Tavistock Development Company’s plans for the northwest quadrant of Conroy Windermere and Apopka-Vineland roads drew harsh criticism from nearby Windermere residents and leaders.
If you’ve driven around Windermere lately, you might have seen some yellow yard signs emblazoned with large, red stop signs around town.
They read “Stop 4th-Corner Mega Development,” and many residents hope they will send a message to Tavistock Development Company.
THE PROPOSED PLAN
Tavistock, which owns the nearby commercial plaza The Grove at Isleworth, plans to begin developing the northwest quadrant of Conroy Windermere and Apopka-Vineland roads. Currently zoned as a Planned Development (PD), the quadrant as it exists is approved for 10,000 square feet of commercial space and two dwelling units per acre, for up to 23 dwelling units total.
But Tavistock has bigger plans for the quadrant and presented its request to about 300 Windermere-area residents during a community meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Chain of Lakes Middle School.
Tavistock submitted a revised Land Use Plan Amendment application in January. The amendment, if eventually approved by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, would allow for modification of the northwest quadrant program and expansion of the PD boundaries. Tavistock owns three parcels in the northwest quadrant, of which two total 34.04 acres and are zoned PD. They are requesting the third parcel — 9.05 acres — to be added to the PD.
The original community village center ordinances adopted in 1996-97 called for the 4 Corners CVC to serve as “a village center with a sense of place.” This included creating a pedestrian-friendly setting with sidewalks, shade trees, a neighborhood park and designed parking lots.
The code also established development allocations and density by quadrant and parcel identification numbers, including limiting non-residential development to retail and office uses. Established prohibited uses include pawn shops, skating rinks, bowling alleys, gas stations and movie theaters. Additionally, the established maximum building heights for the northeast, southeast and southwest quadrants are two stories, or 35 feet. The northwest quadrant is limited to one story, or 20 feet.
Tavistock’s amendment proposal includes increasing development allocations and building heights. It also wants to build 23 single-family units, 200 condo/townhome units, an 80-unit independent-living facility, a 120-bed assisted-living facility, a 25,000-square-foot medical clinic, 40,000 square feet of professional office space and 84,000 square feet of retail space.
“Creating a walkable community is significant, as we understand that traffic is a top concern,” said Jessi Blakley, public relations and communications director for Tavistock. “The plan also encompasses significant open, green space, and there will be pedestrian bridges, trails and pathways that meander throughout the 40 acres.”
Andres Duany, the town planner hired by Tavistock, stood at the front of the packed cafeteria, clicker in hand as he flipped through his presentation slides.
“This is a mixed-use community where people of different ages and incomes can live and where most of their daily needs … are accessible within walking distance,” Duany told residents. “This is a radically different model from the one that has caused the traffic and congestion. We only do pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use town centers; it’s the only thing we’ve ever done in our lives.”
“I think it’s very agreeable to have those homes (currently approved) on half-acre sites and 10,000 square feet of commercial space. … We are going to respectfully say that the town of Windermere will not support this.” - Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn
One of the reasons residents see so much congestion at this intersection, Duany said, is because few roads connect. Orange County is growing by 35,000 people each year, and it’s not stopping anytime soon, he said.
“The traffic is terrible, but there’s no solution unless you begin building compact-use town centers where people can walk to transit,” he said. “This one, you live the old way in which people can age in place and walk to their needs.”
Tavistock’s plan is to build such a compact-use town center, and Duany said the community would contain roads rather than parking lots. It’s set up in a similar manner to downtown Winter Park, with a large, open park area at the center.
But most in attendance expressed their skepticism, as some scoffed in their seats or voiced their displeasure from the back of the room.
The buzz began taking off previous to the meeting, on Facebook in a group created to oppose development of the fourth corner. In the span of nearly two weeks, it has garnered more than 1,500 members in opposition.
One of the most prominent issues residents have with the plan is introduction of more traffic. Interim Windermere councilwoman Molly Rose wrote in a letter to Orange County District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey that the 4 Corners Isleworth project is “another, and most serious, example of uncontrolled over-development; absent adequate concern for traffic or lake water quality impacts.”
“The increased traffic generated by the proposed development would affect not only the town of Windermere residents but also tens of thousands of Orange County residents who already sit in traffic jams and gridlock as they try to make their way daily from (State Road) 535 to Apopa-Vineland Road,” Rose wrote.
Other resident issues included impact on water quality, high density, pedestrian safety and frustration with continued concessions toward development.
“The deal was, we’re going to heavily zone the other three corners and we’re going to save the fourth corner for Lake Down,” said former Windermere Mayor Bill Osborne, in reference to the original CVC plan. “Is it an accident that its only two houses per acre? Not at all. It’s to preserve Lake Down.”
“I disagree that it (zoning and approvals) should be changed,” said Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn. “I think it’s very agreeable to have those homes (currently approved) on half-acre sites and 10,000 square feet of commercial space. … We are going to respectfully say that the town of Windermere will not support this.”
Although the proposed plan was met with resistance at the meeting, it is still early on in the process, Blakley said, and the community meeting was one of the first steps.
“Tavistock purchased the three corners to ensure quality was always maintained,” she said. “We plan to do the same quality of development here that we have delivered on the other two corners. We recognize and value the significance and the importance of this land, which is why we have been working collaboratively with elected officials and the community over the last 12 months to design and plan something that’s thoughtful and sensible to what the community needs and wants.”
The plan will be examined by the county’s Development Review Committee this spring, followed by the Planning and Zoning Commission in spring or summer; and it will go to the Board of County Commissioners in the summer.
“The community meeting was just the beginning of the conversation that we want to continue to have with residents and community leaders so that we can develop a thoughtful plan, together,” Blakley said.