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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Apr. 21, 2022 4 months ago

Windermere to ask county to re-address Bird Island

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For years, loud, alcohol-infused parties, illegal Jet skis and littering have turned the island into the center of discussion.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

After the Orange County Commission’s much-anticipated discussion addressing ongoing concerns about Bird Island fizzled without a decision of any kind, the Windermere Town Council at its April 12 meeting directed Town Manager Robert Smith to draft a letter to County Commission urging it to readdress the issue.

Egret Island, better known as Bird Island, is located just off the shore of Fernwood Park and in 1958 was deeded to the Florida Audubon Society by Frank Chase and the Chase Company. The waters are under the control of the state, although Orange County was granted authority to enforce law and patrol the area. 

However, for years, loud, alcohol-infused parties, illegal Jet skis and littering have turned the island into the center of discussion. 

The town has no jurisdiction over the water or Bird Island. At one point, the town researched annexing the island.

The County Commission was scheduled to discuss the issue at 9 a.m. at its March 22 workshop meeting, but it was delayed first to 2 p.m. and ultimately didn’t begin until about 5 p.m., Smith said. 

Because of the delays, the discussion didn’t accurately represent the opinions of local residents, Smith said. Furthermore, some statements made during public comment contradicted the staff analysis presented at the workshop.

Some attendees expressed concerns that if they were moved farther away from the island, their children would not be able to swim and participate in activities. However, the island is a designated bird sanctuary, and thus people are not supposed to be on it.

Other concerns related to the depth of the water and the safety issue for swimming in boating areas. Smith said with the area being described in the ordinance, as well as the water levels in the area, it is not as deep as the speakers were saying, and it still would allow for people to swim and enjoy — but with a buffer to serve as an additional enforcement tool.

“That kind of negates all the hard work that’s been done over the last 18 months to get this ordinance in place to this point,” Smith said. “Just because they didn’t show up that day doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a voice getting up to that point.”

The town has been working with Orange County elected officials, staff and law enforcement on the drafting of the amendments to the Boats and Water Safety Code since August 2020.  

The work is in addition to “the multitude of shoreline improvements, ordinances and enforcement done by the town in concert with Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Butler Chain of Lakes Advisory Committee, Florida Audubon Society and the Department of Environmental Protection,” Smith wrote in his drafted letter.

Smith said town residents have engaged in discussions with various officials and described the numerous issues and concerns regarding the environmental and safety matters in relation to the island. 

At the end of the workshop, the County Commission took no action.

“It just died,” Smith said. “It’s pretty much in limbo at this point. We have no idea when it’s coming back for discussion. We just want them to address it. If they’re not in favor of it, fine, but at least discuss it at a meeting as far as the ordinance itself.”

HEALTHY WEST ORANGE PAVILION

Town Council members unanimously approved one of the first steps in the construction of the Healthy West Orange Pavilion by selecting general contractor McCree Builders Inc. for the project’s design-build services. 

The new pavilion will take the place of the town’s previous community room, now absent with the opening of the new facilities, which will be demolished within the next two months. The work will include an installation of a new septic drain field and tank as well as appropriate landscaping.

The pavilion — a collaboration among the town of Windermere, Healthy West Orange and the Rotary Club of Windermere — will provide a central location for health and wellness programs to be offered to residents of West Orange. 

The entertainment pavilion will include a covered elevated stage with a retractable projection screen, complete with appropriate lighting and sound equipment, men’s and women’s restrooms, two family restrooms, and a concession stand with a kitchen at the corner of Forest Street and Fifth Avenue. The budget for the project is $800,000. 

Smith said the pavilion is aiming to open in the fall or early next year. 

“Thank you very much to the Rotary and all of those who have helped to make this process move forward,” Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien said. “We look forward to an amazing pavilion and a longtime partnership.”

IN OTHER NEWS

  • The council approved an ordinance regulating commercial activities in parks. The amendment added a new section stating the following commercial activities on property owned by the town are prohibited: selling, leasing, renting, bartering or exchanging goods and services; recreational programs; engaging in commercial activities on town-owned property, roadways or rights-of-way. Special exceptions must be approved.
  • The town approved three special contracts and agreements, including building, permitting and inspection services by PDSC; on-call land planning services by Wade Trim; and general legal representation by Gray-Robinson. 
  • Mayor Jim O’Brien divided liaison assignments among members. The assignments are as follows: Bill Martini: DRB, Tree Board and Police; Mandy David: Food Truck Farmers Market, Parks & Recreation and WAYS; Tony Davit: Butler Chain Advisory Committee, Metro Plan Alternate, West Orange Chamber Alternate and Public Works; Molly Rose: LRP, Budget and Administration; Andy Williams: Elders, Holiday, HPB and SAC.
  • Council members approved $12,724.65 for a vibrating compactor for road improvement and $26,688 for fencing around the Windermere Recreation Center Playground.

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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