ORANGE COUNTY – The owner of Florida Seaplanes on Lake Prairie in Altamonte Springs has proposed to build a seaplane base on Lake Apopka.
But nearby homeowners who own lakefront property are not fans of the idea.
The 2.76-acre site — of which only 1.24 acres is developable land — is located on the east shore of Lake Apopka at 3812 Walker Road within unincorporated Orange County, where Johnson’s Fish Camp once thrived in the 1930s through the 1960s. The applicant proposes to build a snack bar and a building for the storage of fuel and three seaplanes.
Although the land is split between commercial and low-density residential zoning, the site is surrounded by single-family homes, which rules out it the possibility of it ever being used for commercial. Orange County’s code does not allow access to commercial properties through residential property.
The site’s residential borders are also what ultimately led both Orange County’s Development Review Committee and Planning and Zoning Commission to recommend denial of the request.
“I don’t think a seaplane base on Lake Apopka is a bad idea,” said William Gusler, Planning and Zoning Commission District 2 representative. “That might be something that would be popular and people would use it, and it would be a great thing. I just don’t think this is the area for it.”
Nearby homeowners, some of which spoke at the county’s Nov. 16 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, opposed the development for the same reason. They also cited concerns regarding increased traffic, safety, watercraft noise, wildlife disturbance and water pollution.
According to the Orange County Chief Planner Jason Sorenson, Orange County sent notices to residents within a 1-mile radius, and 105 residents replied they were in opposition to the proposal; 15 residents were in favor.
“Right now, (plane traffic) seems to be manageable … but the problem is, once you establish a seaplane base, it’s a magnet for all of the people that want to come,” said Winter Garden resident James Snyder, president of the Harbors Home Owners Association. “And they’re building a snack bar, so they’ll come flying in and out of the lake.”
Winter Garden resident Tom Walls, representing the group Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, added that his group’s chief concern is the disruption of wildlife.
“Since the opening of the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, low-flying aviation has been a nearly daily nuisance. The planes disturb the nesting and flocking birds, sending them into flight (and) causing them to burn precious calories that they need for their mating and migratory activities. We are in opposition to anything that would encourage an even greater presence of aviation in the area.”
The applicant for the request, Michael Harding, who is also a seaplane pilot and represented the family-owned business Florida Seaplanes owned by Richard Hensch, said the Hensch family is cognizant of Lake Apopka’s ongoing restoration.
“This is not going to be a location like an airport,” Harding said. “We’re just going to have one building with three planes in it because that’s what the Hensch family owns. It’s not going to be a rental site … it’s not going to be a site where people park their airplanes overnight.”
The Hensch family, he added, have operated a seaplane business in Seminole county for 35 years without complaint and would not allow the flight of seaplanes anywhere birds or people are located.
“These are seaplanes that run at very low speeds until they get out into the middle of the lake so they can take off,” Harding explained. “The noise level from a seaplane is at its maximum for a period of about 30 seconds when it’s in the middle of the lake making its takeoff run. By the time it gets to the outer shores of the lake, it’s at least 500 feet above the lake, so it’s out of earshot and out of the buffer zones.”
The proposal is expected to be reviewed by the Board of County Commissioners in January.