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Windermere Observer Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 2 weeks ago

Proposed preschool on Windermere Road triggers community backlash over traffic concerns

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A proposed 200-student preschool on Windermere Road sparked concern from residents.
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

Traffic concerns dominated discussion during an Orange County community meeting regarding a proposed preschool near the town of Windermere.

The meeting was held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Windermere Elementary School. About 80 to 100 residents attended the meeting to hear more about the proposed project, titled Wondermere Garden Preschool.

According to county documents, the applicant for the preschool is requesting a special-exception use for the site. The 22.4-acre site — 16 acres of which is designated wetland — is zoned Rural Country Estate. It is located east of Windermere Road off McKinnon Road.

If approved, the preschool would be about 10,000 to 15,000 square feet and constructed in a farmhouse style on three of the six developable acres, said a project representative who declined to provide her full name.

“This will be a progressive, private preschool,” the representative said. “There are very few options in the immediate area. We feel the prevailing culture of our programming fits beautifully into a town that values its natural surroundings and chain of lakes. This is meant to be a home away from home for very young children, and there’s nothing like it in this area.”

The school’s program, inspired by Innovation Montessori, would include outdoor classroom experiences, the representative said. The campus would feature a large organization garden, an art studio and a playground. The curriculum would offer music, language, after-school enrichment and mommy-and-me classes.

However, residents said their primary concern is the school’s impact on the residential area and the surrounding roads that already are stressed from traffic. 

“The fact is that if it’s approved, the traffic issue won’t be dealt with until after, and I just think that should be taken care of in conjunction with their plan,” said Tracy Goodwin, who lives within a quarter-mile of the site. “And I don’t see that happening at all.”

Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn also said the town of Windermere cannot support any development that would further stress surrounding roads.

“We have about 10,000 cars coming through Windermere every day,” Bruhn said. “Our roads … are backing up for hours. We recently had a workshop, and we’re actually looking at doing some drastic things that I never thought I’d hear us talk about, such as dead-ending residential roads in Windermere, because the cut-through traffic is unsustainable. And we are paying for this with our tax dollars, so it would be very hypocritical for me to sit here and say I can support 400 more trips through Windermere, when we already have the major issues we’re dealing with right now.”

"For the town of Windermere, our issue is not the building itself, or the school — it’s the ongoing development that impacts these roads. But that’s the difficult thing about this process, because you have to weigh in before you’ve even seen any traffic plan." – Jim O'Brien

A few residents asked if there were any existing plans to mitigate the traffic. Orange County District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey reminded residents that any time a development is proposed to the county, the transportation department reviews the plans and requires the developer to include mitigation that may be needed to handle projected traffic impacts.

A county traffic engineer added there currently are no plans to widen any of the roads within the area because they are all “environmentally and physically constrained,” but a traffic study will be done to address any deficiencies.

However, some meeting attendees, including Windermere Mayor-elect Jim O’Brien, noted traffic mitigation and solutions already should be included in the plans for proper evaluation by the community.

“For the town of Windermere, our issue is not the building itself, or the school — it’s the ongoing development that impacts these roads,” O’Brien said. “But that’s the difficult thing about this process, because you have to weigh in before you’ve even seen any traffic plan. I mean, they’re asking us to support something that we’re just guessing at. And there’s an official meeting that comes afterward. But … the reality is once the train leaves the station, it tends to go. I mean, let’s face it: We’re talking about a lot more tax revenue for the county than if you built some houses there. So there’s a lot of pressure.”

Despite traffic concerns, some residents did support the idea of a new preschool, citing long wait lists and lack of options in the immediate area.

“I can’t tell you how much this is needed,” Windermere resident Cindy Cash said. “I interact with a lot of families, and many have had to deal with wait lists. I’ve personally had to do wait lists. My son’s friends, their moms, also had to deal with wait lists. I can count about 12 people I’ve spoken with who had issues within the last year with preschool wait lists, and not a daycare or anything like that, but actual schools that educate. There are very few around here, and we need more options.”

The county’s Board of Zoning Adjustment will consider the proposal during its meeting Thursday, Feb. 7, in the Orange County Commission Chambers located at 201 S. Rosalind Ave.

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers.┬áHave a┬ástory tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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