County leaders struck down two requests that would have paved the way for 60 single-family homes along Winter Garden Vineland Road.
Applicant Jennifer Stickler, of Kimley-Horn, presented the substantial-change request and preliminary subdivision plan to Orange County commissioners Tuesday, Oct. 27.
The property, known as the First Baptist Church of Windermere Planned Development, spans 51.41 gross acres at 8464 Winter Garden Vineland Road within Lakeside Village. However, only 14.7 acres would have been affected.
If both requests had been approved, the plan was to create a 14.7-acre garden-home district and convert 123,233 square feet of church with day care and recreation uses to 60 single-family homes and one transfer development right unit. Additionally, the location of the southwestern-most access point was proposed to be relocated.
“You can see that they’ve increased the lot sizes on the western portion of the subdivision — I believe those are 72-foot lots,” said Eric Raasch, of the Orange County Planning Division. “The remaining lots within the community are proposed at 50 feet, and that was an attempt to gain compatibility with the property immediately to the west, also known as the Grande Pines subdivision.”
Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments, told commissioners that the church — now known as Family Church — had originally planned 21 years ago to build a 3,000-square-foot worship center, education buildings and ball fields. However, he said, things have changed.
“They came to us and they said, ‘We had a dream that we were going to build this big worship center, but the church hasn’t grown to a level that would sustain the worship center,’” Whittall said. “They … said, ‘We want to sell off the piece of land to take care of the ongoing concern of the church.’ As you guys know, with COVID, people haven’t been going to church, they haven’t been going to many things, and it’s an opportunity for the church to gather some money. So, we came in with a residential plan that fits in with the Horizon West community that has 60 houses in it, with like lots with the neighboring subdivision. It’s a great plan, it’s very compatible.”
“I just feel the county needs to pay attention to what, in my mind, is a gem within Orange County.” — Michael Dutton
Whittall said that although his team heard along the way that the neighbors were promised a park, this was not true.
“In fact, the residents next door had to sign a waiver when they purchased their house realizing that there may be ball fields next to them with amplified light and amplified sound,” Whittall said. “They weren’t promised a park. … It was always going to be ball fields. … We’re putting residential, the most desired use of the property. We think it’s a great plan.”
Those in the neighboring subdivisions, however, did not agree. Resident Tom Valley said their community’s concerns included elimination of the buffer zone, increased density that doesn’t fit into Horizon West guidelines, increased traffic and safety issues, disruption to the local ecosystem, and lack of community need for the project. Valley added that there was a petition with more than 250 signatures in opposition to the development plans.
“This is a purely profit-driven endeavor to pack as many houses possible on a small site, inconsistent with Horizon West planning principles, and directly negatively impacting all the surrounding neighborhoods and the delicate Lake Mabel ecosystem,” resident Missy Renard said.
Michael Dutton, vice president of the Lake Mabel Shores homeowners’ association, added that these plans were in the works prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. County records show the initial application was filed in September 2019.
“I just feel the county needs to pay attention to what, in my mind, is a gem within Orange County,” Dutton said. “What we’re asking you now is to stop further development around the lake, around our properties, causing us to suffer the consequences of water draining into our land and also the displacement of the wildlife. … It is just very important to us and to our futures.”
District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey motioned to deny both requests, stating that her decision was based on finding inconsistencies with various future land-use policies. Based on these policies, VanderLey said, higher density is to be encouraged in proximity to the Village Center District; compatibility should be the fundamental consideration in all land-use and zoning decisions; and land-use changes must be compatible with the existing development in the area.
“If approved, this higher density would not be in proximity to a Village Center District,” VanderLey said. “Regardless, this density would not be compatible with surrounding single-family development in the area, including the R-CE and A-1 zoned lots to the south and southeast and the Lake Mabel Shores subdivision to the east.”