What Florida’s new "Disaster Relief" law means for Volusia
The below transcript is of a “reporter debrief,” originally aired by WMFE on November 10, 2023.
BRENDAN BYRNE: Several new changes to state law came out of Florida’s special legislative session this week, including a significant change applying to development.
WMFE’s environment reporter Molly Duerig has been covering a controversial proposal for a fuel terminal that developers want to build right along Ormond Beach’s border with unincorporated Volusia County. She joins us to explain how this new law could boost ongoing efforts to stop that proposed fuel terminal. Hi there, Molly!
MOLLY DUERIG: Hi, Brendan!
BYRNE: So Molly, let’s start with the controversy over the fuel terminal. Why don’t people want it here?
DUERIG: They’re worried about safety, especially fire hazards, given that this terminal would be storing large quantities of fuel. The proposed terminal location is on Hull Road, right across from the Ormond Beach Sports Complex, and very close to residential areas. For its part, the developer, Belvedere Terminals, says the terminal would store fuels used and transported safely by millions of people every day, like gasoline and jet fuel, and says the company would have a fire suppression system on-site.
BYRNE: Got it. Now how does this new law help in the efforts to stop the terminal’s development?
DUERIG: It comes down to Senate Bill 250, which state lawmakers passed during this year’s regular legislative session.
It preempted local governments from making land development regulations “more restrictive or burdensome,” if that local government falls within 100 miles of where Ian or Nicole made landfall last year. That included Volusia County. Basically, the idea was to try and keep development moving forward in Florida’s coastal areas as efficiently as possible.
"There was enough pushback from several counties and cities that felt that it was too broad. And the outreach, as far as the geographical area, was too much.”David Santiago, Volusia County Councilmember (representing District 5)
BYRNE: More restrictive or burdensome…what does that even mean?
DUERIG: Well, that’s the issue, right? It’s quite broad, encompassing a lot of different potential scenarios, and putting local governments in a bit of a pickle about what they can or cannot do with land.
The proposed site for this fuel terminal is zoned for Heavy Industrial use, under Volusia County’s current land use regulations. Basically, that means it would be okay to build a fuel terminal there.
Now, Volusia County could change that area’s zoning classification, to something else that wouldn’t allow a fuel terminal. But county leaders worried a zoning change could be interpreted as “restrictive or burdensome” to development under SB 250 and, therefore, a violation of state law.
I spoke with Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, who recently teamed up with the city’s police and fire chiefs to speak out against the project. Mayor Partington says a lot of the tension here boils down to Floridians wanting to have a say in their own communities:
BILL PARTINGTON, MAYOR OF ORMOND BEACH: “Florida residents very strongly believe in home rule authority, the ability for a community to decide how it looks, how it feels. Same thing with this, people feel very strongly that this is just not something appropriate that they want to see in or near their city.”
BYRNE: I see! So Molly, now that we have the context: What exactly did state lawmakers change this week?
DUERIG: Brendan, this week both chambers in Florida’s legislature passed a new “Disaster Relief” law, H-B 1-C. That law significantly narrows the geographic scope of SB 250’s local government preemptions.
So instead of any municipality within 100 miles of Ian or Nicole, now, those local government preemptions only impact ten specific, named Florida counties: none of which are on our side of the state.
After the law passed, I circled back with Volusia County Councilmember David Santiago, who’s been actively brainstorming how to try and stop the fuel terminal. Here’s what he had to say:
DAVID SANTIAGO, VOLUSIA COUNTY COUNCIL MEMBER/FORMER FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: “I'm glad that it's gone. I wasn't surprised. There was enough pushback from several counties and cities that felt that it was too broad. And the outreach, as far as the geographical area, was too much.”
BYRNE: So Volusia is happy about this law…but what’s next for the fuel terminal?
DUERIG: Next steps are still tough to predict. This legal challenge is gone, but developers could still potentially raise some others, if the county does change the zoning for this project site.
Another interesting development from this week … Volusia County is requesting a state appropriation of $4.5 million, apparently in an attempt to move the Belvedere Terminals project to elsewhere in the county.
BYRNE: Lots to watch there. We know you’ll continue to cover this story. Molly, thanks for joining us.
DUERIG: Thank you, Brendan.