The Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the final site plan for a heavily discussed development across from Windermere High School at its Tuesday, Aug. 30, meeting.
Orange County Government’s Joseph Kunkel reviewed the Selnik Planned Development proposal with the commission, stating the applicant, Erika Hughes, VHB Inc., requested to rezone 33.7 gross acres to construct 17 single-family detached homes and 93 townhomes at 5504 Winter Garden-Vineland Road.
The property is located on the west side of Winter Garden-Vineland Road, about 1,300 feet north of the Ficquette Road and Winter Garden-Vineland Road intersection.
The property is designated a Townhome District on the Horizon West Land Use Map within the Village of Bridgewater. The site is currently zoned Residential Country Estate and has requested to rezone PD, consistent with the Horizon West regulations.
Hughes thanked District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson for requesting and hosting several community meetings with the applicant and neighbors, and staff for their hard work, and said the development has been “a long time coming.”
The most recent official community meeting, which we told you about here, hosted at the end of February, left some residents with unanswered questions and even more trepidation, the biggest concern being traffic.
At the time of the last community meeting, Wilson said the project had changed based on residents’ concerns. The applicant originally wanted to develop a high-rise apartment complex, to which residents expressed disdain since it is part of the Windermere Rural Settlement.
Keith Stephenson, who has served as the lead negotiator for a group of diverse residents representing Summerport, Eden Isle and Southern Acres, said following a year of negotiations, the community believes Selnik will “build a high-quality development that surpasses our definition of success.”
“They made that promise, and the final site plan approved by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners last week provides the foundation to deliver on that promise,” he said.
Stephenson said he believes the Selnik parcel, complete with lakefront views, free-range cows and a 100-year-old heritage oak tree, is the last parcel of improvable land of its kind in the area.
“More importantly, it is beloved by our community because of its bucolic landscape,” the longtime Summerport resident said. “In a perfect world, we would prefer the land remain untouched — that the county acquire and preserve it in perpetuity. But the reality is it is private property that has always been zoned for residential use. Additionally, the land owner and the developer have the right to make a profit. That’s the way the system works. Irrespective of the development company, and their proposed project, our definition of success remains the same. We will only support a development that conforms to the Horizon West Master Plan and enhances the look, feel and character of adjacent communities. To do that successfully, the developer must be willing to partner with the community.”
Another resident, Cynthia Dailey, said she wishes the entrance to the development would not be tied to the Windermere High main exit and entrance.
“While the road connection from this new residential area to existing Summerport roads is in alignment with the connected concept of Horizon West and Orange County’s new approach, positioning the entrance there is going to encourage more cars to take that street from the high school to travel through Summerport to get to and from the Tiny Road area,” she said. “Hopefully, not too many to upset the residents along that path. Shifting the entrance would have dispersed cars needing to travel to the other side of Horizon West onto S.R. 535 to choose one of four paths versus providing a straight shot through via that light.”
However, Dailey said she was encouraged by the fact the developers are saving the live oak tree and, after receiving extensive opposition from local residents, the developer has continued to revise the plans to minimize impacts.
“I would agree with both the applicant and the resident that this has been a long journey, and thank you for listening to the residents,” Wilson said. “You know, looking through the conditions of approval, it’s not every day that you get to see a condition of approval that includes ‘preservation of the large oak tree in the center of the property provided with an arborist report.’ … That is literally written into this, so the things that were really of concern, we still have concerns about the traffic in the area and clearly we’re going to need to continue to work together.”
Wilson referenced a crash in August where a student was struck by a vehicle on the way home from school.
Hannah Gutner, policy aide to Wilson, said the commissioner is concerned about people speeding through the area and the Preliminary Subdivision Plan, initially submitted Aug. 11 and resubmitted Aug. 26, did not show much traffic calming.
Gutner said the commissioner’s office is working with staff to bring the issue to a community meeting, likely in October or November.