- November 18, 2015
WINDERMERE Mayor Gary Bruhn reported to the Windermere Town Council at its April 12 meeting that voters did not approve a town loan of up to $4.2 million for improvements to dilapidated town facilities because they wanted specifics.
Voters against that referendum told Bruhn they sought designs, locations, exact costs and other details before authorizing any level of payment, he said. Town Manager Robert Smith and other council members said they had received similar feedback.
Thus, the council unanimously approved a request for qualifications in search of a design firm to begin the process of working with town residents through charettes to eke out specifics.
"We'd get the residents here and say ... 'What would you like to see in your town square?'" Smith said. "'What would you like to see in your town hall? Would you like to see the police department downtown?'"
At least three public charettes would be involved, as well as a stakeholder meeting and multiple workshops with the council, before any possible designs would be proposed for approval, Smith said. He agreed with Bruhn that a professional facilitator for this matter would be in order.
Councilman John Armstrong said this route to improved town facilities would need to pass if pursued, to ensure no more money would be wasted trying to make it happen. The council unanimously approved the request for qualifications.
Roger Ambuter, a resident of The Willows, reported to the council that workers in Estancia at Windermere -- formerly Windsong -- had removed trees abutting The Willows that morning. The trees were marked with ribbons indicating they were not to be touched. Ambuter also raised concerns with how workers had been treating the retention pond in the parcel and paving sidewalks and roads in the development.
Smith said representatives had not notified him of any intentions to remove such trees, so he had issued a stop order. There could be mitigation or fines based on removing trees that were irreplaceable, he said. The pond would have to be built according to what was permitted, and the sidewalks and roads would be inspected to ensure they meet standards, he said.
Windermere Tree Board chairwoman Theresa Schretzmann-Myers said these consequences resulted from not sticking to rural density of one home per acre, asking those in Orange County government to take note for a similar looming scenario at Windermere Country Club.
"We have lost almost all the tree canopy on the property, with the exception of the trees on the perimeter and those in retention areas and those along Maguire (Road)," she said. "Also, we need to beef up the tree ordinance. Originally, when I rewrote the tree ordinance, we asked for the Guide to Tree and Plant Appraisal to assess those trees for the true market value of what they were worth. That was struck out by the (Development Review Board). I would like to put that back into the ordinance."
Until trees are priced properly, this scenario would continue to occur, because developers would easily pay their way out, Schretzmann-Myers said. She also reported many palms and oaks gone, despite promises for them to be saved.
Bruhn said the council would have development officials visit at the next meeting to offer an explanation.
Ernie Myers, Windermere Charter Review Committee chairman, said the committee had completed its review after many months of intense examination.
"We determined that the charter itself was very disorganized, contained provisions that were unnecessary, redundant and superseded in many cases by the Florida statutes, so we actually took to rewriting the entire document," he said.
The committee reduced the charter from 56 pages and about 38,000 words to fewer than 9,000 words on 20 pages in its final draft, he said. A workshop on June 16 would open this to public discussion, he said.
Per the results of the March elections, Allen Pichon swore in as the new member of Windermere Town Council. He replaces Richard Gonzalez, whom town officials recognized for contributions to Windermere going well beyond his two terms on the council, Bruhn said.
Bruhn swore in for his record seventh term as mayor after running unopposed. Armstrong swore in for his third council term on a Bible that has been in his family for generations.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected]