ABOVE: Donnelly Street in downtown Mount Dora. The gray building indicated is the 35-foot Renaissance Building. The proposal would allow buildings 20 feet taller. (Mount Dora Buzz photo)
Article updated Feb. 17 to reflect result of Mount Dora Planning & Zoning meeting.
Change may be coming. Previous efforts to transform historic downtown Mount Dora with significantly higher building heights is an issue that has ruffled more than a few feathers in the past. Now the previously hotly-contested issue has quietly resurfaced again at the same time COVID-19 has some residents wary on attending the public meetings.
On February 17, Mount Dora Planning & Zoning Commission (P & Z) asked City staff to prepare an ordinance that includes raising downtown's building height limit from the current 35 feet to 55 feet in order to accommodate developers. The ordinance is scheduled to be discussed at the April 21st P & Z public meeting at 10 a.m. at City Hall. The ordinance would also include increasing the building heights on Highland Street's commercial district. The commission tentatively plans to vote on the increase at its May 19th meeting at 10 a.m.
For perspective on the proposed increase, Mount Dora’s landmark Renaissance Building, the most visible building on the city’s main downtown street, is 35 feet tall, according to City documents. The gray building is three stories tall, plus a basement. That building is 20 feet under what P & Z is considering. The proposed changes would increase building heights within 100 feet of Lake Dora from 25 feet to 35 feet (the height of the Renaissance Building).
The proposed 57% height increase could affect the size of any new development on the vacant lot on the corner of 5th Avenue and McDonald Street, as well as Pineapple Point, the 4.3 wooded lakefront land adjacent to the Lakeside Inn, providing the buildings were 100 feet from the lakefront. The 20-foot increase could also make it more profitable for developers to tear down some existing properties in order to build potentially bigger and more lucrative projects. Increasing building heights throughout downtown isn't necessary to build a newparking garage.
The City’s newest council member, Austin Guenther, works for G3 Development, his family’s commercial real estate development business which owns commercial properties that could benefit by the height increase. According to G3's website, the councilman is tasked with the company’s business development. G3's ownership also has a stake in Pineapple Point, the undeveloped waterfront acreage next to Lakeside Inn.
Mount Dora “has a unique sense of character and charm that is unrivaled in the region, and that character and charm are a critical component to the economic well-being and success of the city,” stated a January 2021 report on increasing Mount Dora’s building heights by Renaissance Planning, a consulting firm hired by the City of Mount Dora. Increasing building heights can also impact traffic, parking, and utility systems, as well as public safety due to limitations of fire equipment and the loading and unloading of delivery trucks, cited the same report.
On the flip side, to changing downtown Mount Dora’s vibe with taller buildings can potentially bring in new residents that spend money and attract new businesses. However, the significant number of vacant buildings downtown signals there currently isn't a shortage of space for new businesses. The current 35-foot height restrictions have been in place long before speculative developers purchased downtown properties, therefore the height limits do not unfairly shackle them or adversely affect their private property rights.
Nearby Winter Garden is heralded as a model city which successfully preserved its historic charm while welcoming responsible new downtown development, including residential units. That Central Florida city strictly adheres to development rules that prohibits buildings taller than three stories and ensures new building designs fit in with and complement Winter Garden's historic downtown. The thriving city has turned away developers seeking to build five- and six-story buildings in the area, yet its quaint downtown is vibrant. The only exception to the three-story height limit in all of Winter Garden is a six-story hospital outside of the historic area. The city's large downtown parking garage, built in 2016, is two stories tall with 3 levels of parking that includes the rooftop.
Anyone wanting to weigh in on increasing Mount Dora Building heights can attend the April 21st meeting 10 a.m. at City Hall. Social distancing and masks are required per the City’s Resolution 2020-138. Once the City’s P & Z Commission votes to recommend the ordinance, it will then go before the City Council for a hearing and vote.
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