In a rare move at its April 27 meeting, the Oakland Town Commission rescinded a motion to deny and replaced it with a motion for approval to allow Family Christian School to move its education program to property off West Oakland Avenue and Machete Trail.
The school was granted a special-exception permit to move into the former Mosaic church facility. The main issue for commissioners was the ingress and egress of traffic at the busy Oakland Avenue intersection. The school would let out on Machete Trail, which then would cross the West Orange Trail just before coming to a stop at Oakland Avenue.
The school provides a curriculum for fewer than 150 students in K5 through eighth grade and currently meets at Beulah Baptist Church, in Winter Garden.
When the subject was presented to the commission April 13, commissioners said the school would need a traffic supervision plan for the mornings and afternoons.
In Town Planner Jay Marder’s April 27 presentation, he said school officials created a revised traffic circulation plan and agreed to place traffic cones at the trail and have a member of the school staff monitoring traffic at the crucial intersections.
“You have to go out and cross the trail and then immediately at Oakland Avenue,” Commissioner Mike Satterfield said. “How are you going to make that work? That’s a very, very bad place right there. And it’s right on a bend. It’s a recipe for a nightmare.”
David Wright, representing Family Christian School, said the school plans to use faculty members and parent volunteers as crossing guards and will post signs on the trail to “warn” cyclists and runners before they reach the intersection.
“I love the additional opportunities for our children here in Oakland,” Mayor Kathy Stark said. “I don’t think there’s anyone sitting at this table who doesn’t want the school. … I’m just worried about that portion of the road.”
Commissioners expressed the same concerns.
Jennifer Hunt, director of the Oakland Nature Preserve, had expressed concern about how the higher volume of traffic on Machete could affect the gopher tortoises in the area.
When Police Chief John Peek was asked about the possibility of a police officer being posted there, he said he doesn’t have the manpower. This would require someone to be there twice each day, and he said the daily cost to the school would be about $260.
The first motion and second were to not approve the school, but before a vote was held, several members of the audience spoke on the school’s behalf.
One resident’s granddaughters graduated from FCS and said the school would be a huge asset to the community. Another said the school is like family to them.
Flor Putigna, whose children attended FCS, said he wants to see encouraging and positive growth in Oakland and this school falls in that category.
“There is a need for opportunities for education in Oakland,” he said.
The mayor and commissioners said it was a difficult decision and they did not want to turn down the school.
After a discussion on the safety issues, Commissioner Mike Satterfield said, “I’m going to do something I haven’t done in my 25 years on the commission, and that’s to withdraw the motion.”
A new motion was made to approve the special exception for the school on the condition its safety protocols are evaluated every six months. The vote for approval was unanimous.
REDUNDANT WELL UPDATE
Public Works Director Mike Parker updated the commission on the status of the water treatment plant redundant well.
Oakland currently operates two drinking water wells — one at Speer Park that produces about 1,000 gallons of water per minute, and one in VanderLey Park that produces about 1,550.
“While that seems like a huge amount of water, on irrigation nights we sometimes have about 2,000 gallons going out a minute, so there’s a big demand,” Parker said. “Lucky for us, the irrigation demand is only for a few hours, so it gives us a chance to catch up.”
State statues require a backup well for the largest system, so the town is making plans to construct one. Oakland purchased property adjacent to the water-treatment plant on East Gulley Avenue in 2019.
Engineers are working on the preliminary design now; the new well will have the capacity to produce 1,800 gallons per minute. It is estimated to cost $950,000 and has been funded through impact fees to get it started.
“We’ve got a very, very reliable water system, and I hope that people can see that the intention of this is to keep our system reliable and meeting expectations,” Town Manager Steve Koontz said.
TENNIS COURT GETTING PLANTS
After soliciting input from a cross section of residents around town, elected officials have decided to keep the new fencing around the tennis court in Speer Park. Several residents who live around Speer Park complained about the height of the fence and said it blocks their view of the park. The cost to replace it with a lower fence was estimated at $5,000 to $10,000 — money the commission felt could be better used elsewhere in the park or to enhance another town park.
A landscape architect has suggested some plants to soften the look of the fences around the tennis and pickleball courts, and Parker suggested a list of Florida native plants.
The next phase of the park renovation is to build a new playground.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
• The commission met for a work session to discuss the town’s solid waste franchise agreement and then voted at the regular meeting to continue the contract.
The town entered the seven-year agreement in 2015 with Advanced Disposal Services — which has since been acquired by Waste Management — and it terminates in 2022 but has a three-year renewal option.
Oakland put together a Solid Waste Advisory Group, which met four times to discuss issues such as service level, the contract acquisition, and the pros and cons of extending the current contract. The advisory group concluded the current level of service is adequate and show be continued.