It’s been a year like no other. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and this year Mount Dora High School is stepping up with a special celebration for its Class of 2021 that was awarded a combined total of over $2 million in scholarships.
A jumbotron on the school’s football field will capture the in-person commencement ceremony of the 233 graduating seniors. The sky above will light up with a fireworks show immediately following the ceremony at approximately 9 p.m. The festive display was made possible with generous donations by members of the community and spearheaded by Mount Dora Mayor Cathy Hoechst. The best vantage points for members of the community not in attendance will be Highland and 5th Avenue, as well as the Lake Franklin neighborhood.
With additional seating on the school’s track this year, Mount Dora High has expanded audience capacity to approximately 2,000, so each graduate has 10 tickets available for family members and guests. The ceremony will also be live-streamed on Mount Dora High School’s Facebook page. For those who attend in person, masks are encouraged, but not required for fully vaccinated guests.
Some downtown Mount Dora merchants are also getting into the celebration by offering the local Class of 2021 discounts from Monday through Thursday this week. Magic Tea Market (closed Monday), and Las Palmas Cuban Restaurant are offering graduates a 20 percent discount if they show their Mount Dora student I.D.
Mount Dora High School was built in 1921 and next year will celebrate its 100th graduating class.
ABOVE: A resident signs the petition at Crissy Stile's (left) store in downtown Mount Dora.
It’s certainly a hot topic and one that some residents thought was put to bed years ago. Now, a recent move by some members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (P & Z) has reignited a the old and controversial issue of increasing downtown building heights to 55 feet from 35 feet. The City Council has already given final approval to allow a larger parking structure, so the garage is not included in the petition.
After vocal residents expressed themselves at the well-attended April P & Z meeting and on social media, many suggested a petition be started to preserve downtown’s unique character and prohibit 55-foot buildings in that area. Last week, Mount Dora resident Crissy Stile answered that call. Stile, along with other residents and business owners, is now circulating a petition that encourages P & Z members and the City Council to forgo allowing 55-foot buildings in the city’s downtown, an area which relies heavily on visitors drawn to the district’s historic charm.
“Addressing the parking shortage is a priority,” said Stile, a former Mount Dora City Council Member. “The key to downtown’s economic sustainability is also expanding its busy season by focusing on visitors and locals and attracting younger demographics.”
The city has recently hosted more small events in the various downtown parks that allow for streets to remain open. Stile believes those events are the perfect draw for families, including locals and visitors. “Parks, enhanced recreation amenities like Rails-to-Trails, and good schools will attract a younger demographic and improve residents' quality of life. Taller buildings aren’t the answer,” said Stiles.
Not everyone agrees. G3 Development (G3), along with some members of P & Z, have touted the need for increased heights to attract downtown development. However, the large amount of vacant commercial space and recent subsidies downtown indicate there may not be a demand for more space. Buildings on prime downtown locations have been vacant for years and even decades. And in 2018, the Mount Dora City Council approved an approximate $30,000 taxpayer-funded subsidy related to the Sunset Building, owned by G3. Prior to the tax-abatement subsidy, the three-story building had a history of spotty occupancy.
Whether by ordinance or strict architectural design standards, similar towns in Florida that attract visitors to their historic downtowns don’t allow 55-foot new buildings, but rather limit heights to approximately 35 to 45 feet, depending on their location.
During the May 19 meeting, the P & Z Commission will likely vote whether to pass its controversial increase to downtown building heights. If it passes, the ordinance would then go before Mount Dora City Council which could vote on it, table it, or put it on the ballot for residents to decide. The public Planning and Zoning meeting will take place at City Hall at 501 N. Baker Street in Mount Dora beginning at 10 a.m. on May 19.
The petition is available for signing at Barrel of Books & Games at 128 E. 4th Avenue in downtown Mount Dora from noon to 5pm. An online petition is available here.
ABOVE: Mount Dora City Hall (Mount Dora Buzz file photo)
I am often impressed by the thoughtful debates and respectful disagreements that City Council members engage in during the course of our meetings. That came to mind during this evening's meeting. I've chosen a few items that were decided or discussed to write to you about. My report comes only from me and not on behalf of City Council as a whole.
We have a long list of city construction projects currently progressing toward completion. Here's a partial list:
* We are in the design phase of major renovations to Cauley Lot Park. This is a $923,000 project that is long overdue.
* We are also in the design phase for a new Public Works Complex to be located on Limit . Concept and site plans will be presented at an upcoming council meeting.
*Helen St. Drainage improvements are currently underway and should be completed by fall at a cost of $286,000.
*Fire Station #34 replacement. #34 will likely house our emergency operations center and office facilities in addition to the fire house. This will be constructed next to the Public Works facility on Limit Ave.
*Fire Station #35 will be located on County Rd. 19A. Ground breaking is scheduled for October 27, 2021. Final design will soon be wrapped up.
*Library Parking Lot Expansion (phase 1) $131,000 will get us 20 much needed additional parking spaces. Engineering should be done within 60 days.
*Lincoln Ave Swimming Pool Renovations (phase 2). This will include renovations to locker rooms and kiddie pool among other things at a cost of about $847,000. This work is being done none to soon.
*Hilltop Drive Drainage Improvements between Summit Ct. and Kay Ct. Currently being designed.
*Triangle Elementary School Joint Use Playground & Park. This will be a cooperative effort with Lake County Schools. It has been very slow in coming but I recently attended a meeting and I'm hopeful this could actually happen with construction in the summer of 2022. This is budgeted for about $1 million.
*Overlook Dr. Baffle Box should improve stormwater flow on Overlook Dr. that drains into Lake Gertrude. The cost is estimated at $176,000.
You've probably heard that our Governor has just issued an Executive Order that precludes cities and counties from mandating masks among other things going forward. Individual business owners may still require masks to be worn in their buildings. Mount Dora will continue to recommend social distancing and masks to be worn inside our buildings but we can't require it.
We approved the final reading of our Land Development Code Amendments by a 5-2 vote (Pam Burtnett and Doug Bryant voted "no"). We had discussions and considered 2 proposed amendments which were defeated by 5-2 votes. I've gotten several emails recently from citizens who are concerned about increasing building heights in the down town area from 35' to 55'. To be clear, what we approved today would only allow a parking structure to exceed 35'. P&Z will be reviewing other possible changes in building heights in upcoming meetings but as of right now the only building that could exceed 35' in the downtown area would be a parking garage.
Our long time City Clerk, Gwen John has decided to resign. Gwen's mother is elderly and in memory care. Gwen would like to spend more time with her mom as well as her granddaughter. We will miss Gwen but her family should come first.
The quote I'd like to share with you today comes from the late comedian George Carlin. "Just 'cause you got the monkey off your back does not mean the circus has left town".
Over the past few years, Mount Dora has seen many projects approved and now some are in various stages of development. In response to residents with questions about the projects, as well as the electric rate increase, Mayor Cathy Hoechst has scheduled a May 11th Town Hall meeting for public discussion and updates.
Some of the topics include:
The Cottages on 11th (Single-family residential development on 11th Avenue)
Lakeside at Waterman Village (Residential retirement development on Donnelly Street)
Dora Landings (Single-family residential development on Limit)
The Bungalows (Residential development on Liberty between Clayton and Grandview Streets).
Traffic Calming Study
Electric Rate Increase
The City encourages members of the public to attend the informal meeting so the Mayor and City Staff can address any questions or concerns. Questions from residents will be welcomed and taken in an orderly manner. City staff that have information about the different projects will be there, as well as our Interim City manager, Charles Revell. All council members are also invited.
The Town Hall will start at 5:30 p.m. in the Mount Dora Community Building located at 520 N. Baker Street. Face coverings are required during this discussion session.