The proposed outdoor pavilion project planned for downtown Windermere continues to face mixed opinions from residents following a virtual Town Council workshop Tuesday, June 27.
At the last public input meeting in April, Town Council members consented to seeing if the West Orange Healthcare District and Windermere Rotary Inc. would be willing to agree to amend the project plans based on resident concerns.
Town Manager Robert Smith cited some of the main concerns from residents, including the incoming of more people and traffic in the town for events, the creation of more noise, the loss of the open green space, and the need for restrooms in the area.
Smith said after his meeting with the involved parties, the organizations agreed to amend the size, shape and scale of the project.
The original 45% plans showcased a 1,900-square-foot proposal, while the revised design has the same look and feel, but is more symmetrical with 1,546 square feet.
If the project does not go through, Smith said the town will have to repay to Rotary Inc. between $100,000 to $150,000 for the work that already has been done. Rotary Inc. would then pay the WOHD.
By the end of the meeting, Smith asked the Town Council for some direction regarding how staff should proceed. Options include proceeding with the approval of the 45% construction documents; proceeding with the revised and reduced square foot design; proceeding with a completely new concept; or doing nothing and returning the cost spent to date.
Frank Krens, a member of the Rotary, said he is in favor of the project but with the smaller design.
Krens said he has friends who oppose the project and some of them have shared petitions with inaccurate information.
Byron Sutton, also a member of the Rotary, shared his support for the pavilion. He said he and the other Rotary members reached out to the community and more than 300 people have signed a petition in support of the project.
“We believe that it is something the town could use,” he said. “It’s not our intent to force anything upon the town, but we’ve attended all the sessions. We’ve listened to your input; we’ve changed from our original design. … We believe that we’ve attempted to comply with the needs and requests of the community. We’ve had very little negative (feedback) about it from people that we’ve met with, and the overwhelming majority of the people that we’ve met — residents of the town of Windermere — want to see us build this project.”
Norma Sutton believes the WOHD has done everything it could as far as providing resources to make sure the residents of West Orange County are exposed to Healthy West Orange.
“I just want to be sure that you don’t lose sight of the opportunity to expose all of our residents to Healthy West Orange and to its multi-functionality and to be able to be a participant in this big, major goal,” she said.
John Louis Witherington believes the project is beneficial for property values and thinks the project is a “no-brainer and should go through with no snags at all.”
However, Valentin Mellstrom said most of the people he knows are not in support of the project.
“It’s not something they were even aware of, and they’re not very much involved in the Town Hall meetings,” he said. “It can easily get very cliquish, and we live inside of these social feeds where we think this is what everyone wants just because that’s what the people in our clubs want.”
Sue Ellen Doty has collected 183 signatures of residents who oppose the project.
Susan Carter, chairman of the Windermere Tree Board, also is opposed to the project.
“It was an unintentional consequence when we took down the gray building and ended up with all this green space that has become more community space; it’s opened it up,” she said. “A building is always more than a building. It’s concrete, sidewalks, it’s less space to plant trees, so we don’t have an impact on these sidewalks. There’s going to be less canopy with a structure. … Also, as far as Tree Board goes, even though it was not a unanimous decision, we did vote that we were opposed to the structure — and any structure actually.”
CT Allen believes there are good intentions on both sides. Her concern is the project could negatively affect town events. Allen helps to run two of the town’s biggest events: Music Among the Lakes and Windermere Wine & Dine.
“It really does hinder the green space to be able to be creative with event planning,” she said. “If you replace the community room with another building, you really are cutting off a third of the space that can be utilized. …Don’t keep going down a road that we’re going to stare at something that everybody’s going to be disappointed with because it’s only going to be used five days out of the year. The major events in town have all said this hinders our event planning; it can’t be used for the four major events right now.”
Council Member Tom Stroup said since the public has become aware of the pavilion, almost everyone has been against it.
“I don’t take anything away from the Rotary,” he said. “They have done a lot, and I think their intention was genuine. I just don’t believe it’s what the residents want. … It’s not the footprint of the building (but rather) the impact of the building.”
Council Member Tony Davit was interested originally in the concept — even though he thought the project was too large. However, he does not believe the smaller design is very different.
“We have more work to do,” he said. “If the grant timeline is driving us into a bad decision, I think we just need to halt that decision and kind of take a step back a little bit and evaluate this.”
Davit also said if the associated parties pursued design above the 45% plans, he does not think the town should be liable for the additional costs.
Council Member Molly Rose agreed with Davit in terms of the money owed and believes the project has emphasized why communication with residents is so important.
“We’ve learned that early on in a project when something comes up, the town really needs to put it out to the public,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a slight against Rotary or Healthy West Orange. We just didn’t really look at it and understand what was coming.”
All council members consented to do nothing with the project and return the cost spent to date.
Mayor Jim O’Brien said he hates to give back money and believes the town will need to take a closer look at events, and the size of events, in the future.
“I wrestle with this,” he said. “I really feel like we’re taking out some displeasure on events on a pavilion. But … certainly I do hear all the feedback and respect all of that feedback. I wish we could go to take a different look at it and a better look at it, but I think it’s pretty clear that council doesn’t feel that way. … I understand that, and I think that we will probably … maybe regret (this decision). … You’re basically telling a funding source that we’re not a viable place for them.”
The Town Council officially will vote on the item at the Tuesday, July 11, meeting.