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Story Eight
Rooms with a View
By MaryAlice Yakutchik
DeBary -- We're floating past a prime chunk of forested real estate, at least in terms of egrets and ibis. They decorate the overhanging trees like big white feathery blossoms. Every branch is spoken for, heavy with roosting birds crowded to the very tips of the outermost twigs.

They're not the only ones wanting waterfront property. We've been noticing signs along the river; signs of what's to come:

350 acres fronting St. Johns River! Will divide.

FOR SALE: 200-plus acres w/ water access

Mediterranean Elegance ~ Riverfront Living
From the $190s to more than 1 million

It's along a particularly serene stretch of river that we notice an even more imminent sign of development: a bulldozer.

There are lots of signs here, all richly detailed in black and gold. The biggest reads "Riviera Bella," and smaller ones read "future residence for" and are inscribed with various families' names.


A few of us jump ship and climb the western riverbank to investigate. The undisturbed appearance of the waterfront was illusory.

Just behind a thin fringe of live oaks and sabal palms are porta-potties and dumpsters full of fronds. Paved streets lead to foundations of sand and rebar. There are lots of signs here, all richly detailed in black and gold. The biggest reads "Riviera Bella," and smaller ones read "future residence for" and are inscribed with various families' names. At the intersection of roads named "Riviera Bella Drive" and "Rosa Bella View" is a storm drainage culvert with a shiny new manhole cover.

A sign in the forest indicates the future site of the Riviera Park and Boat Launch.

A red-tailed hawk cries. A big ball of mistletoe hangs from the moss-draped branch where the raptor is perched.

"You can kiss your home goodbye," I say.

A voice calls from within the patch of woods: "What are you guys doin out there?"

We introduce ourselves to Roger Van Auker, project manager of Riviera Bella. He chats amiably enough about the 450 custom homes being built here on 200 acres.

"The only real impact to the river itself is the little boat ramp," the manager says. "It's probably a net improvement, putting a development in here. We cleaned up a local dumping site."


"The only real impact to the river itself is the little boat ramp," the manager says. "It's probably a net improvement, putting a development in here. We cleaned up a local dumping site."

His intentions to beautify the river are noble. As were those of Mrs. W.F. Fuller who, in 1884, brought some lovely lavender hyacinths home with her from a trip to New Orleans and, when they outgrew her backyard fishpond, cast some shoots into the St. Johns to "share the wealth." The prolific plants have plagued the river ever since, interlaced mats of the invasives stopping ships and generally wreaking havoc. Nothing -- not a century's worth of deadly herbicides -- has eradicated them.

When I hear the development project manager mention "net improvement," my left eyebrow arches involuntarily. History is not on his side.

The manager addresses my dubious expression: "As developers, we're no doubt the bad guys in your documentary."

"Well, not the bad guys," I hedge.

There are others: Georgia Pacific, for instance, whose pulp mill in Palatka has long raised the ire of environmental groups such as Stewards of the St. Johns for the pollutant loads coming from their mill. Even with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in environmental upgrades, GP still struggles to find ways to meet new and tighter requirements being added to its permit; big concerns remain about the impact of nutrients and other components of its discharge, such as color. And, of course, other point sources of pollution are equally accountable, including domestic wastewater treatment plants in the St. Johns basin.

But yeah. Development can pose a threat to a river already suffering from nutrients, sediment, exotics and pollutants.

An opportunity has developed, here and now, for him to set me straight. I ask him if Riviera Bella intends to be river-friendly.

I'm wondering if there are progressive plans to use drought- and pest-resistant native plants instead of exotics for landscaping. Maybe innovative community ordinances will prohibit -- rather than require -- the verdant lawns that convert ordinary homeowners into fertilizing fiends.

The manager shrugs. He's in a rush.

Fair enough.

I head to the houseboat, thinking of a pretty house I saw a ways back; it was a yellow-sided colonial with a white picket fence. A sign on the fence read: "Water's End." It was poetic. And maybe even prescient.


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