Merchants suing city over loss of business during construction
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES
City of Daytona Beach and Orange Avenue construction project officials say the roadwork is 70 percent complete and moving along, but residents and businesses remain frustrated.
Some owners of small businesses that sit on the west end of Orange Avenue closer to Nova Road have filed a lawsuit against the city seeking damages for money and business they lost during the extended road closures and confusing detour routes. The businesses are Cut Masters Barber Shop, Daytona Peoples Medical Supply of Orange Avenue, Boost Mobile, Church’s Chicken, The Liquor Store, Styles 101 Beauty and The Medicine Shoppe.
“I can only say that I did almost have to close down. Business is now picking up, but not where it was before. I lost employees. Some started their own business and took clients. Some clients were Voltran riders too,” Patricia Cadette, owner of Styles 101 Beauty, told the Daytona Times this week.
Merchants that aren’t involved in the suit say they suffered financial loss.
“I’m not part of the lawsuit, but I am ready for some cooperation from the city,” stated Charles Thomas, owner of In The Beginning Greek paraphernalia and African products store.
Added George Mikhiel, owner of Family Technical Group, “My complaint is they let the workers off for holidays from Friday at noon until Monday and sometimes Tuesday. Why not pay them to work days or nights for shorter hours and do the road in shorter time? Originally they said that both sides of the road wouldn’t be closed and access would be available.”
The Orange Avenue project is costing $13.4 million. Construction began in June 2014 and was scheduled for completion on July 15 but could run until Sept. 12.
A community meeting was held at the Dickerson Community Center on March 24 to highlight progress made but not field questions, which displeased many in attendance.
Originally, questions were to be submitted via a form and answered within several days.
Daytona Beach officials say that procedure was aimed to avoid talking about a lawsuit recently filed by the merchants.
“We want to forge relationships and partnerships with the milestones reached. We all want to make the city better and improve our infrastructure. The city attorney has advised us not to speak on the lawsuit,” said L. Ronald Durham, the city’s special projects manager.
Following a presentation about the project, some questions were taken at the Dickerson Center meeting after local NAACP President Cynthia Slater spoke out.
“People came here wanting answers. The city needs to stop this and listen to the community. There are concerns with drains. There are still bumpy road conditions, which does wear and tear to the vehicles that use these roads daily,” she said.
“The city has known about the lawsuit for sometime. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t plan to let us speak. Many of us closed or businesses to come here and get answers. I look forward to working with the city, but they need to let the community and businesses give input on infrastructure plans,” stated Derrick Harris, who owns Cut Masters Barber Shop on Orange Avenue and is pastor of Master’s Domain Church of God in Christ.
Underground problems haves caused most of the construction delays.
“Mostly everything was outdated and not up to standards. There were many pipes made of wood.
Some were even 70 years old. Many streets lacked handicap or wheelchair accessibility. The storm system was falling apart and well below capacity. We expected some things but not all,” said Ryan Conrad, consultant for Infrastructure Engineering, Inc.
Delays occurred between Nova Road and Keech Street and around the railroad tracks.
Weather, parking expansions and revisions, holidays and contractors also caused delays.
“We get a lot of calls. It’s a challenging project. We ask for patience. It’s tough for the city, constructers, businesses and citizens. No plans or designs are perfect. Things are coming together. I think with the math and delays things have been realistic. We’ve been within budget,” commented Conrad.
Others believe some delays could have been prevented.
“People are upset. Many have gone without access to their businesses for up to three months. This hurts small businesses which can’t afford it. Most of the planning was not done properly. Usually they take samples of what is underground to know what needs to be done. The city, FDOT and consultants all have departments that deal with this,” explained Shawn Collins.
Collins attended as a citizen but has a professional background in transportation planning.
Noted resident Sandra Chavis, “They do things without telling us. They changed the pipes without warning. My yard and driveway was flooded and muddy for two days. I was almost late to work.
They even tore up my flowers.’’
Local business owner Patricia Heard added, “It shows how long that they have neglected this community. Our elected officials and others in positions haven’t done what they were supposed to with our tax dollars. They need to walk around the neighborhood and see what needs to be done.”
Frank Van Pelt, the city’s technical services director, says that the city isn’t trying to drive out current small businesses.
“We need businesses in our community. They are the foundation of a community. We hope this project improves our infrastructure and attract more businesses,” he said.
The contractors are Thad Com ($11.6 million) doing road work, Chinchor Electric ($1.3 million) working traffic matters, and Carter Electric ($300,000) on the secondary power work.
The City of Daytona Beach, Volusia County, Florida Department of Transportation, a community development block grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Florida Department of Environmental Protection along with other state and federal grants are funding the project.
The project aims to improve and replace roads, utilities, sidewalks, signage, street lights, asphalt, fiber optics, beautification, storm drainage, water systems, pipes, sewers, public safety and parking for businesses.