The town of Windermere on Monday, Oct. 16, and Thursday, Oct. 19, hosted two virtual public information workshops to discuss the possible annexation of Chaine du Lac.
Chaine du Lac is located on 103 acres south of Lake Butler Boulevard and abuts the town limits to the west. The annexation would include not only the community’s homeowners association but also the entire area.
The current Orange County Future Land Use of the area is Rural-Country Estate-Cluster, and the community contains 74 parcels and 51 single-family dwelling units. About 115 residents live in the community.
The Windermere proper town limit is 2.2 square miles, and Chaine du Lac would add about a third of a square mile.
“I believe that this is a compact, natural progression for the town of Windermere; for us to expand a little bit, gain some more residents and gain some more tax revenues which would offset any cost that would have to possibly be impacted by the greater town,” Town Manager Robert Smith said.
Town Planner Brad Cornelius said there are two primary ways annexation can occur: voluntarily or involuntarily.
Voluntary annexation pertains to when a property owner with land adjacent to the town requests to become a part of the town. If the town agrees, the town passes an ordinance for the voluntary annexation, and the property is annexed.
Involuntary annexation is when the town identifies land next to the town limits for potential annexation and enters a process where the land is studied and a plan is developed. The town then notifies Orange County of the potential annexation and holds public hearings. Finally, the Town Council votes on an ordinance.
Cornelius said the annexation process will be involuntary and requires the approval of a referendum by the registered voters within the Chaine du Lac area proposed for annexation.
If the community were to be annexed into the town, Orange County’s Land Development Code regulations would remain in effect until the town’s comprehensive plan is amended to include the Chaine du Lac area.
Once the town’s comprehensive plan is amended, the town’s land development code regulations would take effect.
The town then would assign Planned Unit Development FLU and zoning with development standards as part of the PUD.
As far as a potential timeline, after receipt of the petition, it would take about 30 days to complete the annexation analysis, 60 days for the required public hearings for approval of the ordinance for annexation and 30 days for the referendum after it is scheduled.
If the referendum is approved, it would take about 60 to 90 days to process the required comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning to assign town designations.
Smith spoke about concerns the community may have, such as town responsibilities versus HOA responsibilities, solid waste/recycling, fire service protection and EMS, the politics of the annexation, additional benefits, and financial impacts.
As is already the case with its agreement with Orange County, the HOA would continue to be responsible for the roads, common areas, stormwater and lighting.
Once annexation is complete, the town would take over solid waste and recycling for the development.
Although the town does not have a fire department, Windermere has a continuing services contract with the Ocoee Fire Department. The Ocoee FD would continue to provide fire and Emergency Management Services.
Ocoee and Orange County also have an agreement through which Ocoee covers the calls for Orange County in the northern area where Ocoee has more stations, while Orange County covers the calls for Ocoee in the southern area.
Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden also discussed the benefits of Chaine du Lac coming under the town’s jurisdiction.
“We are a small police department, but what that means — or what I’ve learned to know that means — is that we have a level of service that is beyond what I ever could have imagined even at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Once annexed into the town, the residents of Chaine du Lac would be able to vote in the town elections. And after a year of residency, the residents also would be eligible to run in the town of Windermere’s elections.
Smith said the annexation would allow the Chaine du Lac community more access to local leaders and staff.
“You’re gaining an additional level of politics to have more of a local say in what happens locally,” he said.
Once annexed, Chaine du Lac residents also would have access to the town’s boat ramps and tennis courts, as well as be able to attend town resident-only events, obtain discounts on Town Hall rentals, be part of the town’s committees, and benefit from the town’s disaster recovery.
“When you decide to serve as an elected official in our town, in our community, we serve the entire town and the entire community,” Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien said. “And whether you live in an HOA or whether you don’t live in an HOA, we’re charged with making sure we do what benefits the community to the fullest degree no matter what. When we’ve had several individuals from HOA communities on the council, they serve the exact same way. Together, we’re better.”
With the millage rate, solid waste, fire rescue and stormwater assessment, Chaine du Lac residents would see a cost difference of an additional $375 per year.
Smith said this does not include the first fiscal year because there is a lag time between when annexed in and when residents would pay taxes to the town. However, if the Town Council reduces the cost of the fire assessment for the next fiscal year, which is what’s being considered, the cost difference would range between $150 to $275 per year.
He said the town would not have to add another staff person for the annexation and the town would receive the added benefit of tax revenues of about $400,000 each fiscal year.
The Town Council was scheduled to host another workshop Tuesday, Oct. 24, after press time, followed by another discussion at a Town Council meeting in November. An election date would be set shortly after.