Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn instructed town staff to analyze the possibility of annexing the northwest corner of Conroy Windermere and Apopka-Vineland roads.
Colloquially known as the “4th Corner,” the northwest quadrant of the Conroy Windermere and Apopka-Vineland Road intersection spurred lengthy discussion at the latest Winder- mere Town Council meeting.
But this time, in place of uncontrollable traffic and overdevelopment concerns, talk of annexation was at the forefront.
Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn suggested the Town Council consider the idea of annexing the corner into the town of Windermere to eliminate the risk of having a currently proposed development by for the 43 acres approved by Orange County.
According to submitted plans, Tavistock Development Company hopes to construct 23 single-family homes, 200 townhomes, a 120-bed assisted-living facility, an 80-unit independent-living facility and a 25,000-square- foot medical clinic coupled with 40,000 square feet of office space and 84,000 square feet of retail space.
These proposed development plans differ from what is presently permitted at the site in accordance with an agreement dating from 1996, which only calls for 26 homes and 10,000 square feet of commercial space.
“For 22 years, this has been in effect now, and they knew darn well what was there and what they’ve been doing is borrowing square footage until you can’t even move in The Grove,” Bruhn said. “And now all they have left is 10,000 square feet and 26 homes, and that’s the rule that everyone agreed to in 1996. You don’t get a do-over. But they’re hoping they can get it overturned just like the property owner of the Windermere Country Club did.”
As is expected for an intersection that already generates heavy traffic, the development proposal sparked outrage in hundreds of area residents, who came together to express their severe disapproval of the plans at a Feb. 27 community meeting.
“I just threw it out there because this is an option,” Bruhn said. “It’s all about the adjoining property owners; if you grab enough land and enough votes from everyone else, it overrides them. That corner is owned by Tavistock, but you can take all the property around it ... and it comes in as one annexation parcel. If everybody votes, you’ll have more land and more votes than they do, so that’s why they’d have to commit.”
An annexation process would involve gathering the consent and cooperation or surrounding property owners.
Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith explained Tavistock would not need to agree to the annexation, but existing requirements for pursuing involuntary annexations are outlined in the Florida Statutes, and the process boils down to garnering enough land and votes.
“We wouldn’t have to convince (Tavistock),” Smith said. “Typically, you want to do voluntary annexation, but if you need to bring in something via involuntary annexation, there’s an avenue to do it. The Tavistock area is about 43 acres, and they have one vote for that whole piece of property. In order for us to bring that in, we would have to bring in more acreage and more resident electors, so you bring in the majority of the property and the majority of the vote. So we’d have to look at other areas to annex that would be sufficient to overcome the amount of acreage and number of owners on that property, and then we’d be able to bring (that land) in involuntarily.”
Because Bruhn only offered it as a suggestion recently, Smith has yet to reach out to any property owners and said the likelihood of succeeding in any annexation effort the council may or may not agree to move forward on is not yet known. However, both Bruhn and Smith believe plenty incentive exists, considering the property owners would be able to enjoy lower taxes and a faster police response time.
There is also the matter of time constraints, as any such initiative would need to be completed before Orange County’s Board of Commissioners votes on the proposal.
Smith holds hope that, given the BCC’s past voting history on similar requests, it will not agree to grant Tavistock’s request, particularly in light of its recent denial to grant Windermere Country Club’s property owner more entitlements in opposition to a long-standing past agreement.
“We’re working on a timetable right now, but we’d have to go through at least two public hearings relative to the annexation ordinance, and we’d have to go through a referendum,” Smith said. “So we’re looking at a lengthy process, time-wise, assuming we decide to do this. But regardless of the whole annexation discussion, I think the town has a really good leg to stand on relative to what was already agreed on in 1996 with the CVC zoning on that property. And Orange County has recently taken a stance against developers coming back to ask for more entitlements for agreements that were made in the past.
“A great example of that is Windermere Country Club,” he said. “The golf course owner came to the county and said, ‘Listen, our existing plan isn’t working because nobody is utilizing the golf course. I would like for you guys to give me more entitlements to develop residential.’And Orange County held fast and said, ‘No, you can’t come back and ask more entitlements.’ And the applicant has gone through the appeal process and was again denied. If Orange County were to do this type of revision to the plan that was agreed upon in 1996, in my view, they would be opening up the doors not only to that developer but cause trouble with other denials they’ve imposed in the past as well. So it’s very dangerous ground that they’re treading on.”
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