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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 1 month ago

Community proposed near First Baptist

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A proposed 62-home development near the First Baptist Church of Windermere on Winter Garden Vineland Road has drawn ire from nearby residents.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

A new neighborhood could be on the horizon along Winter Garden Vineland Road.

The subject property for the proposed development is outlined in black and white and is generally located south of Winter Garden Vineland Road, east of Reams Road and north of Delmar Avenue.

Orange County representatives held a community meeting Monday, Nov. 4, regarding a substantial change request to the land-use designation of a 14.74-acre parcel located within the First Baptist Church of Windermere’s property on Winter Garden Vineland Road. The change being requested is to add a 62-home residential 

development on the 14.74-acre parcel, which is generally located south of Winter Garden Vineland Road, east of Reams Road and north of Delmar Avenue.

Orange County Planner Nathaniel Wicke said the property already is zoned as a Planned Development, or PD, and has a land-use designation of Village.

“This is a request for change determination to an existing planned development land-use plan,” Wicke said. “They already have their future land-use map (designation) … of Village future land-use, and they already have their planned-development zoning in place. … They’re asking to add a use for single-family dwelling units to their development program.”

Unicorp National Developments President and CEO Chuck Whittall is the developer behind the proposed project. He said he’s currently in the works of purchasing the 14.74-acre property from the church, and added that he plans on building high-end homes on the site that would be consistent with existing homes nearby.

“Our plan is to develop … a 62-lot community that will be called ‘Chapel Crossing,’” Whittall said. “It will be accessed off Delmar (Avenue). We have lots of civic green areas around the project. The (water) retention would be onsite. We have it in the center, so we’ll have houses going around the retention. The community that we plan on is in keeping with the neighboring communities. … It would be the same feel of what’s existing out there, so it would be an extension of the existing community that’s here.”

About two dozen residents from neighborhoods near the subject property attended the meeting, and many of them voiced concerns over the proposed project. Those concerns mostly pertained to traffic, overcrowding of schools and environmental impacts. Additionally, residents argued that the subject property is currently designated to be developed into ball fields that could be used by the community outside of the church.

“Back in 1999, when First Baptist Church was approved to change zoning, one of the conditions was that they were going to build recreational ball fields in that property that we’re talking about,” Grande Pines resident Tom Triolo said. “It’s been 20 years, and there’s still no ball fields. In fact, our community has a walkway from our community into that property because there was so much promise of the ball field that we were going to be sharing that ball field. … That was a condition of the approval (of the rezoning): To build the recreational facilities. As homeowners, we were all expecting (ball fields). We’re nagging on (that) condition (of approval), and now they’re trying to redo it.”

Doug Mikkelsen is the secretary of the Lake Mabel Shores Homeowners Association said the residents in his community are strongly opposed to the project and also think the subject property should be developed into ball fields.

“The church committed, in writing, to ball fields on this exact parcel of land — on the 14.74 acres that is now being proposed to have 62 houses,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s in writing with Orange County. It’s in the PD, so this is a direct violation of that (condition). Yes, they have a right to apply; they have the right to ask for whatever they want to … but the deal was for ball fields. That’s how they got the land rezoned in the first place.”

Whittall’s attorney, Jim Hall of Hall Development Services Inc., said although there is a condition to construct ball fields on the church’s property, the condition does not specify the exact location of where those fields should be built. 

“What the condition says is there’s no geographic specificity to where the ball fields go,” Hall said. “What it says is, when they build their recreation facilities, it won’t be just for church use; it’ll be for public use. That’s what they committed to. They didn’t commit to something here or something there or something here. They said it would be ‘good for the public.’”

Mikkelsen also commented on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed development and cited concerns over water retention.

“The developer’s engineer admitted that their proposed tiny retention pond in the middle of their neighborhood would flow via underground pipe in to the church’s slightly larger retention pond … which in turn flows into Lake Mabel,” Mikkelsen said. 

Whittall said drainage from the proposed development’s retention pond would not have an impact on existing communities.

“The subdivision is designed to hold its own drainage … just like these other subdivisions were designed, you see retention ponds all within them and they all carry their own retention just as our community will,” Whittall said. 

District 1 County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey reminded residents that just because this change is being requested does not mean it will be approved.

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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