For the third consecutive month, Windermere residents gathered with the Windermere Town Council to address the proposed Windsong at Windermere development, Dec. 9 at Town Hall.
After another series of complaints about the proposal from myriad residents, the council approved moving forward with Windsong developers for the site, 3-1. This included redesignating this 36-acre site from Orange County Rural/Agriculture to Windermere Planned Unit Development; rezoning all of the plot, except 4.19 acres of Lake Rhea wetlands, as Windsong planned unit development from Orange County rural country estate; the first hearing of the Windsong developers agreement; and the Windsong preliminary development plan, updated Nov. 29.
Although the council did vote to move forward, its members can still work with the development team on amendments to the plans. Each member had at least one reservation regarding the latest development plan, but the three affirming members had greater reservations about losing what they see as a quality development team.
“I think that we currently are working with quality people,” Councilman Mike Pirozzolo said. “I fear that opportunity is not going to come up again. Something’s going to be developed there. I’m 100% convinced of that. So it’s going to be these guys or, when they walk, it’s going to be residential, lower-end, which is going to negatively impact everybody around it. We’re at the point now that makes the least amount of financial sense for them. I’ll choke down the setbacks. I’ll choke down the size of the lots. I have no fears about the stormwater, because there’s so much oversight there. The one thing I’m continually uncomfortable with is that there’s not a turn lane left into the neighborhood (from northbound on Maguire Road). Without a turn lane there, traffic is going to back up to the bridge.”
Pirozzolo disagreed with Mohammed Abdallah, the developers’ traffic consultant from Traffic & Mobility Consultants, who said that northbound traffic would not come close to warranting such a turn lane, with a rate of 10 cars per hour turning left into the development.
On the other hand, Councilman John Armstrong, who cast the dissenting vote, disagreed with Pirozzolo’s assessment of the situation with the developers.
“I don’t believe that losing this quality developer means that there’s not going to be another one down the road,” Armstrong said. “The residents love the wildlife there, and it’s not like we’re hurting for tax revenue. What’s the drawback here? You’re worried that we’re going to have some bad developer come along if we don’t grab these guys now?”
Residents had submitted 39 responses to city staff regarding the latest plans, 37 of which included concerns or disapproval. Those attending the meeting believed that they had gone past the point of compromise into appeasement of the developers, with many presenting the same concerns they had at previous meetings.
“Our neighborhood’s concerns (include) traffic on Maguire Road, deceleration lanes, turn lanes…density, drainage, flood control, stormwater, environmental and trees and the schools,” said Edward Beery, who represented the Board of Directors of the Reserve at Belmere plan on the northern border of the Windsong plot. “We’re happy that you’ve taken out commercial area, because that was a very huge concern for us with a possible look down into our backyards on the other side of the border wall.”
Roger Ambuter, an engineer living in The Willows, had concerns with what he believed were inaccuracies with dates and numbers pertinent to the 18 months of the developers’ work with the town, as well as not conforming to the ordinances of the town.
“At this stage of the game, you (developers) should’ve had everything letter-perfect, and it isn’t,” Ambuter said.
Theresa Schretzmann-Myers, chairwoman of the Windermere Tree Board, expressed reservations about how the developers would handle plants within the plot.
“We just walked the site last week, with the tree survey, for the first time,” she said. “I would like to see an updated tree canopy survey that includes all of the tree canopy and know, for sure, what is going and what is staying. Almost every (tree) we saw on that property was eight inches or above, and some were historic, huge, beautiful palms. I applaud keeping any of the trees in the setbacks. My recommendation is to move and re-prune palms that cannot stay. I hear (clearing most trees) is not what’s going to happen. I just want to make sure it is in writing.”
Schretzmann-Myers said residents were ardent about the unique ecology of the town in all neighborhoods.
“We’re passionate about our town because it is Windermere, and it is different from other towns with its gorgeous native tree canopy that keeps neighborhoods cool, protects our buffers of lakes and aids stormwater management,” she said. “We are lucky to be able to walk into our backyards and see birds that come here every year and not anywhere else, because of our tree canopy.”
Allan Keen, project manager, and David Evans, lead designer and president of Evans Engineering, said that they would replant and save as many trees as possible, because it would make sense to have trees as attractive fixtures for potential homeowners. Keen also said that swales and pretreatment for contaminants within a controlled stormwater management system would prevent flooding issues.
Although the plan remained unchanged in terms of average and minimum sizes for lots and setbacks that both residents and council members had problems with, Keen cited what he believed would be many benefits to Windermere adopting Windsong’s plan.
“Sanitary sewer lines will be extended to the town boundary,” Keen said. “In keeping with the town’s character, we will do everything to have this not look like a subdivision. We have a considerable amount of buffering between the ponds and natural vegetation between Maguire and the lots. All lots abutting The Willows will be restricted to single-story homes. This guarantees the town that development on its largest remaining parcel will be done in a proper way. All of our roads, utilities and stormwater system are being maintained by the community owners association, at no cost to the town.”
Keen also said that Taylor Morrison Homes would build great homes on the plot and that $132,636 in tax revenue would be added to the town per year. He also mentioned up to $250,000 that the company would pay to the town, mostly for traffic improvements, which Pirozzolo thanked him for but called “a drop in the bucket,” relative to the traffic problems the development would create.
Regardless of these possible benefits, some of which Armstrong did not believe were benefits, Armstrong still stressed that there were simply too many problems Windermere residents had with the plan for them to support its advance.
“I don’t represent anybody but the residents,” Armstrong said. “Most people here tonight are from The Willows. I have talked to numerous — and I mean numerous — residents from all around town, and they feel the same way as you all. Personally, it benefits me to have as small of lot sizes as we possibly can. But I’m going to vote with the residents, because the residents told me what they want. I talked them and asked, ‘Would you be OK with half-acre (lots)? Almost every one of them said yes. But they said a half-acre was where to draw the line, and that is a compromise.”
The council had started with a motion to table Windsong items for Councilwoman Molly Rose, who was absent and had expressed serious concerns with Windsong’s plans. The motion failed, 3-1, with Armstrong dissenting.
•The council unanimously approved a resolution for tree mitigation fees to benefit a tree trust fund at a caliber/inch rate, along with an updated tree ordinance, with standards that will apply to Windsong.
•The council passed a resolution to separate a fire rescue services tax from its general millage, as well as a $2,720 emergency repair of sidewalks in The Willows and a purchase of benches and picnic tables from the Parks and Recreation budget not exceeding $10,000.
•The council passed a speed limit reduction for The Willows, from 25 mph to 20 mph. Pirozzolo dissented, preferring to conduct a vote with the community’s entire homeowners association.
•The council granted Craig and Kathy Lopus a license to sell alcohol on premises less than 1,000 feet from a church, school or other business with consumption on said premises. Conditions of the license included closure of the Lopuses’ business by 11 p.m., with the exception of Sunday through Tuesday, which would have the closing time of 9:30 p.m.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].