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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jul. 30, 2015 4 years ago

Maitland approves apartment complex on deteriorated wetlands

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by: Sarah Wilson Staff Writer

For 35 years, swampy land just south of Maitland Boulevard served as a home for an ever-growing heap of 3,000 cubic yards of household and construction trash, more than 1,000 discarded tires, 17 battered and rotting boats, dozens of oversized oak trees, and pockets of withering wetlands. The Maitland City Council voted on Monday to replace the mucky lot with planned development complete with 315 apartments, and plans for a 14-floor office building and 120-room hotel, deemed Maitland West.

“It’s been an illegal dump for about 35 years,” said developer Michael Wright of MMI Development of Winter Park. “…“It’s probably the lowest quality wetlands in Central Florida quite frankly.”

“It’s about time to clean it up.”

The 49 acres of property located at the southeast corner of Maitland Boulevard and Forest City Road, including the wetlands and the Estates at Maitland Summit apartments, were annexed into Maitland from Orange County in December 2014. Now a portion of the unoccupied land will become the city’s fourth approved large-scale apartment complex in the past two years.

By the time the Council voted on July 27 to rezone the land from Orange County single-family residential and citrus-rural districts to a Maitland planned development, most of the clean out had already been done. Maitland’s new Lakes Manager Coordinator Paul Ritter said most of what once was wetland has already been “de-mucked,” a process in which contractors dig down 10 feet into the soil and replace “muck” with clean-fill sand.

“In all essences the wetlands are gone,” Ritter said.

Ritter said his predecessor, the city’s previous lakes manager Marissa Williams, had been in favor of saving the wetlands. But by the time the rezoning vote came to Council, it was too late.

Maitland West developers signed an agreement with St. John’s Water Management to mitigate the destruction of the 18.32 acres of wetlands, Wright said, paying $700,000 to be invested in wetland preservation in the Wekiva Mitigation Tract. That is in addition, he said, to the millions of dollars his company has invested to clear out the trash and muck from the property.

“The only way to clean it up was a developer to come in and pay to clean it up,” Wright said.

“It’s in the best interest of the city; it’s in the best interest of the environment.”

Councilwoman Bev Reponen, the only member of Council to vote against the rezoning, disagreed.

“I think the environment is important. I think the destruction of wetlands is a mistake,” Reponen said. “I also think remediation in another county is a mistake because … what we’re saying is, ‘Oh, well we’ll destroy it here and let someone else enjoy the pleasure of having what we’re turning away,’ and our money from the developer is going to a different county.”

Even without the planned development built, since annexing the property in December, the city is estimated to earn $22,507 annually in revenue from the land as-is. At full build-out of both phases of the Maitland West development, that number jumps to an estimated $175,000 per year.

The newly approved apartment complex is one of four large-scale residential developments approved by the Maitland City Council since 2013. Between Maitland West, Maitland City Centre, Maitland Station and the Courtney at Lake Shadow, city records show the Council has approved nearly 1,100 apartment units in the past two years – not including the 350 more apartments planned north of Maitland Boulevard on the Battaglia property, and 81 others planned for with an expansion of Dwell Apartments near Keller Road.

Estimating an average of 2.25 residents per unit, if all of the projects are approved, the five new apartment buildings and the Dwell’s expansion could add roughly 20 percent to the city’s current population of 16,000.

The numbers have the city’s public safety scrambling to prepare. In budget talks for the upcoming fiscal year both the Maitland Police and Fire Departments cautioned the City Council that as these new developments are built, they will be need to expand their staff to keep up their levels of service.

“If you want me to maintain the current level of service, I’m going to need more people,” said Police Chief Doug Ball at a budget workshop held July 20. The Police Department is currently conducting a staff study to determine the impact of incoming developments on its ability to provide quality service.

Maitland West alone, due to its location on the edge of city limits, is estimated to require a staff of five additional police officers to the force, said Deputy Police Chief Bill McEachnie.

“Anything that creates more traffic impacts us,” McEachnie said. “More traffic into the city is a good thing in some ways, and more traffic is a bad thing in some ways… more people create more crime.”

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