Mount Dorans love their historic downtown, the crown jewel of the city. So it was no surprise last week when residents and two city council members raised concerns about a new public right-of-way construction project that popped up seemingly without warning to residents at downtown’s biggest gateway.
The project, reportedly funded by Main Street Leasing (MSL), reconfigures the sidewalk and streetscape on the north side of Fifth Avenue stretching from Alexander Street to the corner of Donnelly Street in front of the two-story, New Orleans-style building. The project also includes a retaining wall and railings, thereby changing the streetscape.
At the September 12 Mount Dora City Council meeting, it was confirmed that Mount Dora Historic Preservation Board was not briefed on the project, nor was the City Council. Council Members Laurie Tillet and Crissy Stile strongly voiced their concerns to City Manager Robin Hayes about the lack of clarity on the project’s scope, details and process, and asked Hayes to stop work, thus preventing concrete for the sidewalks from being poured, until the Council could review the plans. Mayor Nick Girone flatly rebuffed the request by stating the project, allegedly paid for by MSL, was not on the meeting’s agenda. Hayes said the work was approved and would continue. She mentioned she only saw the plans for the first time that day for about 60 seconds, but anticipated giving the Council more information at an upcoming meeting.
According to documents provided by the City, the only final plan it has is a single-page engineering drawing of the ADA compliant sidewalk construction showing necessary specifications for rebar placement, measurements and other important functional details. However, the drawing does not convey views of the project’s design or elevation, as are required for commercial and residential projects that seek the City's review and approval. Since the City has no such documents, it’s impossible to know what the completed project and altered streetscape will look like and how it will affect the appearance of historic downtown’s most visible intersection.
In a quick about-face on September 13, the City issued a partial “Stop Work Order,” stating that “written construction approval was not obtained prior to work commencing” for the sidewalk and right of way. On the same day,Hayes notified the City Council by email that approval for pouring a sidewalk had not been approved.
The order did allow concrete to be poured for curbing to direct drainage, plus specific other elements needed for safety. A possible fly in the ointment was several vertical rebar poles, approximately 3 feet tall, that were set into the concrete after the Stop Work Order. At this point it’s unclear if that violated the order.
Mount Dora Buzz reached out to Larry Baker of Main Street Leasing for clarity about the overall project, but he did not return the call or reply to our email. All of the properties that abut the nearly block-long project are owned by MSL and the project was reportedly funded by the company.
The City’s lack of transparency surrounding the current project is remarkably similar to the controversial process surrounding the 2017 sidewalk and wall project that transformed the area in front of Cafe Gianni on Alexander Street.
The 2017 project was also not reviewed by the Historic Preservation Board, the CRA or the City Council in advance, nor did it have any plans, according to John Peters, the City’s Public Works official at the time. That property is also owned by MSL which proposed the change.
Later the lack of plans would prove problematic, when a portion of the project had to be redone due to significant drainage issues.
During the public backlash over the 2017 project and the City’s policy, city council members firmly advised Hayes they were dissatisfied with the process that eroded the public’s trust and that the City should be held to the same Historic Preservation Board approvals and permitting standards as residents and businesses. Council members also advised that multiple design options should have been presented, in order to ensure that the best remedy for downtown was selected. One council member at the time, Mark Slaby, passionately warned Hayes and his colleagues about the potential for incrementally destroying downtown’s uniqueness.
Fast forward two years: The City has again commenced a seemingly unvetted project on taxpayer property involving the same property owner without presenting options, without reviewing it with the Historic Preservation Board, and without having architectural plans of its finished design. The difference this time is that the project is on the most visible intersection of the historic district, and no one at the City knows what the completed project will look like.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Also download the area's free mobile app.
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
Mount Dora City Council held two meetings on September 5. The first meeting concerned the 2019-20 budget and the second mainly focused upon a proposed new residential development called "Cottages on 11th". I'm reporting to you from my own personal perspective and not as a spokesperson for City Council as a whole.
Our budget meeting was held to meet the legal requirements to pass resolutions to set the TENTATIVE millage rate for FY 2019-20 and to define the amount of the proposed budget. There is a state required timeline and this is another step in the long budget building process. I need to stress that this was not the final step of adopting the budget. That final budget adoption will take place on Thursday September 19 at 5:30 p.m. that will culminate a six month long journey that began back in March involving many hours of discussions, asking thousands of questions, and resulting in getting seven divergent council members to agree on the "right" budget for our city. That's how good government works.
Important city needs were left unmet in previous years mostly due to a long and deep recession. We've been playing catch up during my four years on city council. Progress has been made but we still have miles to go and our "rainy day" reserves are nowhere near adequate in my estimation. I favor keeping our millage rate the same as it has been at 6.3 mills. I consider myself to be a fiscal conservative and to me that means that we should restrain our spending when we can but also that we must provide for our city's needs in a fiscally responsible way. There were rounds of applause from the audience when token millage rate cuts were suggested, but I remain unconvinced that doing so would be prudent. After another long debate the tentative millage rate resolution remains at 6.3 mills after a 5-2 vote with council members Tillett and Stile opposing and the proposed budget amount being $98,800,000 on a 6-1 vote with Ms Tillett voting no. The final millage and budget amount for FY 2019-20 will be determined on September 19.
The second meeting was dominated by conversations about a proposed 27 home residential development off 11th Ave. The developer would like a zoning change from R-1A to PUD. This would allow smaller lot sizes in exchange for higher end architectural designs including garages in the rear of the homes. I thought that the many community members who spoke, as well as the developer, made excellent points. There was a great deal of unanimity among city council members who expressed concerns that setbacks, landscaping, parking, drainage, traffic on 11th Avenue and the number of houses need to be addressed. I sensed that there is a willingness to compromise in order to resolve these issues so that this exciting project can move forward. We approved the Preliminary PUD and over the upcoming months the developer and city planning staff will work together to tweak the concept before asking for final council approval.
My quote for today comes from the well known philosopher, Groucho Marx who quipped; "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."
Thanks for your interest in Mount Dora!
Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month , click here. Also download the area's free mobile app.
Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 5 Hurricane. The hurricane is expected to move closer to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night. In Lake County, hurricane hazards may include heavy rainfall, high winds, inland flooding and tornadoes. Some hazards may come with little to no warning “Some uncertainty remains in the forecast. A Florida landfall cannot be ruled out. Monitor closely for changes as Dorian is forecast to move very slowly as it makes its closest approach to the area.” said Thomas Carpenter, Director of the Office of Emergency Management To accommodate residents of Lake County, special needs clients and those who may be evacuating from coastal counties, Lake County is opening the following six emergency shelters at noon on Monday, Sept. 2.
GENERAL PUBLIC SHELTERS
Mount Dora High, 700 N. Highland St., Mt. Dora
PUBLIC AND PET FRIENDLY SHELTERS
Round Lake Elementary, 31333 Round Lake Road, Mt. Dora
Spring Creek Elementary, 44440 Spring Creek Road, Paisley
PUBLIC, PET FRIENDLY AND SPECIAL NEEDS SHELTERS
Leesburg Elementary, 2229 South St., Leesburg
Lost Lake Elementary, 1901 Johns Lake Road, Clermont
Umatilla Elementary, 401 Lake St., Umatilla
SUPPLIES TO BRING TO SHELTERS
One gallon of water per person and pet for three days
Non-perishable food and snacks for three days
Foods that meet unusual dietary requirements
Prescriptions and emergency medications
Important personal documents and identification
Extra clothing, pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, hygiene supplies and other comfort items
Supplies needed for children and infants, such as diapers, formula and toys
Special items for family members who are elderly or disabled
Chargers for small electronic devices like cell phones, tablets and laptops. Please do not bring household appliances.
Books, games and other ways to entertain your family and yourself
PET SHELTER RULES & GUIDELINES
Pets must be brought to shelters in a carrier or crate that is marked with the owner’s name, address and two phone numbers. Owners must have documentation of up-to-date rabies vaccinations for their pets. Owners are responsible for taking care of their pets. It is recommended pet owners bring all pet supplies, such as food and water, litter and litter box and leash. Pet owners are welcome to stay with their pets in the shelter's designated pet area until a lockdown is ordered.
A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service dogs may remain with their owners at any emergency shelter. Comfort pets and emotional support animals will be treated as all other pets in pet-friendly shelters and must remain crated.
Pet friendly emergency shelters are open only to domestic pets only. No livestock will be admitted.For livestock, it is recommended to safely mark animals and leave them in pastures.
CITIZENS INFORMATION LINE
Beginning at 7 a.m. Monday, the Citizens Information Line will remain open 24/7 until further notice. Those needing information should call 352-253-9999. To receive emergency notifications, register at www.alertlake.com.
SAND BAG LOCATIONS
Sandbags will be available at five Lake County locations from 7 a.m. until dusk (or supplies run out.) Residents must bring their own shovels and are allowed to take 20 bags of sand per household per 24-hour period. No tools will be provided at sand deployment sites and residents are responsible for filling their own sandbags. Sandbags will only be offered during designated times before a storm threat. No sandbags will be dispensed during storm conditions. Sandbags operations will cease as announced after the storm threat is over.
Fire Station 10 23023 State Road 40, Astor Fire Station 14 18840 County Road 42, Altoona Fire Station 39 31431 Walton Heath Ave., Sorrento Fire Station 110 6234 County Road 561, Clermont Solid Waste Residential Convenience Center 1200 Jackson St., Lady Lake
LAKE COUNTY HAZARDS
mO. 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. All residents, especially those living in manufactured homes, should have a safe shelter plan before an emergency strikes, to include access to a friend or relative’s site-built, fortified home 24 hours a day. To be notified quickly of weather emergencies, residents should purchase a battery-powered NOAA weather radio. Get more hurricane tips here.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Also download the area's free mobile app.