Winter Garden Commission Candidate Q&A: Mark Maciel, District 3

Mark Maciel is one of two candidates running for Winter Garden Commission District 3.

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  • | 12:12 a.m. February 11, 2021
Courtesy Mark Maciel
Courtesy Mark Maciel
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Age: 55

Family: Married, three children  

Education: University of Rhode Island 

Related experience: Incumbent; 33-year veteran of the military as a security forces and antiterrorism officer, activated multiple times after Sept. 11; real estate professional; formerly on Winter Garden Planning & Zoning Board for eight years

Why do you want to serve as District 3 commissioner?

When I retired from the Air Force Reserves, I felt a need to continue to serve. Even though my later years in the military were in the reserves, it was an odd feeling not having that sense of service to something other than my wife and family. Serving District 3 has been an honor. Like the military, government is filled with people that simply want to serve their fellow citizens. I love being a part of that. Further, in these trying times, it’s good to part of something positive. I believe we all know that the city of Winter Garden is on the rise! It’s my goal to keep citizens first. We need to keep divisive politics out of city government and focus on services for all Winter Garden citizens. That is why we have a city manager form of government in Winter Garden. My goal is to keep the city on this promising journey while preserving our charm and quality of life. 

If you are re-elected, what do you hope to accomplish as a commissioner?

As I mentioned earlier, maintaining the current trajectory, without over-commercialization, is job No. 1. During my tenure, we have won several awards for being the best small town in the United States, and we need to protect that status. If we don’t, we will no longer maintain that small-town charm that our families are accustomed to. Growth and charm are a very delicate balance. The city has a policy to scrutinize new projects while allowing progress so our cherished downtown businesses can continue to flourish. More specifically, there are several projects I would like to see come to fruition. Tucker Ranch Eco Park will be a benchmark for open-space projects in the entire state. There are several traffic-improvement projects in the city that need to happen to ensure traffic flow as we grow. East Winter Garden is a special passion of mine. Creating opportunity for generational wealth is paramount. … It will take some time, but we are well on our way. Finally, I want to be sure I do everything possible to support our citizens and businesses during this pandemic. The last thing the city needs is a thriving downtown that goes dark. 

Why should District 3 residents vote for you?

I hope the residents of District 3 know that I’m not using this job as a political stepping stone, for the money or for the recognition. I simply want to serve. My background as a businessman, military strategist, and years on the Planning & Zoning Board give me a unique perspective in city government. I want the residents to know that my No. 1 job is to be the voice of our district.  If re-elected, I will be sure that their voices are heard and that city exists to serve them. I have been known to table construction projects in order to have more community meetings. Resident input is vital for me before I vote on a project. As a commissioner, I also work with the city manager and support our city staff. If we do that part of our job well, our city and residents benefit. We have a staff that has facilitated more national awards than any city in Central Florida.  

What are your thoughts on Winter Garden’s approach to managing or accommodating growth within the city?

Growth in all of Florida is inevitable. People who own vacant land have property rights. That being said, I have never seen a staff that is more particular about the type of development that comes into our city. As commissioner, I have fought against high-density projects that were inappropriate to their surrounding neighbors. I have also voted for stricter building standards.  I’ve had some lively discussions with developers! Please don’t misunderstand my intent: We need developers to build the projects that our citizens need. However, having quality developers build in our city has been my goal. The interesting result of these lively discussions is that the developers and the city are happier and more satisfied with the resulting projects. The revisions, redesigns and redraws of the downtown hotel (are) a good example of how the city set a high bar for a builder/developer in our city. We do this regularly, and as I mentioned, we always include residents in the discussions.

What are some potential solutions for managing traffic conditions in conjunction with the city's growth?

The city is very good at hiring the best of the best when it comes to planning and engineering.  Because the city has low taxes and is well funded, we have the opportunity to consult with the most talented traffic planning engineers in the country. Those of you who have attended our commission meeting have seen the presentations from engineers. Target areas are the Plant Street to the 429 corridor to support commercial expansion in that area. Bicycle/pedestrian travel from the south to downtown is part of our future multi-model plans. An additional parking garage downtown will be needed eventually and will be carefully considered. The Dillard Street gateway project will break ground this spring. There are numerous traffic improvements that have been discussed and placed in the city’s strategic plan. We know this is a primary concern of our citizens and we are squarely focused on these growing pains.  ’m also watching Mayor Demings’ transportation proposal very carefully. We need to keep taxes low, but if the plan truly addresses regional traffic problems and provides needed mass transit services to lower-income neighborhoods, then it is something worth considering. I will be reaching out to residents when this comes back for consideration.

What are the top challenges you believe the city of Winter Garden faces? What are some potential ways to address them?

With success comes challenges. We survey our citizens often, and the results are not surprising. I watch the surveys closely. There’s always room for improvement, but we have high grades in safety, cleanliness and recreation. As is the case with many growing cities, traffic mobility is an issue where we need improvement. Communication with citizens is also a concern. … I will always strive to communicate with residents in District 3. Job opportunities are also a concern. This is why I approve of moderate growth in our downtown. New boutique office buildings will help us grow our job base and support our downtown restaurants and retail businesses. Highway 50 is also a crucial resource for the economic foundation of Winter Garden. I fought hard for smart growth in this valuable commercial district. It is imperative that we attract and nurture global companies to make Winter Garden their home. The new Schmid Construction headquarters and Riegl’s global headquarters are two examples of how we attracted world-class businesses to call Winter Garden their home. The commercial corridor on East Plant heading to the 429 is primed for more world-class companies and job creators.  Proper use of these land resources will ensure the continued success of Winter Garden while keeping taxes low.

Affordable housing is becoming a problem particularly in District 3. This is why I championed the city’s purchase key properties in east Winter Garden. These purchases have become wonderful investments for the city. When we control these parcels, we can be very particular about the projects that get built. We will ensure that these projects meet the needs of Winter Garden residents while building generational wealth and maintaining historical characteristics — without gentrification.

If you had a magic wand, what three issues for Winter Garden would you change immediately?

There are several things that come to mind, but No. 1 would be the poverty and homelessness we see in some areas of our city. The pandemic made this crack in our society even bigger and more visible. We were on our way to some exciting improvements in east Winter Garden when the pandemic hit. After speaking to some of the pastors in the area, I immediately sounded the alarm, and the city manager and staff jumped into action. We spent countless hours arranging much-needed food deliveries to shut-ins and food-insecure families. East Winter Garden is a food desert, and without proper transportation nutrition becomes a major issue. With this poverty comes crime and violence. I hear too many stories of good families being disrupted and challenged by this environment. It’s not just a police issue. It’s about creating opportunities and building generational wealth for these vital communities. The good news is we are keenly aware of the issue and have short- and long-term solutions in action. Until we improve the lives of all residents, we cannot be the “One Winter Garden” we aspire to be.  

If re-elected, how will you ensure transparency and open communication with residents?

I’m always pleased when I hear residents comment on my communicative nature. I love getting information out. Whether it’s NextDoor, email blasts, newsletters or social media, I love telling residents about what’s happening in the city. My stakeholders newsletter to east Winter Garden residents became a conduit to distribute crucial food-delivery information. Nextdoor was very useful in communicating vital information during the start of the pandemic. I’ve recently used Nextdoor to communicate and rally residents about needed sound walls along S.R. 429. That said, there’s always room for improvement. I’d like to see a better social media presence and perhaps regular question-and-answer sessions for staff and residents. Before the pandemic, I could be seen speaking with the HOA boards about issues affecting their respective subdivisions. I would even drag along the city manager whenever possible — he’s always willing to share his insights. Further, whenever possible, I ask staff to hold community meetings regarding projects that impact a community. Residents can use these meetings to provide input and voice concerns. Last but not least, I encourage all residents to attend our commission meetings from time to time. We allow for public comment, and it benefits everyone when citizens are aware of how our city government works.  


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