The standing-room only crowd at Halifax Plantation's homeowners meeting gasped Tuesday night when Bill Sirico explained what he sees developing just to the south of his tree-lined community of well-kept homes near Ormond Beach.
"If this is approved," Sirico said of the pending project, "it will be the largest mobile-home park in Volusia County."
Amid the gasps, someone in the audience shouted: "Or in the world!"
Such is the worried tone surrounding Plantation Oaks, a long-controversial planned development that's still sitting empty between Interstate 95 and Old Dixie Highway, in a part of northern Volusia County known for its scenic views and lush "old Florida" landscape. While the project certainly wouldn't be the largest of its type on the planet, it has stirred deep opposition among neighbors, many of whom fought against a similar proposal a decade ago.
More than 200 Halifax Plantation homeowners filled their banquet hall Tuesday night for a spirited rally against the latest proposal: to fill Plantation Oaks' roughly 1,000 acres with something other than traditional, "stick-built" homes.
"It's not only a quality of life issue," Sirico told the concerned crowd, the size of which forced the clubhouse to open its back doors for extra space. "It's a dollars and cents issue to every one of you."
Opposition to Plantation Oaks has been growing steadily since December, when the site's developers went to Volusia County seeking an amendment to the development agreement signed in 2002. Even then, neighbors strongly opposed a mobile- or manufactured-home plan. The resulting agreement was for a traditional subdivision.
Today, with none of those homes built, the applicant Parker Mynchenberg is requesting permission to install about 1,500 "mobile homes" instead - on a bet those will sell better. (The term "mobile home" itself is a central point of contention in the discussion.)
The most vocal residents of Halifax Plantation argue such a project would put a blemish on their area's character, cut into their property values, create an unfunded demand for essential county services and open the door to similar projects in the future.
Supporters of Plantation Oaks, though, say the "mobile homes" are such in technical term only - and their appearance, inside and out, is similar to any comparable "traditional" house built on a foundation.
At a sister Plantation Oaks site in Flagler County, residents say their development attracts a 55-and-up demographic that's looking for an affordable and active lifestyle - with regular community gatherings, poolside parties and fitness programs that create a close-knit neighborhood.
The opposition argues, though, that by allowing mobile homes - which, technically, is what the homes are, according to state law - the county will eventually be passing on $4.5 million in potential property tax collections each year.
Residents at the new Plantation Oaks community wouldn't own the land beneath their homes - they'd lease it from the developer instead. And instead of paying property tax on their residences, they'd pay the county a flat $40 annual fee for a mobile-home decal.
Halifax Plantation residents said that means Plantation Oaks residents wouldn't be paying their fair share of taxes for services like fire protection, ambulance service and hospital care.
The group is planning to unleash a flood of calls and e-mails to the Volusia County Council, which is scheduled to vote on the amendment at its Jan. 19 meeting. The homeowners association has already collected about 600 names on a petition of opposition, and it's reached out for support from union groups, arguing the loss of construction-related jobs would be another blow to the local economy.
"This is a political fight," Sirico told the Halifax residents. "The only thing the members of the council understand, if you don't want this to happen, is for you to get in their face."
Someone in the crowd shouted: "We did, in 2002!"