WINTER GARDEN — The Winter Garden City Commission took a significant step toward building a parking lot on the north side of downtown when it passed the first reading of a resolution to begin eminent-domain proceedings on the warehouse property at 37 N. Boyd St.
Bert Valdes’ family has owned this property since the 1940s. Valdes grew up in Winter Garden and also owns the Moon Cricket Grille at 141 Plant St.
In January, 2015, the City Commission revised the downtown parking plan. The new plan reduced the size of the proposed indoor parking facility on Tremaine Street and called for an outdoor lot to be built at 37 N. Boyd. The city did not own the property, but at the time, staff officials said they could negotiate with Valdes to buy it or take it via eminent domain. City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said he and city staff met several times with Valdes earlier in the week, and that “even if we reach an agreement, the (eminent domain) process would benefit Mr. Valdes.”
Mayor John Rees invited Valdes to speak on this matter.
“We’re trying to work through something that would satisfy both parties, and I’m at peace with that,” Valdes said. “It’s probably beneficial to both parties to move forward.”
Valdes said he began negotiations with the city without hiring a lawyer to represent him but that he would probably hire one in the near future.
Design and consulting company Prism One rents space in the warehouse, but that lease ends in 2016 before any construction or demolition work on property would begin.
Bollhoefer said taking the property through the eminent-domain process could provide more favorable tax treatment for Valdes’ capital gains. The ordinance authorizes the process to start; the city cannot take any final action without bringing a proposal back to the commission for approval.
After hearing from Valdes, the commission voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance, with Commissioner Bobby Olszewski dissenting.
“I can’t stress enough that I believe in Mike and what the city is doing,” Valdes said following the vote. “I hope we don’t butt heads, but if we do, that’s business. I have to do what’s right for me and my family.”
A public hearing scheduled to condemn the property at 160 E. Plant St., owned by the Winter Garden Gateway Corporation, was continued for 30 days to the second commission meeting in May.
Community Development Director Ed Williams said the property owner requested time to correct multiple violations that led to the condemnation hearing. As part of the process, city staff provided the property owners with a written schedule for inspections, plans and other goals that they must reach to continue postponements.
“If they don’t proceed with work products, we will ask you to condemn the property,” Williams said.
If the property owners meet all the deadlines by the May meeting, staff will ask the commission to continue the hearing for another 30 days.
If the owners are able to bring the property up to code, they plan to lease it to a business, Williams said.
Commissioner Bob Buchanan said there have been issues with this property for seven years. He supported this current plan but didn’t want to give the owners any more flexibility. After more discussion, the commission voted 4-1 to continue the hearing as recommended by Director Williams, with Commissioner Bobby Olszewski dissenting.
IN OTHER NEWS
• Commissioners passed the second reading of an ordinance to rezone .316 acres at 553 W. Plant St., on the north side of the street, from city R-NC residential neighborhood commercial to city C-1 Central commercial district. This fits the city’s comprehensive plan, and recognizes that the property has housed an auto repair shop since 1947. As he did during the last meeting, Commissioner Kent Makin recused himself from the vote. The ordinance passed unanimously, 4-0.
• The commission unanimously approved a resolution to begin a plan to realign the West Orange Trail in downtown. Passing the resolution enables Winter Garden to apply for a matching grant of up to $200,000 to help pay for the cost. If the city spends less than $200,000, the grant will match whatever the city spends. Bollhoefer said the resolution starts the process; final plans still need to come back before the commission for approval.
• Commissioners unanimously approved the Bradford Creek Subdivision Right of Way maintenance agreement.
• The commission unanimously approved the site plan and binding lot combination agreement for 1006 E. Crown Point Road and 835 Crown Point Cross Road. This will enable the West Orlando Baptist Church to proceed with a major expansion on the site. It plans to build a 29,000-square-foot addition with about 750 seats for worship services, along with 250 additional parking spots.
• Commissioners unanimously approved the site plan for 1011 and 1099 Pineloch Industrial Drive. This will enable 84 Lumber to build a 30,000-square-foot warehouse for additional storage next to its current facility.
• The commission unanimously approved shutting down both ends of South Central Avenue for the May 9 grand opening of Plant Street Market. Even with the street closed, alcohol sales and consumption will still only be allowed within the market’s fenced-in area.
• Commissioners conducted an executive session with outside counsel to discuss strategy in a lawsuit Halscott Industries Inc., doing business as Unbreakable IT Inc., filed against the city and Frank Gilbert. After the closed-door discussion, City Attorney Kurt Ardaman advised the city to file a counterclaim.
• The commission received a proposed ordinance for review from Bollhoefer to help manage requests for economic development grants and impact-fee relief. He asked commissioners to send comments so he could present a revised version at the next meeting.
• Commissioners conducted an executive session with outside counsel to discuss strategy in a lawsuit Halscott Industries Inc., doing business as Unbreakable IT, Inc., filed against the city and Frank Gilbert. After the closed-door discussion, City Attorney Kurt Ardaman advised the city to file a counterclaim against Unbreakable IT.
• Commissioner Colin Sharman asked for an update on the plans for the Tilden Road and State Road 545 intersection. Bollhoefer said Orange County asked the city to revise plans to include a left-turn lane. City staff presented the revised plan to county officials. Bollhoefer expects approval in three to four weeks and plans to start construction in 60 days. The city will install a temporary light as soon as possible after construction starts. Bollhoefer said the city is paying to do the construction on two county roads that the city doesn’t own. The city worked with Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd on this project.
• Commissioner Olszewski asked about the proposed roundabout on Robertson Road. Bollhoefer said city staff did their final review of the plans and will forward them to Orange County staff for their review.
• The next commission meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 14, in City Hall Commission Chambers, 300 W. Plant St.