A variance request that would allow for the expansion of an assisted-living facility operating within one Horizon West neighborhood has been withdrawn.
According to county records, Windermere Assisted Living — which operates out of a 2,460-square-foot home in the Lakes of Windermere community — applied earlier this year for the variance in hopes of expanding the facility, which is licensed to serve five senior residents.
In owner Tesfa Bahta’s variance application, he proposed extending the assisted-living service — currently operating at 7050 Bramlea Lane — to include the home directly behind it. Orange County property records show Bahta purchased the abutting home — located at 7047 Nobleton Drive — in April 2019.
The requested variance was to allow a separation distance of 43 feet between two community residential homes with six or fewer residents in lieu of the state-required 1,000 feet.
However, the request did not go over well with Lakes of Windermere residents and its homeowners association. Orange County Case Planner Dave Nearing said he received many emails and other correspondence from neighbors asserting their opposition to the request.
“(The applicant) was encountering significant opposition from the neighbors,” Nearing said. “I believe the HOA had also expressed some concern. (The applicant) realized that they were basically in an uphill battle and rather than go forward … they decided instead to see if they could come to some kind of agreement with the neighbors and the HOA.”
Nearing said the county has a community residential center designation, defined in the code as having between seven and 14 residents. There’s a similar designation, he said, for those with six or fewer residents. Those are permitted in every residential zoning district, but the state requires they be separated from another similar use by 1,000 feet.
“However, the very last line of the statute says local governments may reduce the distance, which gives us the option of pursuing a variance,” Nearing said. “(The applicant) bought a house right behind it on the opposite corner. The only thing separating them is a little bit of lawn and a 20-foot-wide alley, which is actually an easement. … Initially what they wanted to do is extend the license from the existing one to the new one.
“We determined that that basically was an attempt to circumvent the code, because our code says you cannot have a seven-to-14-resident home in that particular zoning district,” he said. “We told them that, and then they amended their application, and it was just a straight variance to get a separate license for that unit.”
Bahta and the Lakes of Windermere HOA also have a mediated agreement from September 2016, when Bahta first began the process of opening his facility in the community.
“The homeowners association … has certain covenants and restrictions within the Association’s documents that would otherwise prohibit opening an assisted-living facility within the residential community,” said Erik Whynot, the attorney representing the HOA. “However, the association provided the owner with notice of the violation and provided him with an opportunity to attend pre-suit mediation to discuss the issue.”
In that agreement, the HOA gave Bahta a one-time variance to the HOA covenants to allow him to open an assisted-living facility within his residence under certain conditions. One of the terms of the mediated agreement, Whynot said, was that Bahta “agrees to not own, operate or be affiliated with another ALF facility within the Lakes of Windermere Community Association.”
“The owner subsequently purchased a home that neighbors the current assisted-living facility and recently applied to the county for a zoning variance to allow him to convert the new home to an assisted-living facility,” Whynot said. “This, along with a few other occurrences, are believed to be violations of the mediated agreement.”
Bahta said he withdrew his variance request largely due to the pushback from the HOA and neighbors.
“We have an assisted-living facility, and we’re just trying to expand it due to high demand,” Bahta said. “We don’t want to upset them. We maintain the house, our house very well. … A frail senior man or woman living in the neighborhood is not going to hurt anybody. It’s very quiet. That’s the service that we are offering, and I guess they don’t want it.
“The residents we serve are very happy,” Bahta said. “Somebody has to advocate for the seniors. It’s an equal-opportunity housing for them, and if somebody is doing a good thing, we don’t have to stop it.”
Nearing said there currently is no further application to consider, although Bahta could come back at a later date with a new request.