The proposed outdoor pavilion project planned for downtown Windermere continues to face opposition from residents following a virtual Town Council workshop Tuesday, April 25.
The project, approved in July 2020, is a partnership between the West Orange Healthcare District and Windermere Rotary Inc. 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.
A grant agreement between the WOHD and Rotary Inc. went into effect 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.
At a virtual public input workshop in January, more than 80 town residents voiced their concerns and suggestions ran the gamut. Some even suggested eliminating the project altogether.
Resident Theresa Schretzmann-Myers opposes the pavilion.
“The most valuable and last remaining open green space, historic longleaf pine and oak tree canopy in the northwest green quadrant of Town Square Park must be kept and preserved for the use of town residents, parks and recreation committee, tree board, Windermere Wine & Dine,” she said. “All we need are public restrooms. …There are more pressing needs such as restoration of Town Hall and its roof; Town Hall back porch, which is rotting; and other items that we haven’t taken care of; infrastructure we still don’t take care of. Taking the tree canopy would be a great loss for the town of Windermere. … None of the committees (wants) this. … We don’t need a permanent pavilion that looks nothing like the historic character of Windermere.”
Resident Angela Withers thinks the town should keep Healthy West Orange in the conversation but restart the project with a full site analysis.
“I’m not opposed to an appropriately sized and appropriately located pavilion,” she said. “I see great benefits in it … and the restrooms appropriately sized and located so as not to have a negative impact on much of our tree canopy and look at how we replace our tree canopy. But all of that requires a really good full site analysis.”
Resident Brandi Haines always has been against the design of the pavilion but thinks restrooms are needed.
“We need to go back to square one, and we need to find out what the town really wants, because there’s been a lot of pushback on this,” she said. “Most people don’t really want the pavilion at all, and the ones (who) do want it definitely want it a lot smaller.”
Resident Rennee Cingolani said she and two other residents on Forest Street went from door-to-door speaking to people, none of the people she talked to supported the pavilion as proposed.
Town Manager Robert Smith presented four options for the Town Council to consider.
Smith said based on the invoices and representation made by the Rotary Inc. contractors, the $97,000 is what is currently invoiced and the balance is outstanding for services rendered.
The options include keeping the project as approved in the past; considering a compromise in terms of the design and layout of the pavilion; paying back the grant and leaving the space open; and paying the money back and constructing restrooms.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time and due diligence trying to listen to all the residents and trying to figure out an opportunity and a way to move forward with you guys,” Town Consultant John Fitzgibbon said.
Mayor Jim O’Brien said the town tries to take in as many different viewpoints and input as possible.
“One of the challenges the council has in front of them is that they have to big picture this in terms of not only what is good today but what’s good five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now,” he said.
Council Member Tom Stroup inquired on how much the pavilion could be reduced while still utilizing the grant.
Smith said although there is no requirement in square footage for the pavilion, there are other contingencies listed in the grant that the town is required to follow.
Town Attorney Heather Ramos reviewed the grant requirements, which include items such as a covered stage furnished with a retractable projection screen with lighting and sound equipment; men’s and women’s restrooms; a concession stand with an equipped kitchen in downtown Windermere where the existing community building stands; demolition of the community building; and the repaving and refurbishing of basketball courts, if necessary.
Council Member Molly Rose said she also has heard the majority of residents do not want the pavilion and worries about the maintenance restrooms would require.
“I don’t see, I don’t hear that any of our existing town events will use it significantly,” she said. “My issue with the town has always been in bringing in outside traffic, and therefore I see that this would eventually do that. …I’m not sure we need public restrooms. There’s none in any of the other parks. I was told there’s no code requirement for it. … If we put restrooms in, that means we have to maintain them and we have to secure them.”
Council Member Tony Davit thinks the involved parties could find a happy medium that benefits everyone.
“We have an opportunity here to work with them (Healthy West Orange) to kind of shape this into a fashion that better fits the downtown Windermere footprint, provides Healthy West Orange what they desire as far as event space for the type of events that they want to host, and allows the town to get some of the amenities that we desire as well,” he said. “We need to open the communications up.”
Smith said after the public-input meeting in January, all work was stopped on the pavilion, so staff was looking for guidance on how to proceed.
Town Council members agreed unanimously to have the town proceed, making sure the town has all the involved members at the table with an open mind to see if the plans can be amended. If not, the plans will be stopped to avoid additional costs.
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