WINDERMERE – During the March 13 council meeting, Windermere leaders and town staff authorized the purchase agreement for 5.592 acres of railroad right-of-way extending from 12th Avenue to Windermere Road.
The approved purchase, which cost the town $250,000, took years to accomplish due to negotiation setbacks, decision reversals and other delays.
However, with the finalized contract completed, the town may now move on. Town staff aims to draft plans on how to best make use of the land and initiate community meetings to receive resident feedback.
‘MINI WEST ORANGE TRAIL’
According to Smith, the town’s new ownership of the 5.5 acres provides several options.
"What's funny is, when everybody drives through town and they see the area between Main street and old dirt Main, they believed we have that piece of property – when we don't,” Smith explained. “But this corrects that, so the town will be able to use it for a myriad of things.”
Early discussions of the property include plans for stormwater retention and a trail system the town excepts will also increase the town’s property values.
“We can use it for stormwater retention, meaning we could actually curb up Main Street and enhance the look of the roadway itself and improve the roadway's drainage system,” Smith said. “We could create a multi-use path on the roadway connecting everybody from South Main (Street) and 12th (Avenue) all the way up to Windermere Road. So they could walk, take their bikes, or their golf carts to the town square, police department, town admin, the Windermere Elementary School and the parks. And we have future plans to extend a multi-modal path all the way down Sixth Avenue to the Grove area. So it would be like a mini version of the West Orange Trail. With some pedestrian lighting in there, we can really make it look great. And I think a lot of people would use it."
When the railroad right-of-way was first vacated years ago, it was offered up for purchase by the landowners to the town, said Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith.
Council members at the time declined to purchase the right-of-way, and the owners then offered it the property owners adjacent to the right-of-way, Smith added. Some property owners agreed to purchase, but when others said no, the land was put up for sale, with the majority of it being purchased by two trusts: Lynn DP land Trust and Ward Trust.
Members of the current Windermere Town Council believed the actions of the previous council should have purchased the land and asked Smith to begin negotiations.
"Once I came onboard in 2011, one of the goals of the council at the time was to acquire the railroad right-of-way, Smith said. “They pretty much wanted to correct the sins of the past by purchasing it, so I started negotiations a while ago with Ken and Susan Ward on purchasing the property and through those discussions, we would sometimes make progress and then we wouldn't make progress, and then we had some tax issues, arguments over appraisals ... and then it pretty much just came to a stalemate.
“Then, probably a month after that stalemate, Susan and Ken passed away in a fire. So after that, I reached out to their sons who also knew what our intentions were for the railroad right-of-way. They were OK with our appraisal and we got the contract together and were able to get an agreement."
In honor of the Ward family, the town plans to name any future trail system or linear park constructed on the property after the Wards.
IN OTHER NEWS
- The town authorized approval of a traffic study by Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. The $39,852 study is intended to enhance understanding of the town’s traffic patterns and reduce cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. Once conducted, Kimley-Horn will prepare a report with the collected data and make recommendations from its analysis.
- Windermere residents Andy Willams and Chris Sapp were officially sworn in as council members, and former Councilman John Armstrong and former interim Councilwoman Molly Rose were presented with awards for their service.
- Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn was sworn into his eighth consecutive term as mayor.