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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 9 months ago

County decision could solve Bird Island dilemma

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The Orange County Commission is scheduled to discuss a measure regarding the loud, alcohol-infused parties, illegal Jet skis and littering on the island.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

Town of Windermere leaders and residents will be focused on the Orange County Board of Commissioners next month as it discusses a measure that could improve the quality of life for all in the town.

On March 8, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners will discuss the revisions to the motorized exclusion zones for Bird Island in Chapter 8 of the Orange County Code.

The loud, alcohol-infused parties, illegal Jet skis and littering have turned Egret Island, also known as Bird Island, into the center of discussion for years. 

The island, just off the shore of where Fernwood Park sits, was deeded to the Florida Audubon Society by Frank Chase and the Chase Company in 1958. The waters are under the control of the state, although Orange County was granted authority to enforce law and patrol the area. 

The town of Windermere has no jurisdiction over the water or Bird Island. At one point, the town researched annexing the island.

The Windermere Town Council discussed the upcoming county meeting during its own meeting Tuesday, Feb. 8. Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien said the activities are not healthy for the town and its residents, and that a resolution is needed. 

“We really need to have this pass,” he said. “We really need to regain some control over the sensitive areas on the island, and just as well as a path forward that allows us quiet, peaceful, enjoyment of the chain of lakes.”

The mayor noted that the approval will be an important first step that has been years in the making.

EVENTS FIND SUCCESS

The town hosted the Windermere Wine and Dine Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Windermere Town Hall and in the surrounding park. Twenty-five area restaurants, a multitude of volunteers and a mass amount of participants came together for the event's eighth year. 

Locals brought friends and family to enjoy savory bites as well as beer, cordials and wine.

Mayor Jim O’Brien thanked the many people involved in the Wine and Dine, saying that although the event is always challenging to pull off, this year was particularly difficult because of COVID-19 and lack of resources.  

The event raised more than $135,000 for local charities, including Edgewood Children’s Ranch, SpiritHorse at Windermere Equestrian Center, Do Good Farm and Special Hearts Farm. 

The town said it plans to host a more formal wrap-up and celebration of the accomplishments in the future. 

Windermere also celebrated the success of another Drive Thru Tree Giveaway, which took place Saturday, Jan. 22. 

The Tree Board helped to give away 124 trees, shrubs and related items at the event. 

The Town Administrative and Police Department offices also moved to their new permanent location at 614 Main St., Building 100, Tuesday, Feb. 8. 

The town plans to host an official welcoming and opening event sometime in March. 

POOL PROPOSAL TABLED

A proposed variance allowing a reduced setback from the Normal High-Water Line for a swimming pool occupied a majority of discussion during the town meeting. 

Ashley Walker, who lives at 11 Main St., met with the Development Review Board, which recommended a 5-1 denial of the variance. 

Unlike the surrounding areas of Ocoee, Winter Garden and Clermont, which have a setback of 25 feet, the town of Windermere has a 50-foot setback for water front lots, although its standard lot setback remains at 25 feet. 

According to the town, all structures must be at least 50 feet from the Normal High-Water Line elevation. 

The variance was unanimously tabled to March 8, with the agreement of bringing in the Town’s Lake Consultant to review the variance and others that have possible impact on the lakes. The variance will not go back to the DRB. 

IN OTHER NEWS

  • The proposed private two-story bridge at 31 Pine St. in Wauseon Bay was pulled from the agenda and not discussed. 
  • The Town Council approved unanimously amending the adopted town of Windermere comprehensive plan to adopt a new property rights element and amend the recreation and open space element at Fernwood Park. Public Works Director Tonya Elliott-Moore and Town Manager Robert Smith will work on signage, fencing and gate relocation at the property. 
  • The Town Council members heard a reading of the town of Windermere’s plan to adopt Orange County’s Local Mitigation Strategy Resolution. The motion was approved unanimously.
  • Gregg Anderson was unanimously approved to replace Molly Rose on the Long Range Planning Committee. She soon will be taking a spot on the council. 
  • Public Works Director Tonya Elliott-Moore presented a contract for a piggyback of the Florida Department of Transportation District 5 Contract with Horizon Land Management. The contract, which was approved unanimously, relates to stormwater desilting and video services. Elliott-Moore said one of the most critical components to ensure the roads are clear and stormwater is being managed properly is desilting the stormwater devices. 
  • Public Works Director Tonya Elliott-Moore presented a contract for a piggyback of an Orange County Contract with Condor Construction, Corp. for sidewalk repair and maintenance. The contract was approved unanimously. 
  • There will be a lake clean-up event on Feb. 20, starting at Fernwood Park. 
  • The City Nature Challenge 2022 event will promote awareness for the area's wildlife in April.

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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