A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
april 6, 2015
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special workshop session on April 6, 2015 at Cagan Crossings Community Library, Clermont, Florida for a discussion about economic development of the Four Corners area with community leaders from that area. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Sean Parks, Vice Chairman; Timothy I. Sullivan; and Welton G. Cadwell. Others present were: David Heath, County Manager; Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Wendy Taylor, Executive Office Manager, Barbara F. Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.
Mr. Robert Chandler, Economic Growth Director, explained that this will be a roundtable discussion with the community leaders in the Four Corners area to come up with ideas about how they could set correct expectations for that area that would help its economic development. He introduced himself and the Commissioners who were present.
Commr. Parks related that they would “walk a mile” in the shoes of the residents in the Four Corners area and listen to their concerns in order to learn about and work on those issues together. He thanked Mr. and Mrs. Cagan for joining the discussion by phone conference call, and he commented that he was looking forward to listening and learning that day and then taking it to the next step.
Commr. Cadwell commented that he was just there to listen and mentioned that he was present for the approval of both the Cagan Crossings Library and Cagan Crossings development. He added that he wanted to update himself on what the issues were, noting that he had been involved in the Lynx busing issue since the beginning.
Mr. Chandler had everyone in the room introduce themselves, with those present being Jim Stivender, Public Works Director; Dottie Keedy, Community Services Director; Wendy Breeden, Public Resources Director; Paul Alford, Library Services Manager; Brian Sheahan, Community Safety and Compliance Director; David Heath, County Manager; Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney; Bill Veach, Deputy County Manager; Peyton Grinnell, Chief Deputy for the Sheriff’s Office; Sergeant Mike Miranda of the Sheriff’s Office who lives in the area; Kelly Lafollette, Communications Director; Elisha Pappacoda, Public Information Officer; Paul Simmons, Business Relations Manager; Mike Levine, a real estate broker and property management company owner in the Four Corners area; Ray San Fratello, President of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce; Kim Couch, South Lake Hospital Community Relations; John Moore of South Lake Hospital; Paul Caldwell, owner of Exploria Resorts formerly known as Summer Bay; Jim Rivera, manager of Lowe’s in the Four Corners area and homeowner in the area; Jose Gonzalez, a local pastor and resident in the area; Carol Cervantes, owner of The Learning Club and resident in the area; and Jeff Cagan, developer in Four Corners (telephonically).
Mr. Chandler related that an article which came out in the newspaper recently addressed some of the issues identified in the Four Corners area, and he listed some of the things that were mentioned in that article, such as pedestrian-friendly walkways and sidewalks, lighting, beautification projects, gateway signage, low rents, high vacancy, workforce development, and parks and recreation. He elaborated that the key for them is to be able to figure how to best leverage their resources to help the Four Corners area.
Mr. Levine related that as a real estate broker, he came to Lake County from Osceola County 17 years ago, and he opined that the second home market moving down the 192 corridor really created the Four Corners area. He stated that he has spoken with the County Commissioners over the years, especially regarding the problem that a large percentage of the property in the county is homesteaded residences. He noted that 40 percent of the tourism tax dollars for Osceola County comes from privately owned properties that are being used as hotels and short-term rental properties, and it would bring in more tax revenue for Lake County if the Four Corners area had developed in the same way. He opined that the Four Corners area does not want anything from the County and actually wants to give things to Lake County instead. He also opined that if the 192 beautification project had been implemented at the same time that Osceola had done theirs, they would find more second homes in this county as well as higher property values, with fewer of the properties being homesteaded resulting in a higher tax base for Lake County, and he suggested that Lake County implement some of the programs that Osceola and Polk are doing, which he believed would result in some growth opportunities and would be a smart, clear path to increasing the tax base and improving the quality of life in Four Corners and the South Lake part of the county.
Mr. Cagan commented that he believed one problem they were still having in the Four Corners area was that the homes were still reasonably priced for a working class area, and they could not justify the higher prices for more expensively priced homes in this area. He stated that he also had heard that the market would not justify the second or short-term rental homes. He opined that Cagan Crossings was successful because of the reasonable rental prices, which were cheaper than those to the north in the Clermont area. He stated that he believed the increase in the school impact fees would be a major problem and would negatively affect housing by increasing the cost of construction.
Mr. Levine remarked that the economy around the world is not what it was in 2000, and the western world has experienced a huge economic recession. He elaborated that he fully appreciates that the demand for new second homes today is not as high as it was in the past, and they ultimately needed an economic recovery which was beyond their control. He commented that there has been more development of gated and guarded communities along with high homeowners’ association dues to take care of the properties which are run by one property management company to effectively market it and keep an inventory of the available homes. He opined that extending the 192 beautification program would give people a much brighter impression of the neighborhoods when they drive through and would attract commercial development there as well.
Mr. Caldwell stated that he believed that development in the Four Corners area would drastically increase in the next three to five years, and he presented a map showing the proposed amendment to their DRI (Development of Regional Impact) that they will be submitting within the next couple of weeks, which dealt exclusively with the west end of their property from the Publix site west to Hwy 27. He elaborated that it showed a 245-unit apartment complex that they plan to start renting by the beginning of 2016, and they also have proposals for numerous other types of sites, including restaurant sites along the intersection of 192 and 27, a hotel site, a professional office park, and some additional land for either additional apartments or a skilled care center. He also mentioned that there was a site there for a health pavilion, which Mr. John Moore could tell everyone more about.
Mr. Moore related that South Lake Hospital has been researching this area for quite a while and looking at the lack of health care that exists in this area, noting that there were few physicians located here with a growing market for that care. He stated that he worked with Mr. Joe Scott, owner of Exploria Resorts, on an agreement on some property consisting of 11 acres, and they have done some demographic analysis of the area and would announce soon what they decide to locate on that site. He elaborated that this was a natural extension for them of the campus they had in Clermont.
Mr. Chandler commented that that was certainly good news and was the type of private sector catalyst needed in the market to help the area.
Mr. Cagan commented that he welcomed that development, including the construction of the apartments.
Mr. Caldwell related that they would be asking for Lake County staff’s continued cooperation, support, and expedited permitting, as they have been giving them for the last couple of years, and he added that he appreciated the support of the County’s efforts in the last two or three years.
Mr. Cagan remarked that the reason he has held on to and has not developed the land he owns behind Walmart for so long is because he believed it was designed for medical, university, or some other type of job-generating industry uses rather than residential. He related that he had many meetings with County staff about doing something on that property, but nothing came about as a result of those meetings. He noted that the closest hospital is pretty far away from that location, and he offered to work with anyone on this type of project. He emphasized that this area needs high paying job-producing infrastructure, and he added that vacation homes go up and down with the economy. He further commented that this area has global diversity and an opportunity to become a global incubation center with the right vision. He suggested that they be creative and visionary in the way they capitalize on the unique characteristics of this community, and he related that his goal is to make the area something special.
Commr. Parks expressed agreement that the overarching concern for all of them is more higher-wage jobs, which is exactly what the focus should be, but he also wanted to discuss right of way for sidewalks for accessibility, since he discovered that walking in the area was treacherous when he walked in the area with residents recently.
Mr. Chandler added that his department is focusing on the perspective of jobs, which is important and necessary for better quality of life.
Mr. Stivender mentioned that the County is getting ready to enter into an agreement with FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) for lighting along the Hwy 27 corridor.
Commr. Cadwell suggested that they do not miss an opportunity to do other things in addition to the lighting along that corridor, including discussion with DOT about another partnership to do those things, especially in the gateway portion of the road. He commented that improving the infrastructure would provide economic development incentives for businesses to locate their businesses along those corridors, and he believed the emphasis should be on function first and then aesthetics.
Commr. Sullivan commented that those improvements fit with what the Board is trying to do by creating the environment that would make people want to come there with sidewalks, lighting, and quality of life improvements, and their goal is to make this a unique area.
Pastor Jose Gonzalez related that the issues he has seen during the last ten years living in this community were regarding basic quality of life issues and mentioned that the residents in the Four Corners area are not considered Clermont residents and that the area is considered a depressed area. He specified that some of the infrastructure lacking in the area is lighting, transportation, parks, and recreational opportunities. He suggested that they use the library for a satellite County office so that residents do not have to travel to Tavares for those types of services and also as a satellite college. He pointed out that although the library is in a great place and he is glad to have the library in the area, many children do not have transportation or a safe way to get there, especially those that would have to cross busy Hwy 27. He mentioned the large amount of traffic on SR 474, which was made worse by trucks exiting and entering several of the sand mines on that road. He related that he has been discussing all of these issues with Commr. Parks on a regular basis, which were issues that residents have brought to him. He commented that although there are kids in the area that are capable of great things, they are dependent on a school bus to take them to school and could not do anything after school, and parents have to travel a great distance so that their children have an opportunity to participate in recreational activities. He reported that there was a decrease of 80 percent of juvenile crime due to working with those kids and providing them with some extracurricular activities.
Mr. Levine opined that one of the challenges is that they do not really have an advocate for the Four Corners market, and the cooperation between the different counties fell apart when there was a downturn in the economy.
Mr. San Fratello commented that he had a soft spot for the Four Corners area after staying in Summer Bay for six months after being hired by the Chamber of Commerce and getting familiar with the area. He credited the Cagans with starting to get the area to look like a small community, and he opined that a sense of place is one of the harder things to develop there, since the area is made up of all unincorporated County properties. He elaborated that since there was no local jurisdiction or organizational structure to address a lot of the local issues, they would have to be addressed by the private sector working together with the County government. He related that they needed to find a vehicle to help them identify a sense of place and address all of the public infrastructure issues where the County could certainly have a role, and he opined that they are starting to move in that direction. He specified that the area had the great developments of Cagan Crossings and Summer Bay, two Publix stores, a Walmart, a Lowe’s, an elementary school, and a wonderful library, whereas probably half of the cities in Lake County do not have that type of commercial development. He added that they need to find a way to identify how they could pull the private sector, public sector, and independent sector made up of church and nonprofits together.
Mr. Moore stated that there has to be an example in the United States of an area which covers multiple counties where those counties come together for commercial development that could show them what vehicles are out there from a governing standpoint that could be put forth and how to get those areas to cooperate, since he did not know how unique that situation is.
Commr. Cadwell explained that the reason behind the breakdown in cooperation between the counties besides the economy was a drastic change in leadership and makeup of both the Osceola and Polk County Commissions, although Lake County’s Board stayed somewhat stable, which resulted in a deteriorated relationship with regard to the libraries and other previously cooperative efforts, and he commented that he agreed that it was common sense for the counties to cooperate to help the community. He also opined that a sense of community was hard to obtain when the residents were busy working in other areas, and they have to find some type of vehicle to bring about community involvement which would sustain itself.
Mr. Cagan pointed out that the area is influenced by Disney, which hires a lot of residents from the Four Corners area as well as from the other surrounding areas.
Pastor Gonzalez opined that there were residents that were invested in this community, but he agreed that they have to develop a community type of atmosphere, since there was currently no sense of community. He suggested that they try to get the residents from the many different developments to the table to find out what they feel are the basic needs of the area. He expressed concern that the schools in the area will be overpopulated in the near future due to imminent development, and he added that their school was a Title I school with over 80 percent of the students on free or reduced lunch. He related that there was some empty commercial space due to failure of businesses in the area, and he asked how they could use that space. He expressed a hope that they could have social services and other churches available in their particular area to help with those needs. He commented that he feels he has to speak up after living there for several years, since he owns a home there, his children have gone to school there, and he serves the community there.
Mr. Caldwell related that he has heard about Four Corners since Summer Bay sold its first timeshare interest 20 years ago. He expressed a belief that it was counterproductive to try to identify with the sections of Four Corners that are in four different counties, and they should recognize that and get on with the business of developing South Lake County.
Mr. San Fratello mentioned that a Four Corners Council was formed about ten years ago consisting of the four counties and was run through the Osceola Chamber of Commerce, which meant that any member of this group had to also be a member of the Osceola Chamber, and he opined that Lake County did not get a lot of attention or benefit in that group. He suggested that they ask Disney for some help financially, since 7,000 of their employees or about 10 percent of their workforce are residents of Lake County.
Commr. Parks stated that he thought they should be more specific on what the next steps would be to do this, and they indicated that the private sector needs to be a part of this, which has not happened very much at this point. He related that the County’s role is to help facilitate the start of something that could be picked up by the community, residents, churches, and business community. He recapped that he mentioned a possible CRA for this community at a Board retreat as an idea, although that idea was not well-received by his fellow Commissioners, and he stated that although they could set up their own organization or committee, they would need involvement from the community in order to do so.
Mr. San Fratello commented that he thought a CRA might be a good idea.
Commr. Cadwell responded that since this is not considered a blighted area and has had commercial development, the spirit of the law is not designed for that type of situation, and he elaborated that CRA’s are for redevelopment of facilities that are over 15 years old.
Commr. Parks suggested that perhaps there is a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) structure that they could look at for infrastructure improvements, similar to what the County did for the Turnpike Interchange.
Commr. Cadwell suggested that they identify three priorities that could change the community and that would provide functional beautification regarding issues such as transit, lighting, and walkability.
Commr. Sullivan commented that Four Corners was a unique community, and they should stop looking at what the other counties were doing in Four Corners, since the development of those areas are about two decades ahead of Lake County. He added that they could concentrate some of the sidewalk improvement efforts that would come from the renewal of the penny sales tax on this area, which he suggested they call something else such as South Lake or Cagan Crossings.
Mr. Levine opined that he believed that Osceola and Polk Counties work together pretty well, with brand new Amazon and Fedex distribution centers and the I-4 corridor running through it, but he pointed out that Orange County with their Horizons West project is reluctant to get involved with other counties regarding development. He also commented that a lot of people who own businesses in the Four Corners area do not live there, and they do not really have the backbone of the business community represented, since the stakeholders are not there. He asked whether incorporating is a good idea in that area, although there are a lot of complexities associated with that, and whether other counties would join that effort. He reiterated that he personally believes that the extension of the 192 beautification project would be a great step in the right direction and would create an environment where productivity could happen.
Mr. Moore stated that he completely agreed with Commr. Cadwell’s comment about the priority list, and he added that his company decided to provide health care service in this area after it was discovered that it was also greatly needed. He elaborated that the same type of thing could happen regarding the other priorities that they had listed that day.
Mr. Levine summarized that UCF (University of Central Florida) has helped to take care of the health care needs, and he suggested that since the Cagans were interested in doing something in the education field, UCF could help with that effort.
Mr. Cagan stated that County officials could help do that, and he commented that he had no idea how to get UCF or anyone else to come to Cagan Crossings.
Mr. Levine responded that the Commissioners deal with UCF and Lake Sumter State College all the time, and he opined that it would be a great match for Lake Tech to have another campus there on some Cagan property.
Mr. Cagan commented that they need help developing the area, and he expressed a willingness to work with anyone toward that endeavor.
Commr. Sullivan noted that the whole health care industry has changed drastically, with urgent care centers and surgical centers being built rather than brick and mortar hospitals, which he opined would be a catalyst that would help that community. He stated that he believed the County needed to focus on the sidewalks, lighting, and beautification and make those a priority in their plans, because it is their next major growth area.
Mr. Caldwell offered to work with the County on a gateway project.
Mr. Levine suggested that they build an over-the-street walkway for children to get to the library from the east side of Hwy 27 as another component in that plan.
Commr. Parks related that staff was writing a list of concerns and suggestions that were mentioned during this meeting.
Mr. Rivera, who runs the Lowe’s in the area, commented that the Four Corners area is thought of as an oversight, with the extremely developed area of Hwy 50 being thought of as the popular place to live. He mentioned that the majority of his employees live elsewhere and that the Lowe’s located on Hwy 50 in Clermont does quite a bit more business than his store. He elaborated that currently they have to go to Hwy 50 for health care, and he believed health care facilities would bring people to the area.
Mr. Levine commented that the tourism component should not be overlooked.
Mr. Caldwell responded that the tourists are the largest taxpayers in Lake County by far.
Mr. Rivera related that he agreed with that and added that vacation homeowners give his store a lot of business, although he believes they need more residential in the area. He pointed out that the only access to the Four Corners area is from 192 or Hartwood Marsh.
Mr. Chandler asked whether there has ever been an effort to create a South Lake – Four Corners Chamber group or task force or if there was one that exists currently. He commented that he believed that would be a good place to start and would get people talking on a regular basis, and it would not have to be an official group.
Commr. Cadwell replied that all the groups that have been formed have all been issue driven and disbanded as soon as that particular issue was resolved.
Pastor Gonzalez offered to do and be involved in whatever would help the area improve.
Mr. San Fratello elaborated that they were never able to generate the organizational structure and the commitment from a large enough group to make that happen when they tried to do that several years ago, but it may be time to revisit that idea.
Commr. Parks related that the County could help organize and establish the infrastructure or vehicle for forming an advisory committee or something of that nature and make sure it is sustained.
Mr. Levine commented that he sees that people are suffering and struggling in that area, and he related that he wanted to see infrastructure that helps to dramatically improve household income and quality of life.
Mr. Chandler stated that they wanted this to be a first step and pointed out that the coordinators on their staff were regionally based in order to do things like this. He assured everyone that they will work to get the advisory committee or task force started to get people talking on a regular basis. He thanked everyone for coming and opined that the meeting had been very productive. He indicated that they will meet with the Board and County staff to determine what to follow up on, and he wanted to schedule another meeting for early summer.
Commr. Sullivan commented that he believes that this forum will benefit them all, and opined that there were a lot of resources and many things to be done.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 3:34 p.m.
jimmy conner, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK