Although last week’s meeting regarding a proposal to build 110 homes across from Windermere High School was supposed to provide more information about the development, some residents left with unanswered questions and even more trepidation.
Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson hosted the community meeting Wednesday, Feb. 23, at Windermere High School, about the Selnik planned development and land use plan proposal.
The developer, VHB Inc., wants to rezone 33.7 gross acres to construct 17 single-family detached homes and 93 townhomes at 5504 Winter Garden-Vineland Road.
“We listened to comments and concerns raised at the first community meeting and believe the new plan we presented shows the owner’s commitment to work with the neighbors and Commissioner (Nicole) Wilson,” a statement from the property owner read. “Our application meets the minimum density of the Townhome District in the Horizon West Special Area Plan and only proposes townhomes and single-family detached residential uses. The development team is committed to continue to work with Commissioner Wilson and with the surrounding neighbors as we continue through the review process.”
Although the developer has made changes, reidents feel it is not enough.
Kate Consalvo, who lives in Lake Cawood Estates near the property, said her and other neighbors’ primary concern is traffic. Consalvo said there are a large number of kids who walk or bike to school and there have been multiple accidents in the area.
“It’s very frustrating after this meeting to learn that in no way, shape or form does traffic impact what is being built there,” she said. “It’s a huge public safety concern.”
Heather Seward, who has lived in Lake Cawood for nine years, said she has seen a young man on a motorcycle get hit and killed, as well as her son’s best friend, who was traveling on a moped, get hit by a car. She said she has witnessed lights being run on multiple occasions.
“We really need to start focusing on the safety of the area and the students,” Seward said. “We really cannot add more cars or people to this area.”
Some residents expressed interest in restricting the proposed connection into Summerport to bicycles and pedestrians. Residents also inquired about traffic-calming design features such as speed tables, landscapes or roundabouts for the connector.
Applicant representatives said a traffic study could take place but were not sure when that would be.
Residents expressed concerns the study would take place during summer or not in the busy hours of school arrival and dismissal, which would result in inaccurate calculations.
“I felt like this meeting, we were getting a lot of cryptic information,” Consalvo said. “We weren’t getting a straight answer to our questions.
“Ultimately, they’re in the business to make money, and I get that, but we are trying to keep our community safe,” she said. “I understand there’s going to be growth and expansion but we need to make sure the kids and pedestrians are safe.”
Even if a traffic study is conducted, Wilson said the county is prohibited by state law from denying a development based on traffic. However, she said she understands traffic issues in the area are important to the community and its residents.
“Orange County hasn’t been focused on anything more than adding lanes for a long time, so we really want residents to engage in thinking about what works best for you, for your community and your family,” she said.
Wilson said the project has changed based on residents’ concerns. The applicant originally wanted to develop a high-rise apartment complex, to which residents expressed concerns since it is part of the Windermere Rural Settlement.
When Wilson originally met with the applicant to voice the residents’ concerns, she said the developer said the residents could “come kicking and screaming.”
Since then, the commissioner said the applicant has come a long way and has been more open to the residents’ concerns.
“I really feel like the community is on the precipice of something really good, so we need to get opinions from residents and we need to get them engaged,” Wilson said. “We all just want to make sure the development is something that fits and keeps everyone safe.”
Wilson also noted residents’ concerns about a large tree on the property. She said she wants to make sure the tree is identified as a Heritage Oak early, so it can be protected.
Seward said she believes the property could be used for a plethora of other uses outside of building townhomes.
“It would be great to see it left as green space, or to add a park, or fields, or something the surrounding communities could walk to,” she said. “Between the school and all the retail that has been added, we are leaving no land or parks.”
Orange County Case Planner Jason Sorensen said the property was designated as a Townhome District ever since the approval of the Village of Bridgewater Horizon West Special Planning Area Map in 1998.
However, since the County Estate zoning will not permit the use of townhomes, a PD rezoning is required to outline the specific development program and make both designations compatible.
A public hearing for the request will next be held before the Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission. A recommendation from the PZC then will be forwarded to the County Commission. Although a specific date has not yet been set, the hearings will be open to the public and will take place in the chambers of the County Administration Building, located at 201 S. Rosalind Ave.
Those who wish to voice their concerns or learn more information may also submit public concern comments by mail or email to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings or the district commissioners.