Skip to main content
News
Southwest Orange Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 3 years ago

Windermere Town Council candidates Q&A

Share
Three candidates vie for two spots in the March 15 election. Here are their answers to some of the most pressing questions facing the town of Windermere. Candidates are in alphabetical order.
by: Zak Kerr Staff Writer/Reporter

John Armstrong

AGE: 57

FAMILY: wife, Deanna, married 25 years

YEAR MOVED TO WINDERMERE: The Armstrong Family has lived in Windermere since 1915.

OCCUPATION:  Windermere Town Councilman (present); hospitality executive (retired) 

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: two terms on the Windermere Town Council (2012-2016); Windermere Historical Preservation Board (2011); active in the 1887 Schoolhouse Restoration Project 

  • Of the plans for new facilities pertaining to the proposed loan in this year's ballot language, what do you think makes the most sense and why?

The referendum on the ballot authorizes a borrowing limit pertaining to the administration and police department buildings. If the referendum is passed there will be many meetings in which the town's residents will discuss building strategies. The outcome of those meetings will reveal the will of the people. My vote will represent the will of the residents regardless of my personal opinions.  

  • Town staff and county staff have been discussing Windermere annexation of surrounding land. Where do you think makes sense for Windermere to annex and why?

I favor small strategic annexations that are mutually beneficial to the town's residents as well as the areas in consideration for annexation. I will use Isleworth and the two west corners of Sixth Avenue and Apopka-Vineland Road as an example. If these areas were annexed in, current residents would have a reduction in millage rate of at least 1% or more. The increased tax base would also help keep our town small and financially solvent for the next 50 to 75 years.

  • What do you believe are the key traits that define Windermere and what would you like to do as council member to enhance those?

Windermere is defined by its small-town charm. Our beautiful lakes, abundant tree canopy and the spirit of our residents’ volunteerism are what make Windermere such a great place to live. I don't believe our town's primary traits need enhancing, however if I had to choose one, it would be the preservation of our lakes. We have been entrusted with the privilege of caring for our beautiful lakes and ensuring they remain pristine for future generations. 

  • A recent road study presented some plans for Windermere to proceed with, and the dirt roads in the town contribute to a growing runoff problem for the chain of lakes. How do you believe the town should proceed regarding maintenance of its roads and lakes?

I am not in favor of paving our dirt roads. Besides adding to our town's distinctively southern look, I believe the dirt roads also help to preserve the lakes. We have made great progress working through our long list of storm water projects. These are projects which address water runoff and road erosion. We have also increased our storm water fee so we can expedite completion of some of these initiatives.

  • Members of some neighborhoods in Windermere have expressed feeling less considered and represented than others. What are your thoughts on this and how would you address it?

My voting record is a testament to the fact that I vote the will of the residents. It is my core belief that I am here to represent the residents of Windermere and not my own interests. For the last four years I have spoken to many residents to get their feedback on issues facing our town.

  • What would you say are the most important modifications Windermere must make to its charter?

One of the most important modifications that needs to be addressed is the charter itself. It is an outdated document that needs to be updated. We recently selected town residents to sit on a charter review committee. They will bring back their recommendations to the Town Council regarding any changes they feel need to be made. So far it has been an arduous task and they are all to be commended for their time and service. Once we receive their recommendations, then I will be able to discuss any modifications I believe we should make.

Richard Gonzalez

AGE: 73

FAMILY: wife, Kathryn V. Gonzalez; children: Alana, Ryan, Drew

YEAR MOVED TO WINDERMERE: 1989

OCCUPATION: VP – Pineloch Management – Asset Management

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Served two terms as councilman. Prior 28 years worked with my wife as town and school volunteers, plus Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Helped rebuild the local Cub Scout pack and re-equipped the local pack with equipment from personal funds. Volunteered with Tree Board and Parks and Rec projects and served on DRB Board and other volunteer groups continuously for 28 years. Sponsor and create conservation projects in Florida: trailhead for West Orange Trail; Trail connectivity from Lake County to Orange County; Gopher Tortoise Preserve — 30 acres; 400-Acre Park in Chuluota connecting Florida Trail; Audubon Society projects, installed bird houses on three ranches; large-scale water management projects for conservation in Osceola, St. Lucie, Lake and Polk counties. Focusing on Audubon Society but have served in Sierra Club; bat conservation; Amnesty International; American Civil Liberties Union.

  • Of the plans for new facilities pertaining to the proposed loan in this year's ballot language, what do you think makes the most sense and why?

The town with the employment of Robert Smith has had, for the first time in 28 years, a qualified professional manager to implement all programs and supervise them to completion for the betterment of the town. In the five years he has been here all projects are planned by professionals, implemented by qualified contractors and financially monitored for budgetary compliance and signed off with completion documents. We have made very important strides in developing a procedure to do this. This includes making needed repairs on other projects which were implemented shortly before Mr. Smith arrived. He has initiated studies to identify critical needs to the town, one of which is town facilities, repair or replacement. We are proceeding forward cautiously informing the citizens to vote their opinions, and future steps will only be implemented with a clear understanding of what is needed, what the cost will be, where the funding will come from and identification of impact on our budget based on taxes. We have done transportation analysis studies and also studies on trail systems and buffers, trees and walls for the Main Street traffic impacts. The point being nothing will be done without a thorough analysis and funding analysis of any project. The facilities project is of such a magnitude it will require significant study and funding analysis, which is underway.

  • Town staff and county staff have been discussing Windermere annexation of surrounding land. Where do you think makes sense for Windermere to annex and why?

Our initial annexation targets are Isleworth and the Lake Butler Boulevard area community. No annexation should be done without a thorough annexation agreement between the parties. It is our town manager’s responsibility to identify all of the components of the annexation impacts. All of the older walled subdivision-type communities have problems, most related to deferred maintenance and improper or incapable management of the HOAs set up by the original developer. The town should have an expectation that any deficiencies are brought up to code and preferable existing codes, especially concerning storm water retention, discharges, contamination and failed septic systems close to water bodies. The homeowners should expect equitable treatment from the town concerning town management of any of their assets.

Functionally it would be best for all that the town assume responsibility, but this needs to be addressed in the annexation agreement; furthermore the annexed facilities such as roads, storm water systems, tree canopies, condition of septic systems, should be brought up to codes plus an examination of all the properties (homes) for compliance with city codes. To my knowledge I don’t believe this has ever been done and exposes the city to absorbing deteriorating communities, thereby lowering the esthetics of the town and surrounding property values. Annexation and management should be viewed with the same seriousness as a marriage (contract). The city is running with professional management and all segments of the city should be maintained at a standard of compliance to yield the ambiance we want and not only maintain property values but increase them greater than the CPI on an annual basis.

  • What do you believe are the key traits that define Windermere, and what would you like to do as council member to enhance those?

The town now consists of the original platted and gridded street system. Fifty-foot lots were common and standard at the turn of the century. Our boards and codes are inclined toward larger lots or consolidating lots. I personally disagree with this trend and prefer to have a diverse community of housing types, lot types and people. However, I do not oppose large lots if someone wants one by consolidating smaller lots if they wish a larger home. The biggest impact the town could have on values and functionality and conservation is to put as No. 1 on the to-do list installation of a community water system and a sanitary sewer system. Immediately this could be done by focusing on Main Street and running lines perpendicular on both sides of Main Street. The year I moved into Windermere, 1989, I contributed towards the installation of a water line on Second Avenue, and I believe the total cost was $77,000. My relatively new home did not need a water system or sanitary sewer system; however, I connected to the water system within a few years and would pay a pro rata share to install a sanitary sewer system on our block. I think the community is vulnerable environmentally without these modern attributes. I have not conducted any studies myself, except on my own properties, but I am familiar with the issues as I am a chemical engineer plus president of a private water system which pumps 1.8 billion gallons of water per year and discharges similar amounts. This is for agricultural purposes, and all the waters I manage are monitored for contaminants. The amount of herbicides, pesticides used in the state of Florida annually is a huge number, and many of them are long-lived or permanent into the soils. Therefore, a public water and sanitary sewer system is on an equal standing with public safety and public facilities.

  • A recent road study presented some plans for Windermere to proceed with, and the dirt roads in the town contribute to a growing runoff problem for the chain of lakes. How do you believe the town should proceed regarding maintenance of its roads and lakes?

Mr. Smith has in his office plans annually for which roads are going to be repaired on a priority basis. Parallel to this is control of the water runoff, paving or reinforcing the dirt roads to prevent erosion. On three ranches that I manage there are 45 miles of dirt roads and water retention areas and ditches parallel to many of these roads. None of them are eroded, full of holes, undermined by root systems from large trees or other growths. Windermere has never had a proper skilled operating system for the maintenance of dirt roads. I have spoken about this for years, and we are better now than we have been but nowhere near the standard that I personally expect. If you go to Forest and Second Avenue where I live, I built three retention areas with subterranean discharge tubes that go down into the subsurface water zones that actively recharge water after every heavy rain in less than 24 hours. I used my experience and knowledge of Florida soils and hydraulics to install them. We had an employee on the payroll many years ago who was an agricultural person from the Panhandle (tobacco, I believe). He was a “water man” which is a skilled trade in the Florida farming industry. They know how to shape roads, curve roads into runoff areas, catchment base. All of the dirt roads in Windermere are narrow and underlined with tree roots which make them difficult to maintain. Therefore appropriate equipment and extremely skilled operators are necessary to maintain same.

  • Members of some neighborhoods in Windermere have expressed feeling less considered and represented than others. What are your thoughts on this and how would you address it?

This situation has been addressed by Mr. Smith since assuming his duties as city manager. Every area of the city and every individual in the city receives the same professional and equitable service. I know that Mr. Smith does make contact with the HOAs and their management and contributes needed information and solutions. It is my observation that these HOA communities could decline if the assessments are not increased to match the needs as the communities and the systems decline with age. The town can use its professional resources to help these communities and, if necessary, negotiate a fee structure to take over the responsibilities of important components such as storm water; road and tree maintenance; and exterior wall maintenance. All these services could be contracted by the town for the benefit of an HOA. If these citizens need our help we should be willing to consider this.

  • What would you say are the most important modifications Windermere must make to its charter?

We have assembled a charter review committee of people of good character, knowledge and intelligence. Mr. Smith attends all the meetings, and it is their job to present a revised charter to us for review and ratification. I will accept 100% of their recommendations.

Allen Pichon

FAMILY: My wife, Sharon, and I reside at 11485 Willow Gardens Drive, Windermere, Florida. We have two children and five grandchildren, who (like us) fell in love with Windermere.

YEAR MOVED TO WINDERMERE: We have been traveling to Orlando on a regular basis since 1994 because of my firm’s headquarters (ASIG) here at Orlando, and we have been residents since 2002.

OCCUPATION: At ASIG (a $500 million airline service firm), I served as the vice president of operations with over 7,000 employees and 70 airport locations.  I also served in the United States Air Force and retired as a colonel. One of the special highlights of my career was serving as the vice wing commander for the 89th Airlift Wing, home of Air Force One. So I am familiar with the pursuit and demands for perfection. As an example, one delayed takeoff in 10,000 for the President of the United States is one too many!

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: I am currently retired, allowing me time for community activities. I am a eucharistic minister in our church and a past church council president. I served on the Willows of Lake Rhea Homeowners Association Board as president for four terms (eight years) and additional terms as a member of the Architecture Review Board, Beautification Committee, and Maintenance Committee. I am also one of the town’s committee members currently reviewing, for the last eight months, the Charter for the Town of Windermere, allowing me to gain insight into the town’s operations and the impact of state laws.  

  • Of the plans for new facilities pertaining to the proposed loan in this year's ballot language, what do you think makes the most sense and why?

My concern has to do with the timing of the project.  We are talking about borrowing $4.2 million. We have road, sidewalk, water run-off and other infrastructure issues. I favor putting those items at the front of the line and pushing the new complex downstream in time. There is no doubt in my mind that our administrative facilities are inadequate. I raise the question as to why they have reached such a deplorable state and question how we do our maintenance, repairs, etc. In addition, I think we need to look at a location other than the current town square. This is where the community gathers, and that area is used for special events such as the farmers market, the art festival and our monthly food truck night. We could also explore an alternate solution, by putting in place temporary trailers, moving the police (as an example) to the trailers, completely upgrading and redoing their old offices, moving them back in and then tackling admin next, etc. until we get this done.

  • Town staff and county staff have been discussing Windermere annexation of surrounding land. Where do you think makes sense for Windermere to annex and why?

As I understand the situation, when I attended a Town Council meeting in November, the council discussed annexation of several areas. In general, the town decided to look into the annexation of Chaine Du Lac, Isleworth and the northwest and southwest corners of the Four Corners area at Apopka Vineland and Conroy/Windermere Road. As you are probably aware, there is infrastructure in place in three of the areas. As a result, there would be little cost to the town for required infrastructure projects. More importantly, this would give our town a say on issues impacting the lakes because of the residential areas surrounding our lakes. So, in this instance, I would favor annexation. The qualifier has to be whether it makes sense to our town, from financial, physical and practical viewpoints.

  • What do you believe are the key traits that define Windermere and what would you like to do as council member to enhance those?

Windermere is a wonderful community with the “old town” charm of years bygone. We don’t have a lot of commercial business downtown, and this gives us that small town atmosphere. You combine that atmosphere with social events and that gives our residents a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, there have been some decisions made that left some of the community feeling excluded. I would like to be a part of the Town Council that promotes decisions that make all of our citizens feel like they and their opinions matter.

  • A recent road study presented some plans for Windermere to proceed with, and the dirt roads in the town contribute to a growing runoff problem for the chain of lakes. How do you believe the town should proceed regarding maintenance of its roads and lakes?

This is a tough area to discuss because I have always favored the way our community looks in terms of our “dirt roads.” That was part of the charm that my wife and I fell in love with. The reality is that dirt streets work until there are hurricanes, major rains, water runoff, etc. Following those events, there is an impact with regard to major ruts along those roads and the runoff to our lakes. I believe there is a pervious pavement solution that is being explored, which with a base and subbase allows the movement of stormwater through the surface. In addition to reducing runoff, this effectively traps suspended solids and filters pollutants from the water and thus helps our lakes. This pavement technology creates more efficient land use by eliminating the need for retention ponds, swales and other stormwater management devices, and I favor this approach. Clearly cost versus benefits has to be clearly delineated.

  • Members of some neighborhoods in Windermere have expressed feeling less considered and represented than others. What are your thoughts on this and how would you address it?

I have been attending the Town Council meetings on a regular basis for the last two years. I have witnessed some very contentious issues.  As a resident of the town, I believe that the opinions of our residents have on occasion not been taken seriously by town officials. That is one of the reasons I am running for election to the Town Council.  I think it is critically important that we all feel like we belong to this community and our opinion matters – actions speak louder than words.

  • What would you say are the most important modifications Windermere must make to its charter?

I have been serving on the Windermere Charter Review Committee for the last eight months. I have learned quite a lot about the town and its operations. I want to ensure that we keep caps on our spending and our borrowing. I want to ensure any monies spent by the Town Council are necessary and truly benefit our citizens. I want to ensure our town citizens are taken care of and that our taxes are kept at a minimum.

 

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].

Related Stories

Advertisement