Coming off the heels of 2017’s catastrophic Atlantic hurricane season, with 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes, emergency officials are again reminding residents to be vigilant this year.
Experts predict the upcoming hurricane season that begins June 1 could be near average, however Floridians should continue to prepare for a major storm, according to Lake County Emergency Management. Residents can save on hurricane preparedness items during the sales tax holiday from June 1 to June 7.
“While Lake County was not the worst hit area affected by Irma, we still experienced nearly $40 million in damage and months of debris cleanup,” said Tommy Carpenter, Lake County Emergency Management Director. “This hurricane, again, was proof that it only takes one storm to create a dangerous situation and preparedness is key in protecting life and property.”
Local hurricane hazards can include heavy rainfall, high winds, inland flooding and tornadoes. Some hazards may come with little to no warning. Residents are encouraged to develop a family communication plan, decide on a meeting location during an emergency, and prepare a disaster go-kit to include important personal, medical and legal documents.
Residents should also be aware of what to bring to an emergency shelter, including food and water for three days, medication, bedding, and important documents. Pets at pet-friendly shelters must be transported in their own carriers and must be up-to-date on vaccines, so it’s important to prepare for pets now.
However, evacuating to an emergency shelter should always be a last resort. All residents, especially those living in manufactured homes, should have a safe shelter plan before an emergency strikes, to include 24-hour access to a friend or relative’s site-built, fortified home. Those living in manufactured homes should be sure they have ample time to get to their designated safe space when severe weather is predicted.
To be notified quickly of weather emergencies, residents should purchase a battery-powered NOAA weather radio and sign up to receive local notifications, such as those offered through Lake County’s AlertLake emergency alert system. Signing up is free, quick and secure at alertlake.com.
The Lake County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is currently at Level 3 – Monitoring as officials track the potential for severe weather this weekend.
“Families are urged to focus on safety as Tropical Storm Alberto approaches,” said Tommy Carpenter, Lake County Emergency Management Director. “We strongly encourage residents to remain weather-aware, have a working NOAA weather radio, sign up for emergency alerts and have a preparedness plan in place including a disaster go-kit.”
Sandbags and sand are available at four Lake County Fire Stations and a Solid Waste Convenience Center until the supply runs out. Residents must bring their own shovels, and may take 20 bags of sand per household. No tools are provided at sand sites and citizens are responsible for filling their own sandbags. Pickup hours are 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. at the following locations:
Sorrento: Station 39 31431 Walton Heath Avenue
Altoona: Station 14 18840 County Road 42
Astor: Station 10 23023 SR 40
Clermont: Station 110 6234 County Road 561
Lady Lake: Convenience Center 1200 Jackson Street
Lake County is encouraging residents to follow these safety tips:
Storm winds can cause trees and branches to fall, so before hurricane season trim or remove damaged trees and limbs to keep you and your property safe.
Secure loose items such as outside lawn furniture and toys to minimize flying debris.
Rain gutters and downspouts should be clear of clogs and debris to prevent water damage to your property. Drainage swales and storm drains should also be clear of debris to ensure proper drainage.
Know what you would do in the event of a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch or warning. If a tornado warning is issued for your area, seek shelter in an interior room, away from windows.
If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning and should seek shelter.
Flash floods can occur without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground.
Never drive through flooded roadways as road beds may be washed out under flood waters, and just one foot of fast-moving flood water can move most cars off the road.
Sign up for the emergency notifications at www.alertlake.com. and follow on Twitter and Facebook. Find more local news in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis here and follow Mount Dora Buzz on Facebook. Free subscriptions to the monthly issue of 'The Buzz' are available here.
Economic development has long been a spoken priority in Mount Dora. Now that spoken word has turned into action. Almost a year’s worth of effort by City Manager Robin Hayes and Mount Dora’s economic development consultant Dr. Richard Levey paid off in May when Steamroller Studios announced it would relocate its headquarters to downtown Mount Dora. Hayes learned through Lake County that the game development and animation company expressed an interest in relocating from their Eustis space into a larger building in a downtown area. Hayes and Levey reached out to Steamroller Studios to pitch them the idea of settling into Mount Dora. According to Hayes, company officials were looking for a downtown area in Lake County with a strong connection to the arts, because many of its roughly fifty employees are artists and creatives. “Attracting the most talented artists, programmers, and coordinators in the world means you need to have a location that will excite them,” said Adam Meyer, Steamroller’s Chief Creative Officer and co-owner. “From the amazing restaurants to the charming shops and festivals, we feel the downtown location will very much appeal to the talent we have, as well as the ones we are trying to bring in.” In addition to Mount Dora’s vibe as an artistic town, it also provides incentives to attract qualified businesses. In 2011, the city passed an ordinance to allow an economic development tax abatement program. This program is offered to any business that meets specific economic development criteria. Steamroller Studios has applied for that program, which would lower its local tax liability. The actual amount is pending the assessment from the property appraiser’s office and then it will proceed to the City Council for approval during its July 17th regular meeting.
Above: Eustis' historic Olde Chapel Hall is presently home to Steamroller Studios
Steamroller Studios is also eligible for Mount Dora’s High Value Job Creation Incentive Program. However, all city economic development incentives require approval by the city council. The rapidly growing 2015 start-up company will leave its historic Olde Chapel Hall space in Eustis once renovations are complete on its new Mount Dora office space on the corner of Third Avenue and Baker Street. Meyer said they are anticipating making the move sometime in July or August.
Steamroller Studios will occupy all of the top floor, as well as a portion of the ground floor, plus the entire stand-alone building that was previously home to Norm’s Palette and various offices. Meyer, a Lake County native, said the building located at 301 Baker Street and its outdoor courtyards fit the campus-like setting they sought for a creative working environment. Wave Asian Bistro and Synergy Salonspa are remaining in the building and should gain customers from Steamroller’s workforce.
The company has worked on popular video games such as Fortnite, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex and Prey, as well as their own game “Deadwood: The Forgotten Curse.”
Few folks can claim such a hands-on dedication to their community. One of Mount Dora’s longest-serving residents is taking a step back. Back, but certainly not out.
Mount Dora City Council Member Cathy Hoechst recently announced she wouldn’t seek re-election this fall. Instead, she feels the time is right to focus on new professional and personal opportunities, as well as to allow someone new to serve the City.
Hoechst and her husband Jack have lived in Mount Dora for over 30 years. After a long career in hospital administration, she served as president of Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce for ten years. In 2013, she was elected mayor and served a two-year term, and she was elected to the city council in 2016.
“My husband and I want to travel while we have our health,” said Hoechst. “I want to have more time available to volunteer at Lake Cares Food Pantry, and I believe the council has done a good job this past year identifying strategies to move the city forward.”
Hoechst identified the top challenges of Mount Dora as remaining focused on improving downtown parking, developing a good financial strategy to fund the city’s future needs, and planning for the impact of growth. She feels other high priorities are maintaining Mount Dora’s high standards and the small-town-feel of downtown while supporting the needs of the entire city.
The former nurse seems to reserve most of her community passion for her long affiliation with Lake Cares Food Pantry, which she’s been part of since it opened nine years ago. “I believe in the mission and know it has had a positive impact on the community in many ways,” said Hoechst. “I want to have time to help Irene plan our future space needs,” she said of helping the Executive Director Irene O’Malley expand the non-profit to meet the growing needs of Lake County.
Although public office is often thankless, Hoechst believes her time at City Hall taught her patience and that doing the right thing always pays off. It also taught her to communicate clearly, listen, and not react until all information is presented. According to Hoechst, she also learned the hard, yet simple, truth that she can’t please everyone.
Hoechst and her husband will still be seen downtown where they regularly enjoy the abundance of restaurants, entertainment, special events and walking along the waterfront.
“I truly believe that Mount Dora is Someplace Special,” said Hoechst, referring to the city’s slogan.
At the time of publication, two residents have stepped up to run for the seat she'll be leaving on the city council. Resident Donnie Stroud, a community volunteer and appointee on the City’s Planning and Zoning Board, and Crissy Stiles, owner of downtown's Barrel of Books & Games store, an appointee on downtown's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and an active volunteer are both seeking the At-large City Council seat. Two other seats are also up for re-election in November.
No student in Lake County Schools will have to go hungry during the school day next year, as breakfasts and lunches will be offered at no charge to all students regardless of household income. Charter schools may not be offering this program The free meals are a result of the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program that allows schools serving predominantly low-income communities to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. Students will still have to purchase snack foods and additional menu items with cash or on their account. The School Nutrition Association says that serving all students for free ensures children have access to healthy school meals every day and eliminates the stigma for those who rely on free school meals as a key source of nutrition. Additionally, the association says that having all students share the same meal together in the cafeteria helps strengthen a sense of school community and fosters healthy eating habits. As an added benefit, eliminating the payment process speeds up the lunch line, giving students more time to eat their meal. “There’s another benefit for the school district,” said Gary Dodds, Food Service Supervisor for the district. “The free meals may draw more students to participate, and that means more funding for the school meal program that can be used for food, labor and equipment.” CEP reduces administrative costs for schools by reducing postage for meal benefit applications, eliminates concerns about negative lunch account balances and gives cafeteria staff more time to focus on planning and preparing healthy meals, he said.
Now is the time for residents to throw in their two cents about improving Mount Dora’s parks.
The City of Mount Dora is preparing a Master Plan that will provide guidance for future development and redevelopment of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. The plan will guide park improvements and prioritize their implementation.
At this early stage of the plan, the City seeks to capture residents’ important input and perspective on the topic. Interested residents can complete a three-to-seven minute online survey available here. Paper copies of the survey will be provided at the W.T. Bland Public Library on Donnelly Street. Future public meetings on the Master Plan will be announced.