Dozens of residents logged on to add their input to a proposed outdoor pavilion project planned for downtown Windermere.
The town, on Monday, Jan. 23, hosted a virtual public input workshop about the project, in partnership with Windermere Rotary Inc. and the West Orange Healthcare District. The plan includes a pavilion complete with a stage, concession stand and other amenities, with the goal of offering accommodations for more events in the future.
However, not all residents are thrilled; concerns ranged from noise and traffic to trees and location.
The project, approved in July 2020, is a partnership between the WOHD and Rotary Inc. A grant agreement between the WOHD and Rotary Inc. was effective as of May 5, 2021. Rotary Inc. received $1 million in grant funds from the WOHD to construct the pavilion.
Rotary Inc. received the first $200,000 in funding after the agreement was signed. It received a second payment — $400,000 — after the Town Council approved the architectural plans and the owner’s representative. The third payment — $400,000 — will be distributed within 50% completion of the project.
The grant agreement states if Rotary Inc. does not complete the pavilion, it may be considered a “material breach” of the agreement, allowing the WOHD to require repayment of some or all of the grant.
The grant also states the construction of the pavilion must begin within 18 months of the effective date, Nov. 5, 2022, and the pavilion must be completed and donated to the town within three years of the effective date, May 5, 2024.
Rotary Inc. and the town of Windermere entered into the second part of the project agreement June 22, 2021.
Town Council acknowledged Rotary Inc.’s receipt of the $1 million in grant funds and approved the construction of the pavilion with certain conditions including that ownership of the pavilion be transferred to the town, and for concession rights to Rotary Inc. only for Healthy West Orange and Rotary Inc. events.
Town Manager Robert Smith took the time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions by residents before taking public input.
One point of confusion has been the discrepancy between Windermere Rotary Inc. and the Windermere Rotary Club. The project is not part of the Windermere Rotary Club, as Windermere Rotary Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Windermere Rotary Club is a separate organization.
Smith said the funds only can be used to construct the pavilion. Once the pavilion is constructed, ownership of the entire “project” constructed with the funds — including but not limited to the pavilion, concession stand, restrooms, etc. — will be transferred to the town.
Although Rotary Inc. will have exclusive rights to the concession stand, it will be only for Rotary Inc. events and HWO events. All Rotary Inc. events and HWO events will require a special event permit to be approved and issued by the town. The town manager will require the event organizer to submit the permit, hold a public information workshop, then appear before the Town Council for consideration.
More than 80 town residents participated in this week’s workshop, and their concerns and suggestions ran the gamut. Some even suggested eliminating the project altogether.
However, Smith said eliminating the project could make the town responsible for costs — estimated between $75,000 to $150,000 — already incurred by Rotary Inc.
Although the project was approved by the Town Council, if the council wanted to revise the project, then Rotary Inc. would need to amend the grant agreement with the WOHD, and the council would need to amend the project agreement that the town has with Rotary Inc.
“It is unknown whether the WOHD will agree to amend the grant agreement, and if they do agree, whether the WOHD would require a reduction in the amount of the grant funds,” Smith said.
Other concerns included the projects size, design and location; noise; and parking and traffic.
Resident Tom Johnson said he appreciated all the work the town has put into the project.
“As a 20-year member of Rotary, we want the best for the community, and everyone on this Zoom is so caring for our town,” he said. “Hope we as Rotarians can help.”
Resident Regiane Cidral said she believes the project is organizing what is already offered today — but with a plus.
“This is a beautiful project that will bring more organization to our town,” she said. “No more rented portable restrooms, no more rented tents for the orchestra, food truck night will have better lighting and won’t need to rent it anymore, no more renting screens for the move nights, and the list goes on.”
Resident Liz Beavers said although she thinks the pavilion could be a great asset to the town, she does have concerns about the size and placement.
“I understand about septic drain field and not building on top of them but wondering if all of that could be redesigned so the pavilion could be moved back and the angles shifted so it fits the space better and leaves more green space up front rather than wasted space in the back,” she said.
Resident Theresa Schretzmann-Myers said her main concern is also the loss of green space and historic tree canopy.
“You cannot replace historic tree canopy and the shade, stormwater mitigation and carbon sequestration they do by destroying them,” she said. “We don’t need a concession stand or a stage. You can bring in risers and a tent. … The additional noise, crowds, lighting and traffic this pavilion brings … is huge.”
Windermere Tree Board Chair Susan Carter said the trees being removed are tagged, and the last time she walked the site, five trees were being removed.
“I am hoping to that we can make every effort to save as many as possible — especially the pines,” Carter said. “The footprint of the building is staked, but it is a bit unclear. The current design of the building crosses the sidewalk and will result in the removal of an oak that has been tagged with tape.”
Town Council Member-elect Tom Stroup said as a retired cop, he knows noise and traffic always have been the No. 1 complaints in any community. He said Windermere is still 95% residential.
“What we forget sometimes is that we are a neighborhood,” he said. “We have to keep remembering the reason people are worried about noise and traffic is because this is our front yards. When we build this pavilion, it’s not just affecting the downtown area. … We’re literally putting a sound stage in the middle of our neighborhood.”
Smith said the town will hold an additional public workshop to go over any amended plans if requested by the Town Council. A possible additional public input meeting may be hosted after any amendments are made.
Both the 45% and the 100% plans would need to be approved by Town Council.
If there is any major deviation from the 100% approved design, additional Town Council approval is also necessary.