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.