- December 3, 2018
WINDERMERE For a town with an estimated population of 3,113 residents as of 2013 on an isthmus of not quite three square miles, there is a lot of folks who claim to live in Windermere.
The misconception stems mainly from the mailing address of the same name, which covers surrounding areas of unincorporated Orange County. Most notable is the booming population growth in Horizon West — basically everyone north of Walt Disney World, west of Winter Garden-Vineland Road (County Road 535) and south of Winter Garden and Lake Avalon Rural Settlement — with thousands of newcomers unaware that the municipal limits of Windermere and Winter Garden actually end far east and north of their ZIP codes, which were established when West Orange County had an exponentially sparser population.
“I think at last count, there's 33,000 people with a Windermere mailing address,” Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn said. “I know staff and I have gotten a number of phone calls — you know, there's so much construction going on out in the Horizon West area — and so many of those individuals out there think they live in Windermere. They'll call us and complain about construction.”
More difficult to explain than Horizon West is the area called Lake Butler CDP — so named for the water body that anchors Windermere’s chain of lakes. That CDP surrounds Windermere, consisting of virtually all enclaves separating Windermere from Gotha, Ocoee, Winter Garden, Horizon West and Bay Hill.
The boundaries separating this area from Windermere are Chase Road south of 13th Avenue, the southern side of Conroy Windermere Road, the western tip of Park Avenue, Wonder Lane near Park Ridge Gotha Road and — ironically — the start of the northbound portion comprising the majority of Windermere Road.
Beyond traffic, this matters for any representation of local citizens, especially the ultimate representation at the polls, Bruhn said.
“During elections, people just assume that they're voting at the Town Hall, based on their driver’s license,” Bruhn said. “When they come to register, we tell them, 'Well, you're actually in a different precinct. You have to go vote there.'”
Even crime outside town borders gets misattributed to the town and the Windermere Police Department — including in local TV news, Bruhn said.
There are two similar yet distinct ideals the general public associates with Windermere, but only one applies to the actual town.
“People who stop and visit for the first time like it because it evokes a small-town feel,” Bruhn said. “The trees and the natural beauty of the lakes is what the Windermere brand is, basically.”
This includes modest homes on the town’s many dirt roads and a few subdivisions. But it does not include any of the country clubs in Lake Butler that most of the rest of Central Florida — and the world — associates with Windermere.
The power of this latter brand, which spills into all surrounding areas and municipalities, has created a misconception that only the richest of the richest live in Windermere.
Although town staff has been communicating with county staff about possible annexations, that notion remains false.
But maybe in the coming years a few hundred more of the 33,000 residents with a Windermere mailing address will be able to call themselves citizens of Windermere — and be accurate.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected]