Church proposal irks Lake Avalon Rural Settlement residents

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hopes to build a new facility on Davenport Road.

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  • | 1:09 p.m. May 29, 2019
This is what the west elevation of the church would look like, according to renderings presented at the meeting.
This is what the west elevation of the church would look like, according to renderings presented at the meeting.
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Dozens of residents living in the Lake Avalon Rural Settlement voiced opposition to a proposed project on Davenport Road during a community meeting Thursday, May 23.

The project, a new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints location, would be located at 17000 Davenport Road in Winter Garden, at the southwest corner of Davenport and Avalon roads.

The church seeks to build a 16,000-square-foot religious-use facility on an 18.24-acre parcel. The church’s requests presented at the meeting were twofold: obtain a special exception to allow a religious-use facility and obtain a variance to allow a 66.33-foot spire.

In a packed media center at Whispering Oak Elementary, Russell Ottenberg — a civil engineer/planner representing the church — said the building would have a maximum seating capacity of 576, but normal seating would fit about 212. 

“We have placed the building up as close to Avalon Road as possible,” Ottenberg said. “We have parking to the side and around the back and a dry stormwater facility that will be on the south side. We’ve done some preliminary engineering on this … because of some of the outfall issues and treatment issues we’ve decided to retain the water onsite rather than discharge it so it’s not discharging into any of the lakes or anything like that, so that’s more of a benefit to the surrounding area.” 

The main entrance would be located off Avalon Road, with a secondary entrance off Davenport Road. The building would be about 27 feet tall, but the church is asking for a height variance to allow for the steeple. The maximum building height allowed within the zoning district is 35 feet.

“We’re proposing to go higher than (35 feet) with the steeple,” Ottenberg said. “It’s a spike — it’s got very little mass, and it’s not like we’re going up with a multi-story building in this area.” 

Architect Alberto Portela assured residents the church is taking the local construction and vernacular into consideration throughout the designing process. He added that although many LDS churches have all-brick buildings, they felt the style wasn’t conducive to the surrounding area.

“We’ve tried to tie in a lot of the vernacular in terms of the local architecture,” Portela said. “We’re looking at the possibility of using stone on the bottom, we’re looking at using stucco. The thought process was to tie with the neighborhood in terms of materials used for the building. We took into consideration the local vernacular we have in this area.”

But residents still brought many concerns. Although they had no issue with the land being used for religious purposes, they feared setting a precedent with further non-residential construction in a rural settlement.

Some accused the county of not taking the residents’ right to have peaceful habitation into account, saying the idea of development before infrastructure is “ludicrous.” They mentioned the additional traffic that surrounding roads would have to handle should the project and requests be approved, asking also when Avalon and Marsh roads were going to be widened. 

Ottenberg said they had consulted with traffic engineers who ran the numbers and had no concerns for this project, to which residents laughed. Orange County District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey told residents there are about 1,000 people a week moving to the Orange County area.

“If we built roads 24/7, we could not keep ahead of 1,000 people a week moving here,” VanderLey said. “That’s a statistic you all need to understand right out of the gate. … People don’t call us ahead five years and make a reservation to move to Horizon West or wherever they’re going to move so that we know predictably how to build the roads ahead of time. When they get here, it triggers us starting to plan for the road improvements. The problem is it takes about six months to build a house and six years to build a road.”

Residents also asked why the church chose this particular piece of land and what days and times the services would take place. Ottenberg said the church didn’t yet have specifics on service times, but it chose this location after six months of property search throughout the Horizon West and Avalon areas.

The church’s request for the special exception and height variance will go to the Board of Zoning Adjustment June 6 and then to the Board of County Commissioners July 2.


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