than 5,000 homes and apartments and about 1 million square feet of commercial space. More than 7,000 acres have been set aside as conservation land, he said.
“In 1996 (seven years after buying the land), I presented a master plan for Avalon Park Orlando,” he said. “It’s exactly what I built. You can check.”
For his Orlando development, Kahli said he immediately set out to build the roads and utilities before breaking ground on his first homes. He also pursued a partnership with Orange County Schools to begin planning future schools even though the need for them was still several years off.
Kahli said he wants to do the same thing in Daytona Beach. He has publicly offered to contribute money to help pay for traffic improvements including a new four-lane Tomoka River Bridge that would allow the rest of LPGA Boulevard west of the I-95/LPGA interchange to be widened from two to four lanes. He also said he is willing to help pay for widening the stretch of West Granada Boulevard that runs from his planned community to I-95.
He also supports the idea of building an I-95 overpass that would allow Hand Avenue to be extended west with an overpass at I-95 so that it can go from the Halifax River all the way to Avalon Park Daytona Beach. Hand Avenue currently ends on the east side of I-95 at Williamson Boulevard.
Ormond Beach engineering and transportation consultant Maryam Ghyabi recently led the formation of a group called the LPGA Coalition to secure funding for a study for possible solutions to the LPGA area’s growing traffic congestion problem.
The coalition includes the City of Daytona Beach, Volusia County, the Florida Department of Transportation as well as the River-to-Sea Transportation Planning Organization.
Ghyabi has had several discussions with Kahli and is aware of his offer to help pay for solutions to LPGA’s traffic problems, but said she remains skeptical. “He hasn’t clearly clarified what his intentions are,” she said.
She also said she worries about the negative impact to the area if Kahli gets approval from Daytona Beach to increase the scale of the residential portion of his project.
“The comp plan (for the 1,600 acre parcel at Avalon Park Daytona) already allows him to build (more than) 3,000 homes so I doubt that there’s any way to stop that,” Ghyabi said. “People have a right to build on their property, but 3,000 homes and 10,000 homes are a big difference. The impact of 10,000 homes (in terms of increased traffic congestion) would go all the way south to Port Orange and all the way north to Flagler County.”
Kahli said the land for Avalon Park Daytona is already zoned to allow him to build a total of 7,260 residential units and 3.5 million square feet of commercial space. “We wouldn’t want to do that, but that’s what those parcels are zoned for,” he said. “I think we have a better plan for the common good of the area than what the existing zoning allows.”
Susan Cerbone, a spokeswoman for the City of Daytona Beach, confirmed that Parcel A is approved for up to 3,250 homes and 200,000 square feet of commercial space. She said the 1,020-acre Parcel F property that ICI Homes previously had under contract “has a county zoning designation that limits development to rural type uses.”
Kahli said the zoning for Parcel F currently allows him to develop 910 homes and 1.3 million square feet of commercial space. Cerbone was unable to confirm those numbers.
Cerbone also said she did not know when the city planning staff will come up with a recommendation regarding Kahli’s comp plan amendment request. The final decision would be up to the Daytona Beach City Commission.
“At this time, it’s a very fluid process and I can’t estimate how long it will take,” she said.
Strickland conceded, “In terms of what Avalon wants to do, my understanding is there ain’t much we can do to stop it. I’m really not against development. I’m against out-of-control development without a plan for expansion of our streets and water infrastructure. We can’t continue to develop without considering our future water consumption.”
One or more schools possible
Avalon Park Group officials have already had preliminary conversations with Volusia County Schools staff about the possibility of forming a partnership to develop one or possibly multiple schools at the planned Daytona Beach community.
“It’s a model they (Avalon Park Group) have pursued in the past with their other developments,” said Greg Akin, chief operating officer for the Volusia County public school district. “They told us in addition to donating land, they are also interested in building the school (or schools) and turning it over to the School District. We’re still in the exploratory process.”
Steve Grube, the school district’s director of planning and construction services, said he worked for Orange County Schools several years ago when Kahli partnered with that district to build three schools and donate the land for another at his Avalon Park Orlando community.
“It hasn’t gotten to the point yet to determine whether (Kahli would build) a middle school or high school or possibly a magnet school (at Avalon Park Daytona Beach),” he said.
The LPGA area, which includes the area where Kahli wants to develop Avalon Park Daytona Beach, is already home to a public grade school, Champion Elementary, as well as the private Father Lopez Catholic High School.
Grube said he believes Avalon Park Group is committed to following through with its offer to build a school or multiple schools at its Daytona Beach project.
“They’re absolutely serious. They believe in this model and are moving forward with their development,” Grube said.
Ghyabi still has concerns.
“My concern with (Kahli) is that he comes in and says ‘Oh, I’m going to build you schools and roads’ without transparency of his intentions and the science that shows what the impacts of his project will be,” she said. “Volusia County residents should be extremely aware of his project. It has potential to be a good project, but they (Avalon Park Group) are pushing it to a level that has the possibility of bringing devastation to our community,”
Kahli said he is in no rush to get the city to approve his comp plan amendment request.
“I really don’t need it at this time,” he said. “Just take (1,600-acre) Parcel A. To develop a parcel like this could take a decade.” He added that it could take 30 years to fully build out Avalon Park Daytona. He previously had stated it could be done in much less time.
He also insisted that what he is proposing is an example of “smart growth” that would result in fewer cars being added to surrounding roads than if the land were developed as four separate “single-use” master-planned communities. It also allows him to preserve enough contiguous wetland and conservation space to truly make a difference for the environment, he said.
“Infrastructure is not something you can wait to build when you need it,” said Kahli. “We look at what the needs might be in 10 to 15 years and build it as we go along. It’s just a good investment.”
“If somebody thinks we shouldn’t grow at all, then there’s no pleasing them, but if someone thinks we should smartly grow, we have a proven track record,” he said.