By Marc Crail
Mount Dora City Council Member, District 4
I'm happy to give you this update on the May 2 Mount Dora City Council Meeting. I am just one of seven city council members and not its spokesman. I try to be unbiased in my reports, but what you're receiving is strictly from my perspective.
Our June 6 Mount Dora City Council meeting lasted about 4 hours and included a number of resolutions and reports but the topic of the sidewalk renovations in front of Gianni's Italian restaurant at 425 Alexander St. drew the most discussion. Long story made shorter, in the fall of 2016 the owner of Gianni's got City permission to install 2 ground level wooden platforms in front of his cafe. One platform was between the building and the sidewalk and the other was between the sidewalk and the street. When the platforms were installed they were elevated and city staff determined that they posed a public safety issue and potential liability to the City. Apparently because the decks were completed in October (the beginning of the busy tourist season) city officials decided that rather than removing the platforms immediately and interrupting business during peak season they would work with Mr. Gianni and the building owner (Main Street Leasing) on an alternative which would be constructed in the spring of 2017.
Mount Dora has at least 4 significant downtown sidewalks areas which are not in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements which the city is mandated to bring into compliance. ADA governs things like maximum 5% slope, 2% cross slope and minimum 44 inch sidewalk width. Our hilly terrain makes our city unique and beautiful but those hills are problematic in meeting ADA laws. The area in front of Gianni's is on that list.
City Manager Robin Hayes and Public Works Director John Peters presented their solution which will move the sidewalk in front of the cafe farther away form the building next to the curb and Alexander St. A palm tree and a utility cabinet will be removed to allow for clear passage for pedestrians. The new sidewalk will be 48 inches wide (slightly wider than the required 44 inches). They acknowledge that this solution is the best of several bad options. They said the City is not paying for the cost of these "improvements" except for about $1,000 for concrete for the new sidewalk. Several citizens and several City Council members voiced their concerns which included setting a bad precedent, favoritism to Main Street Leasing, not getting proper permits for the project and failure to get the approval of the Historic Preservation Board.
As I listened and read the documentation that we were provided at the start of the meeting I felt that we were dealing more with a process problem than a product problem. To me, a lack of discussion and prior notification of what was coming was the major cause of the situation we found ourselves in. My hope is that in the future the public and city council will be better informed especially on difficult decisions. I felt surprised and embarrassed that a project of this magnitude was proceeding without adequate public discussion and input. I trust that when presented with the facts and the available options together we can find the best way forward.
Action items on our agenda included:
We approved a preliminary plat for 14 new homes located on the former fire station and well field site at Lakes of Mount Dora.
We gratefully accepted a donation of about $40,000 from The Friends of the C.T. Bland Library for completion of the Nunan Butterfly garden. Many thanks to landscape architect Stuart Hall for volunteering his skills to create a beautiful plan for the garden. We also discussed the imperative need for proper maintenance of the garden. Volunteers will be welcome to help out!
We approved a contract to maintain the cooling and insulating oil circulating system in our 3 large electric transformers. This is an environmental safety issue.
During the discussion portion of the meeting I asked about the status of the Epic Theatre project. You can be assured that that job is not being held up by the City. In fact the approved plans have been sitting on a desk in the Planning Department for close to 2 months now waiting to be picked up by the developer. The developer is under no obligation to move ahead any faster than he/she chooses to but I have heard unfounded rummers that somehow the City is holding things up and nothing could be farther from the truth.
June 6 marks the anniversary of the Normandy invasion during World War II. Tens of thousands of American heroes including my dad risked and sometimes lost their lives that day on the beaches of France. President Harry Truman once wrote; "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices." Words to remember and thanks to all who have served our country.
District 4 Mount Dora City Council Rep.
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