A passionate discussion from residents and the applicant spurred the Winter Garden City Commission to unanimously approve moving the annexation and development conversation pertaining to a property next to Crown Pointe Equestrian to April.
The applicant is requesting to annex the 30.24-acre parcel located on Tilden Road into the city, as well as amend the future land use and rezone the property to Planned Unit Development. The approval would mean the development of a neighborhood with 24 homes.
The discussion was first tabled at the Oct. 13, 2022, City Commission meeting, and since then, new conditions of approval were added. These include the installation of a 6-foot opaque privacy fence for lots adjacent to the project’s western boundary, as well as the declaration of restrictive covenants to be recorded with the final plat must contain a disclosure to all lot owners and potential buyers that there are active agricultural uses in the area.
Several new conditions were also added after the item was tabled at the Feb. 9 City Commission meeting to address additional concerns raised by area property owners. These conditions include an 8-foot privacy fence added to the western side of the property abutting common area tracts and the three residential properties, the removal of the tot lot and the walking trail, and security fencing on the eastern property line.
City staff unanimously recommended approval of the series of three ordinances.
“Contrary to some negative comments that we have heard, the city has absolutely no desire to see the horse farm shut down their operations because of this development,” Planning Director Kelly Carson said. “Very much the opposite. The proposed development has a very low residential density, significant buffering along the property line with very few adjacent residential lots. Any potential impacts would be minor. The property is within the city’s JPA annexation boundaries, and we see no value basis on which to deny this request.”
Tara Tedrow, with Lowndes Law, made a presentation and spoke on behalf of the applicant.
Tedrow said the proposed PUD features a density of 1.83 dwelling units per net developable acres, 0.79 gross density, which is less than half of the maximum density of four dwelling units per acre permitted within the suburban residential future land use designation.
“Property located within the JPA, even under your comprehensive plan, requires that the city annex JPA properties,” Tedrow stated. “So, when it comes to annexation, the question is pretty cut and dry. Your comprehensive plan says JPA properties must be annexed into the city for services. We are a JPA property, we are already within a JPA under an eighth amendment from two years ago; there is no option for this property but to annex into the city. In addition, we have to have the future land use and the zoning we presented tonight.”
Tedrow also mentioned the proposed minimum under PUD standards of 85-foot lots, as opposed to the surrounding areas with 50- and 30-foot lots.
“We are above what all of those minimums are surrounding us, so in terms of compatibility, we are certainly far more compatible than some of the other existing developments that have been built out,” she said. “We have 4.73 acres of open space contained in that 13.13 acres of developable land, 2.63 which are required of the space, so we have greatly exceeded those open-space requirements.”
Tedrow brought up the importance of the eighth amendment of the JPA.
“In April of 2020 … this was a city of Winter Garden agenda item … and the issue and discussion was annexation of specific properties into the city,” she said. “They are within the city service area. At that time, they were outside of the JPA. The city worked with Orange County to amend the JPA to include these properties so owners can begin the process to annex.”
In addition, the applicant added additional conditions at the meeting.
“The builder shall state in their HOA documents or sales contract that we are next to the West Orange Country Club and therefore that pre-exists our development,” Tedrow said. “If anybody has a bad shot and balls come over, they knock out one of our windows, we understand; we won’t hold the country club liable for anything that happens there. Similarly, we’ve agreed that we would have screen enclosures for our pools. … In addition, we are going to put in a prohibition for trampolines in the backyards of lots 22 through 24. … We have really done everything we could short of scrapping the project entirely and just not having any property rights utilized in this case.”
Paul and Anne Bingler, owners of the horse farm, have set up a petition to fight the development and have gained more than 2,000 signatures.
As one of the few remaining horse farms in West Orange County, Crown Pointe has owned the narrow plot of land along Tilden Road for almost 25 years and has been training Olympic-level horses on the land since 1998.
The Binglers said a new development to the west, Tilden Place, forced the horse farm to move to the east side of their property, which is where the new developer now plans to build.
They said the horses need a quiet environment in which to train, and the noise and distractions of the development will affect the horses, causing the farm to have to close.
Anne Bingler spoke at the meeting and said they strongly object to the proposal.
“Anyone can say they’re going to build an 8-foot privacy fence next to a horse farm,” she said. “Does that prohibit a child from kicking a ball up against the fence and spooking a horse and having that horse run into me and launch me 20 feet through the air landing on my head which I now suffer a concussion from? That happened very recently. While everyone can sit and look at a site plan and look at a development and say, ‘Oh, that looks really pretty and that might work,’ until you live it every single day, you don’t appreciate the impact that houses have next to horses.”
Anne Bingler said she thinks approving the development would add to the constant struggles that farming has.
“That used to be a basis for our entire West Orange County,” she said. “We were a farming community. Orange groves, horse farms, that’s what we were about, and it’s all gone away. It’s all been eaten up by development. … If you want to just see the last horse farm go away, that’s what’s basically going to happen. … I look at it like what do you want Winter Garden to become? If you want it to become all houses, no green space, you want to push us out, so be it. But if you want it to be a village with some character, with some green space, with people that actually believe in the community and have been here since the late ’90s, that’s what I ask all of you to think about.”
Anne Bingler’s niece, Emily Banister, also spoke.
“You can draw up plans, you can think of different scenarios and you can think of different solutions to different problems, but until you are behind the battle lines, you do not quite understand exactly what is going to work...” she said. “I came from an Army family. I lived 13 different places my whole life, and do you know what the one constant in my life was? … It was the horse farm. I have watched it shape and evolve over the past 24 years, and it is now something that is not recognizable. … A business is suffering, the (students training) are suffering, those horses are suffering.”
City Attorney A. Kurt Ardaman weighed in on the development with his legal input.
“Based on the fact that you’ve got a JPA, joint planning area, so you’ve got an agreement from the city and the county to deal with this particular piece of property, and the adjacent property as well, you’re in solid legal ground for approving this if you see fit,” Ardaman explained.
Commissioner Mark A. Maciel said the issue is an extremely difficult decision for the commission to make.
“I love the horse farm,” he said. “I remember it when I moved here over 20 years ago and would love to see the groves and the horse farm stay. The elephant in the room is that people have property rights and we could be opening up … the city to a lawsuit. … Although our decisions are not popular sometimes, we have to make those legal decisions.”
Mayor John Rees said he understands all sides of the discussion.
“We have a lot of discussion about maintaining and protecting green space here in Winter Garden,” he said. “I have been since Day 1 … a low-density person. … They could have come back with a lot larger development and asked us for it. So, I think we need to just stop and take all that into account as we go through this.”
Commissioner Lisa Bennett said she has been strongly advocating for maintaining the charm of the city, but she does understand that property owners have private property rights and the same rights have to be given to those owners as the neighbors.
“I do have concerns about traffic overall, we all do, but I do see, too, that this small amount of homes could be a lot less of a burden than what could come if this were to get turned down,” she said. “It’s not an easy answer.”
Although the first ordinance relating to the annexation was passed 4-1, with Commissioner Colin Sharman dissenting, after a motion from Maciel, the commission later went back to rescind the motion.
Maciel inquired if the applicant wished to table the items to a later date in order to continue discussion with the adjacent property owners, as the motions for the two other ordinances could die without a second.
The applicant agreed to table all three ordinances for discussion April 13 after a motion by Sharman. The commission approved the request unanimously.