A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
joint meeting with clermont
March 29, 2010
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special joint meeting with Clermont on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. at Cooper Memorial Library, Clermont, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Chairman; Elaine Renick, Vice Chairman; Jennifer Hill; Jimmy Conner; and Linda Stewart. Others present were: Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, Interim County Manager; Melanie Marsh, Acting County Attorney; and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk. Clermont officials present were: Hal Turville, Mayor of Clermont, and City of Clermont Council Members Keith Mullins, Robert Thompson, Ray Goodgame, and Jack Hogan.
Ms. Amye King, Growth Management Director, explained that the City of Clermont has requested an expansion to their JPA (Joint Planning Area) boundary, which was adopted in 2003, and she showed on the map the red line to the south indicating what was originally sent to the County for consideration. She stated that at the time the County Commissioners had additional questions and had asked for this joint meeting, and she welcomed everyone to the meeting.
Mr. Hal Turville, Mayor of Clermont, stated that they were trying to enhance their own understanding at this meeting about where the City was as it relates to joint planning and joint planning areas. He noted that there were parcels in particular that would be discussed at this meeting, as well as timing, which was very important.
Commr. Cadwell commented that he thought they should all discuss some type of process that they were going to use to expand the JPA, similar to the process that they went through when they originally created it, which took several months to work through. He stated Mr. Wayne Saunders, Clermont City Manager, would make a presentation on behalf of the City, and then they would open the meeting up for public comment.
Mr. Saunders explained that this started with the City of Clermont trying to enter into an agreement with Orange County and the City of Orlando regarding the Conserve II property to provide reclaimed water to the City of Clermont. He related that Clermont has been developing and expanding a reuse water system for quite a while, but could not produce enough to meet the demand, and they wanted to reduce the amount of potable water used for irrigation. He stated that shortly after the Conserve people came to the County about wanting some changes to give assurances for the future use of their property, there were some meetings indicating that a good way to accomplish that for the City was for Conserve II to annex into the City of Clermont with an annexation agreement assuring that Conserve II could continue to do what they needed to do on their property for the rapid infiltration, and the City would get an agreement for some reclaimed water that they could put into their system. He related that during those discussions the possibility was discussed about also using the Conserve II property for some type of job creation and economic development. He explained that shortly after that, the City received some inquiries from properties contiguous and south of the Conserve II about annexing those properties. The Council was advised that they really could not consider annexing those properties without amending the JPA agreement, so he appeared at the County Commission meeting requesting the consideration of expanding the JPA area at the direction of their City Council.
Mr. Saunders commented that the City has some ideas about how to move forward concerning that area, and noted that the City’s four objectives were to annex the Conserve II property, get the reclaimed water agreement, develop some type of economic development and job creation plan for that area, and jointly plan the area south of the Conserve II property. However, in order to meet those objectives, they would need for Lake County to support or at least not oppose the annexation of the Conserve Property into the City and to support the City’s effort in getting that reclaimed water agreement with the Conserve people. He also opined that the City and the County would need to partner in coming up with a plan for the Conserve II property, and the County would need to let the City expand the JPA area south of the existing area in order to allow the City to work with the County in planning that area. He believed there was a consensus that they would probably need to remove the RPA (rural protection area) designation from that area, because it created a problem for changing it in the future for the two section lines south of the existing line. He commented that he believed that their City Council would not annex any of those properties south of the current JPA before the November referendum of Amendment 4. He also opined that if Amendment 4 failed, their City Council would agree that they would keep the same future land use that currently was designated by the County until there was a specific plan for the property that would be brought through the normal process. He also suggested that there not be any additional residential in the future land use plan over and above what is currently allowed, and that all future development would be geared toward creating jobs and economic development that hopefully everyone would think was a good plan. He also clarified that they were requesting to expand the JPA by about 3700 acres in that area, with 700 to 800 acres of wetland areas, and the City of Clermont currently consisted of about 10,000 acres. He added that one of the main reasons that they felt it was important for the City to be able to plan the area south for future uses was because they have less than 300 acres of undeveloped commercial or industrial property in their city limits today.
Commr. Renick related that she has met with the Conserve II people and City of Clermont officials about the concern for the reuse water as well as having acreage for economic development. She commented that the Conserve II people were worried about a possible road alignment, and they did not want to locate Rapid Infiltration Basins (RIB) where they might have to be moved in the future, but were totally on board regarding having land for economic development. She noted that the two staffs met to work out some of those things, and she did not have any problems with Clermont annexing the Conserve II property. She pointed out that they lifted the rural protection area designation in the Comp Plan off of the JPA, and she noted that a previous discussion indicated that there was a rush because of Amendment 4, which she did not feel would result in good decisions. She was encouraged that Clermont was no longer talking about residential units, but pointed out that the City never indicated that they wanted to develop high numbers of residential and was not like the plan that was presented years ago. She concluded that the discussion now centered around economic development while protecting the environmentally sensitive part of that property.
Commr. Cadwell commented that the vehicle of the JPA was the way to do that. He opened the meeting up to public comment, and assured everyone in attendance that this would not be the only meeting that there would be regarding this issue.
Mr. Rob Arnold, a resident of Clermont whose family owned about 2,000 acres of agricultural land in South Lake County, stated that he and other agricultural families were adamantly opposed to any restrictions being placed on their land. He commented that they had no intention of selling or developing their property and were environmentally conscious.
Mr. Jeff Barrett, a resident of Clermont, stated that he was glad to hear that residential development had been taken off the table, which was a big concern of a lot of people. He added that another concern he had was that the City wanted to annex new property, but they have not taken care of the property they already had, such as at Waterfront Park. He would like to see the City prove that it could take care of property that they have been buying up all over Clermont before they started thinking about new development.
Mr. Jim Purvis, a resident of Clermont, thanked Commissioners, City officials, and staff for bringing this basically local issue to the area most probably effected. He clarified that he was not against this proposal at this time, but he wanted answers to what he thought a lot of people in the room were also looking for. He commented that the City’s presentation tonight by Mr. Saunders differs from just a short time ago. He listed his concerns as the vast size involved of nearly 6,000 acres, which was 3700 additional acres to the Conserve II property; the costs and the ability of extending services to the area, such as fire, police, and utilities; water and sewer impact fees from this area going to an entity other than the City of Clermont due to a prior agreement; a major pathway for the expansion of Orange County and Metro West directly into South Lake County; the future change of zoning of the areas; and the timing of this request relating to the rush for mass annexation on a fast track prior to Amendment 4.
Mr. Jimmy Roper, a resident of Windermere, stated that he and his family have owned approximately 700 acres immediately adjoining the Arnold family east to the county line for over 80 years through storms, freezes, recessions, and depression, and they do not want their property rights taken from them. He requested that there be no change and that it would remain rural, and he did not want to lose the right to be able to possibly develop the land sometime in the future. He thought that the economic impact that a restrictive designation would have on the future of Lake County was unfavorable.
Mr. Bill Turnbull, a resident of Clermont, opined that in the mid-2000’s the developers manipulated the real estate market and drove up the price of a house so much that the median home price went up 35 percent in 2005 alone. He commented that the developers sold these assets to Wall Street, who bundled them into collateral debt obligations and sold them worldwide. He noted that when this system collapsed, the world’s economy collapsed with it, and millions of foreclosures followed. He was concerned that development would result in the working poor paying the price with more overcrowded roads and schools. He opined that developer greed would eventually destroy their children’s future if they did not do anything about it.
Ms. Nancy Fullerton, who represented Alliance to Protect Water Resources (APWR), commented on the beauty of the natural habitat, citrus, lakes, ponds, and rolling hills of the area. She commented that even though some people thought that there was so much land there that was just going to waste because nothing was happening on the property, she believed that the County fortunately has demonstrated in keeping the rural protection area overlay at the transmittal hearing and their denial of the City’s request to expand its JPA that they recognize that something good and essential was happening in the Lake Wales Ridge area, which was the area of the highest recharge to the Florida aquifer and was necessary to maintain water levels of local lakes and adequate hydration of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern. She requested on behalf of APWR that the County and the City do nothing, since their planning has already been done over the four long years it took to complete the Comp Plan. She pointed out that they have not heard any recommendations, objections, or comments yet from DCA about the Comp Plan. She stated that if a definite need appears in future years for a greater intensity of development in this area, then a state-required EAR (Evaluation and Appraisal Report) process could take care of it, and there was no justifiable rush to accommodate Clermont. She requested that the County deny the JPA expansion and any compromises as to how to develop this land.
Mr. David Holt, a resident of Clermont, commented that the County Commissioners sent a strong message to the Clermont Council, which has backed off some of their stated positions. He opined that the rural protection area designation would create a hard line on the southern edge of Clermont in that area. He encouraged the County to expand the JPA, since he thought that it made good sense for the County and the City to plan collectively.
Mr. Sean Parks, a resident of Montverde, commented that rather than a plan to build more subdivisions, this was a plan to fundamentally change the economy in Clermont and in Lake County from relying solely on housing to one that is more diverse. He strongly disagreed with the opinion that this would result in zoning changes that would result in thousands of homes in the future, and he noted that not one person he has talked to regarding this issue has a vision for more homes. He noted that a simple annexation agreement through the JPA or an interlocal service boundary agreement could eliminate that housing concern up front. He commented that Commr. Renick’s concern about the subject area being environmentally sensitive with high aquifer recharge was very valid, but complete aquifer recharge protection would be achieved through the already existing Water Management District rules and the requirements in Policy 9-1.3.3. on Page 287 of the already transmitted Comp Plan. He believed it was paradoxical for the County to plan the South Lake Rural Protection Area right now, which was an additional overlay on top of an existing rural land use category. He noted that the objectives and policies of the RPA will not allow for job centers, planning for transportation corridors, or active recreation without an extra level of bureaucracy. He opined that with the RPA and without planning for this area now, they would end up with one, three, and five-acre home sites spread throughout that area 30 years from now, and he thought the right course of action was to lift the entire RPA and allow good planning to occur right now. He also stated that if the job centers were not placed on the map the way that Clermont wants to do, they would not become a reality. He suggested that they plan the area to make sure their tax burden was not further increased by promoting residential rural sprawl.
Mr. David Yeager, a resident and former mayor of Minneola, pointed out that the property rights of the residents should be taken into consideration, and they absolutely needed economic development. He commented that the reclaim benefit from Conserve II is a smart move, made sense, and was the right thing to do. He stated that they should take their time to annex the property, and everyone needed to compromise. He concluded by saying that planning was not a bad thing.
Mr. Curt Binney, a resident of Clermont and the Chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, stated that on behalf of their 780 Chambers members, they wish to support Clermont’s annexation and JPA request. He also requested that the County Commission seriously consider removing the South Lake Rural Protection Area from the Comprehensive Plan. He had the Chamber members that were present at the meeting rise and be recognized and stated that they believed that the RPA would be the end of meaningful economic development and job creation in the Clermont area. He also commented that stopping all growth was not the answer, and they could not survive with just low-paying retail jobs and could not continue to be merely a bedroom community to the surrounding counties. He opined that their region needed long-term economic planning and that the RPA was not a plan, but an over-reaction to the failure to plan in the past. He stated that having large tracts of land available for economic development is critical, since the parcels that are available are spread across Lake County, are small in nature, and inadequate for large-scale economic development. He opined that it was unfair for government to place an inordinate burden on those land owners merely because a special interest has unilaterally decided that their land use should never change, and this undermines people’s faith in the development process and denies those landowners the same rights of equal due process of other land owners with comparable land use categories. He asked the Board to remove the burdensome RPA, and noted that by doing so they would not be approving one additional roof top and would not be relinquishing any development authority.
Ms. Miranda Fitzgerald, an attorney from Orlando representing some property owners in South Lake County, stated that she approached Mr. Saunders and the City to discuss the potential for annexation as a result of the County’s movement to place a rural protection designation on the lands in South Lake and her concern that they were not going to be able to develop their land without undue restriction and inordinate burden. She commented that the City was being receptive and prudent and would like an economic development area, and she did not see that happening based on the County’s Comprehensive Plan that they were in the process of transmitting and adopting. She urged the County to remove the RPA designation from the South Lake area and allow the City to proceed with annexations in a timely manner when it is appropriate to do so and when plans are presented to them. She assured the Board that no one was trying to annex until they were contiguous and went through the process within the timeframe involved. She opined that it was inappropriate to impose an unnecessary and completely overly burdensome restriction on the rights of those owners of South Lake with that rural protection area designation, because the environmentally sensitive lands and the aquifer recharge area were already protected. He urged the Board to remove the RPA designation and allow the JPA to be expanded as the City has requested.
Mr. Choice Edwards, a resident of Clermont, stated that he was glad to hear Mr. Saunders say that the City was no longer considering any additional housing units. He related that he would like to see more jobs and understood that there was a 12 to 13 percent unemployment rate in this County; but he pointed out that the jobs that would be created would not happen for probably the next five years. He believed they should continue to be a bedroom community to Orlando. He wanted to see the County and the City plan together, but pointed out that there were many people who have lived in the area who love the rural lifestyle. He urged the Board to think about what the residents wanted and emphasized that no potential employers were even looking at the South Lake area to relocate or to expand. He commented that Amendment 4 would not stand in the way of planning something that was beautiful, lovely, and made sense, and he urged the Commission not to rush to judgment.
Ms. Michele Bodzioch, a resident of Clermont, commented that she had gone to a lot of Comp Plan meetings for years. She was concerned about changing the RPA designations in the plan, and she opined that this area needed to keep the RPA designation. She urged the Commission not to get swept up in the requests for annexation, and emphasized that the County has created the Comp Plan after listening to what the residents of the County wanted. She related that she had faith in Mr. Goodgame and Mr. Thompson, because of their role in developing the Comp Plan. She pointed out that there were buildings within Clermont that were vacant, overcrowded schools, and run-down ball fields, and she believed they should fix what they already had, which she felt would bring in more development. She asked that they work together by improving roads and recreational areas, but to leave that designated area alone. She also believed that they should annex what they needed for water reclamation, because of the problem that the area was having with sustainable water.
Commr. Cadwell stated that he would not consider removing any of the RPA designation until they had an enforceable joint planning agreement with the City that spelled out exactly what the City’s plans were and what type of development would go in those areas. He commented that would take some time, but their respective staffs could together work on something that the Board could look at to see if they could come to some sort of an agreement. He noted that the housing issue was an important issue, and would be a deal breaker if that was an element of it, but he related that he thought DCA was pushing for a mixed use where people could live and work in the same place, which was something they would have to overcome.
Commr. Stewart commented that a successful economic development plan was vital to the County, since 30 to 35 percent of their citizens travel outside the county to work. She noted that this Commission has been committed to that, and they have laid the foundation for successful economic development for the County. However, she pointed out that there was more to economic development than grabbing as much land as they could. She mentioned that “How Shall We Grow” was a seven-county partnership to guide growth, encourage a diverse and globally competitive economy, and to promote quality of life in the region; and its 2009 progress report for the Central Florida Region states that the stewardship of Central Florida’s natural ecosystems, open spaces and wildlife is an environmental, economic, and social imperative, and Central Florida’s legacy of environmental protection is strong, but much work remains for the region to address continuing threats to its natural assets and to use resources more efficiently. The report also recognizes that the Lake Wales Ridge area is one of the regional must-save ecosystems, and the area north of that also has many of those valuable attributes that need to be saved and preserved. She emphasized that a high quality of life is a key aspect in attracting high-paying jobs to their region, of which protection of rural areas was an important component, and a major factor of future growth and competitiveness of regional economies will be the availability of fresh water to meet the needs of residents and businesses. She pointed out that the Florida Chamber of Commerce also recognizes the importance of their environmental assets and the positive quality of life issues the rural areas and open lands provide in promoting economic development and urged law makers to set aside $4.8 million to levy $50 million in bonds for the Florida Forever land buying program. She pointed out that Lake County citizens have been very vocal about the importance of land protection of their rural areas. She noted that this area was a very valuable water recharge area and critical for their efforts to conserve water for economic growth and that they have already taken the RPA designation off of almost 5,000 acres of Clermont’s JPA so that they could use it for economic growth. She stated that the City has not supplied data yet that supports their need for 3,700 more acres or a plan for the use of that land, and she supported retaining the RPA designation on this area unless a very strict plan that preserves a rural nature of this land can be agreed upon by Clermont and the County, which could be accomplished at a later date. She opined that good planning was paramount for this area and noted that the RPA could be changed later.
Commr. Hill stated that she would like to hear an assurance regarding the requirements as to Conserve II and what Orange County and Orlando would allow them to do within that property before the County would look for the City to annex it. She thought the two staffs should work together and bring back some planning options, and she stated that they could probably help the City achieve their first three goals first, which were to annex the Conserve II property, get the reclaimed water agreement, and develop some type of economic development and job creation plan for that area, and then look towards planning.
Commr. Conner stated that if they were going to consider lifting the RPA designation, they wanted a binding agreement in advance. He pointed out that most of that property was 1 to 5 on the Comp Plan anyway, which was rural protection. He also commented that even though he was in favor of Amendment 4 four or five months ago, he developed concerns after studying it, and he urged the people that support Amendment 4 to do some research on it and any unintended consequences that may result.
Commr. Renick commented that she was glad that they were not going to go forward with removing the JPA restrictions that they have right now until they have some type of plan. She stated that even though some people do not think that economic development and protecting the environment could go hand in hand, a number of environmentalists would not have problems with this type of development as long as there was a conservation design for the property. She pointed out that if Amendment 4 passes and went to a vote in Clermont, it would not matter if they were lifting one or two layers of designation, and she emphasized that the only key limitation in the RPA would be prohibiting a four-lane road in that area. She opined that the rural protection area might not give them as much protection as they thought either and that she did not understand all the RPA rhetoric that was being expressed. She stated that she would be comfortable working with Clermont and Conserve II to get their reuse water and to have land set aside for economic development, and if they looked beyond that, it would have to be in an interlocal service boundary agreement.
Clermont Council Member Keith Mullins commented that there were no jobs available in the area when he moved there 22 years ago, but since then Lake County has grown tremendously with a huge influx of citizens, many of whom have children who live in other areas of the country. He pointed out that within 32 months everyone who was sitting at that table from the County Commission and the City Council could be replaced in an election, and they were talking about what would happen in the future. He stated that several years ago the Clermont City Council annexed about 1400 to 1600 acres on the east side of town on the request of a large property owner, even though they had no plan at that time. He noted that that property now contained the hospital, the college, and the National Training Center because the City Council had the foresight to take a large piece of vacant land to plan wisely, and that is what they were currently asking for. He commented that there was no other land left to the City for a job protection area, since it has all been claimed by other cities or the County, and the rush was because the property became available. He opined that people will come to Clermont for the quality of life, and the jobs will follow if they have a place to put those jobs in the future.
Clermont Council Member Robert Thompson stated that his family had seven generations in this community dating back to 1837, and he cared very deeply about the community and understood the importance of protecting the environment. He also recognized that the beauty, lakes, and rural nature of the area was a huge economic tool, and he noted that he was in favor of building no more houses on that property. He explained that one of the reasons they were looking at the future and future planning of that area was that 90 percent of the City’s tax base relied upon residential, and he pointed out that they currently had one of the lowest millage rates in Lake County. He added that they were looking for opportunities to plan for the future to alleviate the tax burden from its residents, so the millage rate does not end up being too high in the future as the costs of services increase. He related that one of their ideas was to only allow 60 percent of the actual available acres once the wetlands and recharge areas have been removed to be developed. They were looking at an opportunity that could have a direct impact on the amount of revenue that their City generates, and they needed larger blocks of land to do that. He stated that it was important to him to have the citizens of Clermont decide this issue, and he was not concerned about the passage of Amendment 4. He believed they should not put a restriction of RPA on the property a short time before they discuss a plan for that area together, and the current zoning of 1 to 5 was as rural as possible. He stated that the RPA could be put on the land after that discussion if that was decided, and he did not think that putting a restrictive zoning on the land beforehand sends a good message.
Clermont Council Member Ray Goodgame clarified that the City did not have the water rights in that area, but if they were to develop any of the property south of there in the future, they would be getting sewer impact fees. He stated that they would like to supply as much reclaimed water to that area as they could, and he did not want the City of Clermont to be impacted one bit by this proposed change or annexation. He pointed out that they were not looking to annex property right now, but wanted to have the ability to annex it if a development comes along. He expressed concern that Clermont was not being considered for economic opportunities right now, because they did not have an economic development area. He opined that the Conserve II property is essential to the reclaimed water supply to their city, and they needed to get Conserve II annexed into the City as soon as they could. He noted that he did not think that Conserve II has even come through with their development plans so that Clermont would know exactly how much property they would have for economic development. He also thought it was essential that they had an east-west connector south of Clermont, which they currently did not have. He opined that the City of Clermont was probably the only city in the County without an economic development area, even though they were the largest city in the County, and he thought their citizens deserved to have their tax burden shared by industry.
Clermont Council Member Jack Hogan stated that he had talked about conservation in Lake County before anyone else was talking about that issue, and he commented that he was concerned about conservation for his children and grandchildren. He clarified that he has never had a private meeting with any of the other Clermont council members and that he was an independent thinker and an extreme conservative. He also noted that the annexation did not originate with the council members, but with the people who owned the property, and the Council only was looking at the Conserve II at that time, since they needed the water. He commented that they needed a job center to help with the unemployment problems of this county, but he felt very strongly that they did not need any more homes. He also commented that he was not worried about Amendment 4, because he always supports what the public wants.
Mayor Hal Turville stated that he was pleasantly surprised that the race with Amendment 4 had no appearance at this time. He related that typically a development proposal will move forward after lengthy discussions and negotiations, discussions with staff, and preparation of plans and development scenarios; and then there will be an annexation request, a change of land use request, and either a PUD (Planned Unit Development) or a CUP (Conditional Use Permit) all on the same agenda, which would disclose the intentions and land use on the property, although there might be changes later. He opined that the reason Amendment 4 had gotten enough petitions signed to be on the ballot is because of the performance of politicians, and he thought this was probably a perfect time to have the citizens review what is proposed. He commented that comprehensive planning is a very difficult arrangement, which can either be done with broad general land uses with response to individual applications or with a specific and unchangeable plan. He stated that another key thing that he thought was missing from the discussion before was the timing aspect, and he pointed out that some other cities have unwisely annexed a lot of land that they are now responsible for patrolling and protecting. He commented that responsible decision making was the reason that the City of Clermont had such a low tax rate and efficient services. He noted that the limitation of 5 to 1 zoning could still result in about 700 homes, and it would be very difficult to provide fire protection, police protection, and sewer services to those kinds of densities. He opined that a special taxation district would be a terrible plan, and people that want to have special taxation districts do not have the money to develop their land. He urged everyone to be vigilant, and stated that he believed that the people that wanted to move to the area south of the City would be the most active political players in South Lake County until they have an approvable project. He added that the City would be very well invested in any arrangement that would take in the additional acres, and he advised that the residents make sure that it was something that they wanted before it moved forward.
Commr. Cadwell asked if they were going to consider the Conserve II annexation and include that into the JPA.
Commr. Renick related that the Conserve II property is in the current JPA, with the objective being the reclaimed water agreement. She stated that they were more than willing to work out a reclaimed water agreement, and they also agreed that there would be property for economic development. She commented that the City was asking for what they already had in place, but after Amendment 4 came about, people were lining up to annex.
Mr. Thompson reiterated his request that the County leave the RPA designation off of the land south of Conserve II and to come back together to discuss how they were going to plan the area south of the JPA.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that the actual request was to bring that property into the JPA, and during that negotiation process they would work out the issue regarding the RPA.
Commr. Renick stated that she had no problem with planning for that area, but that would take a long time, and they needed to look at what type of environmental design would be there.
Commr. Cadwell related that the Comp Plan was coming back to the Board with comments from DCA, and he wanted to review those comments first. He pointed out that they have not adopted that Comp Plan yet, and there was nothing wrong with starting a process to expand the JPA to include those pieces while they were going through the Comp Plan process, but he did not think that they should be worried about where the RPA currently is at this point in time.
Mr. Turville suggested that the staffs for both the City and County get together along with possibly the Conserve II people to discuss a plan for that area. There was consensus for that course of action.
Mr. Goodgame clarified with the County that the date for the resubmittal of the Comp Plan would be May 25.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 7:50 p.m.
welton g. cadwell, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK