Lake Willis-area homeowners again reject townhome proposal

Lake Willis-area residents voiced their opposition a second time to the Townhomes at Westwood planned development.

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  • | 8:45 p.m. April 5, 2018
  • Southwest Orange
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SOUTHWEST ORANGE  A development request that could add up to 80 townhomes in the Lake Willis neighborhood met strong resistance from nearby homeowners.

Lake Willis-area residents attended a community meeting Tuesday, March 27, at Sand Lake Elementary, to show their opposition to the Townhomes at Westwood planned development. 

The project began moving through Orange County’s process last year and made it as far as the Orange County Planning & Zoning Commission before it hit a snag.

The Orange County code for the Lake Willis area requires two-story, multifamily buildings to be set back at least 100 feet from single-family homes. Additionally, the future land-use designation — Activity Center Residential — comes with criteria that there must be a minimum of 12 dwelling units per acre.

“The request was for townhomes, and it went all the way to PZC,” said Orange County Case Planner Jason Sorenson. “There’s a section in the Lake Willis guidelines that says townhomes are multifamily (homes). It was at that point (last year) after PZC realized that there was also this ACR 12 dwelling-unit-per-acre minimum and the (applicant) said, ‘Wow, we drew it up, but we just cannot meet that minimum density, so we need this waiver.’”

After redrawing plans, the applicant — Stephen Allen, of Civil Corp Engineering Inc. — now is requesting to rezone the 8.88-acre property from country estate (R-CE) to PD. He is also requesting a waiver from the county code to allow the planned townhome buildings to be located within 30 feet from single-family property, rather than the current 100-foot buffer. The project needs the waiver in order to meet the 12 dwelling-unit-per-acre minimum within the ACR criteria.

The request would allow for 80 units, or 21 per acre. But Allen said he would be lucky to meet the minimum ACR requirement.

“We’re going to be lucky to get the minimum, and that’s part of what this request is,” Allen said. “The minimum is required by comprehensive land use. By asking for this waiver, we’re trying to reach that minimum. With about 3.78 developable acres … it looks like we’ll be lucky to get 45 or 48 (units).”

But residents hold steadfast to their position: They don’t want multifamily homes, much less any closer to their properties than the 100-foot buffer allows.

“We have a right right now in the Lake Willis buffering-area guideline, in that ordinance, that there’s a a 100-foot buffer before a two-story building,” Lake Willis Homeowners Association President Jerry Aldrich said. “If the county votes to change that, then we’ve relinquished our rights that we fought … to begin with. … It’s really got some big ramifications for us for something we kind of own at the moment.”

Aldrich, a Lake Willis resident for 42 years, and his neighbors said they would rather keep the R-CE zoning, which they say is consistent with the lake and its uses. Residents said they are concerned with giving that many people access to the lake and the impact more development would have on it.

However, Allen said his team has made specific changes on the land-use plan that would not allow townhome residents access to the lake — whether it be through docks or trails.

“There’s about 1,000 people a week move to the tri-county area all looking for someplace to live — that’s what’s going on and that’s what’s driving this market,” said Orange County District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey. “I had a lady at the Dr. Phillips Town Hall meeting ask me when they’re going to stop building apartments, and I said, ‘When people stop moving here.’ It’s a market-driven decision, and so developers are going to look for areas that they feel they can build some product that they can sell to all of these new neighbors that we’re all experiencing. For good or ill, we have a really hot economy right now as compared to the rest of the country, so people are moving here.”

The project went before the Development Review Committee March 28 and is now up for approval by the PZC. That decision should take place in April, and should it receive approval, it would go before the County Commission in May or June.

“We really fought to have that (100-foot) buffer,” Aldrich said. “That’s one of the biggest complaints, and then to have that many people have access to the lake, we don’t have a way to keep them off.”


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