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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2019 1 year ago

Entrepreneur hopes to revive citrus plant

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Gary Hasson. a local business owner, has bit plans for a historic citrus packing plant in Winter Garden.
by: Hannah Swayze News Editor

A piece of West Orange history may be given a new chapter under the watch of local business owner Gary Hasson. 

Plans for the revitalization of a local historic citrus packing plant, located on Tildenville School Road, passed its first reading for rezoning Thursday, June 13, bringing it one step closer to final approval by the Winter Garden City Commission.

Hasson, who has been in the renovation business most of his life, has plans to repurpose the historic building nestled between the West Orange Trail and Tildenville Elementary School, into a neighborhood-oriented market to serve the community surrounding it. 

According to city records, the packing plant was built before city zoning and building codes as part of the South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association, which formed in 1909. The plant’s citrus processing ended in the 1990s. 

“As a resident of Winter Garden, my vision is to restore the old citrus packing house to its old glory and honor the families and history of the citrus industry in our community,” Hasson said. “I’ve grown citrus in a small way most of my life, so it’s dear to my heart. And as a history buff, I think it’s important to preserve our roots.”

Hasson wants to fill the historic building with local businesses that serve the neighborhood that has grown around it throughout the years as a “mixed-use community center.” He said the property will be home to small local businesses, office spaces, eateries and an art center. Hasson, who has a few businesses of his own, will also have a space there. 

“We will be a family-oriented center,” Hasson said. “No bars or clubs. And we will have a green belt and safe play area for the kids facing the trail.”

Hasson said he plans on making this a “green” project, prioritizing an effort to eliminate the use of plastic by the vendors and generally being more environmentally-friendly. 

“We will reward those who take alternative transportation to our project,” Hasson said. “We want to promote walking, biking or taking golf carts to our project. We plan to have at least 30 golf cart spaces and between 125 to 150 bike racks on property, with bike washing and repair shop on site.”

Through the rezoning process, the project was presented at several community meetings during which local residents raised concerns about the potential impact to the neighborhood concerning mostly traffic and safety with the layout of the building, according to city documents. 

To correct these, the city will adjust the speed limit and size of Lakeview Reserve and build a tabletop-style speed bump on the section of the West Orange Trail to the north of the property, along with other safety modifications. City staff also will work on a long-term solution for returning Tildenville School Road to a two-way street, according to a report from Winter Garden city staff. 

Economic Development Director Tanja Gerhartz said it is wonderful when communities have walkable areas where people can go and relax. Having a project like this along the trail would be a good amenity to the area, Gerhartz said. 

“It’s going to be a great project, and the fact that we’re able to keep the packing plant and he’s going to lovingly restore it — that’s a bonus,” Gerhartz said.

Should the application earn City Commission approval, Hasson will begin looking for tenants in July. 

“Our goal is to be a fun place to relax, enjoy, work, and take in the history that was the foundation of our community,” Hasson said.

Hannah Swayze was the News Editor at the West Orange Times & Observer and Southwest Orange Observer. 

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