A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
june 2, 2015
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special workshop session on June 2, 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; Welton G. Cadwell; and Leslie Campione. 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 Victoria Bartley, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Parks had everyone in the room introduce themselves, with those present including Jeff and Sandy Cagan, developers in Four Corners; Mike Levine, a real estate broker and property management company owner in the Four Corners area; Marc Dodd, Lake County School Board member; Ray San Fratello, President of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce; Nancy Muenzmay, Director of the Lake County Business Opportunity Centers; Carol Cervantes, owner of The Learning Club and resident in the area; Pastor José Gonzales of the Love and Living Hope Church; Jim Rivera, manager of Lowe’s in the Four Corners area and homeowner in the area; and Robert Chandler, Economic Growth Director.
Mr. Chandler gave a brief overview of the previous meeting where they had worked to establish the issues and challenges that the Four Corners region is facing. He reported that they would begin by going over what they had been able to categorize from the last meeting, ask some of the directors from the County to talk about the ways they believe the County can help, and then determine what the next steps moving forward should be. He relayed that they believe the first step should be to put together a task force that can meet on a regular basis in the Four Corners area that the County will facilitate with any interested partners, such as the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, the City of Clermont, and local business leaders to ensure that the concerns of the Four Corners residents are heard. He specified that the previous meeting established that issues the Four Corners are primarily facing are place-making, making the Four Corners a place that the residents feel invested in and can take ownership of their community, and economic support, creating jobs and diversifying and building up the tax base. He related that they had categorized a few of the main goals within those subjects, such as to increase real property value, general and specific economic prosperity with businesses, public safety, access to youth activities, and community ownership and investment. He remarked that Public Works would handle the place-making improvements with transportation, sidewalks, and other beautification projects.
Mr. Jim Stivender, Public Works Director, presented a map of the Four Corners region and mentioned that there had been a meeting about improving the traffic flow around Sawgrass Bay Elementary and putting in signage to prevent parents from dropping off their children in locations that block stop signs, which is a safety hazard. He relayed that last year, they convinced the Department of Transportation (DOT) to install streetlights along the US Hwy 27 corridor in 2017. He related that there were requirements in the Summer Bay development between the DOT and Summer Bay to make improvements to their sidewalk along US Hwy 92 to connect to Orange County, and they are in talks to see if the DOT could expedite some possible funding to assist in the development of that sidewalk.
Commr. Campione arrived at 9:18 a.m.
Mr. San Fratello submitted that the South Lake Chamber of Commerce had passed a resolution to establish people and pedestrians as a top priority and that it was adopted by the City of Clermont, Mascotte, and the County as well. He explained that this resolution ensures that transportation projects are designed with walkability and ride-ability in mind, not just automobile access.
Pastor José Gonzales inquired if a walkway could be constructed across US Hwy 27 to make it safer for citizens to travel.
Commr. Parks answered that it is possible, but that the project would have to go through the DOT.
Mr. Stivender pointed out that there must be a substantial number of pedestrians in order for the DOT to approve any construction, and they must quantify the number they need, as there would be hundreds of walkways, not just a few.
Commr. Parks opined that if there was not already a need for walkways, then there will be, particularly as there is now a proposed K through 8th grade school and they do not want any safety issues to arise.
Mr. Levine inquired what the next steps for these projects were.
Mr. Stivender specified that they must put the project on the DOT’s safety plan, where it will go through the MPO process, and then they can apply for a grant. He explained that this could be a Local Agency Program (LAP) project, but likely the DOT will construct it themselves. He mentioned that they needed to get on the DOT’s five year road program on their safety list and mentioned that if they can provide enough data to prove that this will be a utilized sidewalk, then there would be federal and state money available for it. He noted that if done at the right time, this could become part of Summer Bay’s requirements to put in a sidewalk.
Mr. Levine inquired if there will be any coordination with Osceola County to make the architectural transition between counties contiguous and fluid.
Commr. Sullivan relayed that historically, when the MPOs agree that there is a priority project, then it is moved up the priority list faster.
Commr. Cadwell explained that when Osceola County began their construction, Lake County was approached to see if they wanted to collaborate, but the residents did not want to participate. He related that they would have to ask the property owners again if they wanted to contribute.
Ms. Dottie Keedy, Community Services Director, reported that they had restored some of the Lynx Route 55 Service, which is on the budget for next year, but they have not heard anything about extending the service.
Mr. Bolivar Baylis, a Four Corners citizen, remarked that due to the insufficient transportation system, the residents of Four Corners do not have a chance to participate in after school activities, seek employment, or even to attend their children’s graduation ceremonies. He suggested that they should speak to the regular residents to determine what is actually needed in the community.
Ms. Keedy explained that they had restored the route to early morning and late afternoon service for commuters.
Commr. Parks commented that Lynx still controlled most of their service, so the County is bound by their terms, not its own. He mentioned that Lynx had made the decision to pull back service in this area 2 years ago in order to support the Sunrail.
Mr. Gregory Lightenar, a resident of Four Corners, pointed out that the Four Corners region had recently seen an explosion of growth that has not been properly taken into account. He inquired if an impact study could be done to determine if Windy Hill Middle School will be over-capacity in the next school year, due to the influx of new students. He opined that improved service from Lynx would help to increase commerce by allowing residents to travel to a wider range of places.
Ms. Keedy reported that the Economic Growth Department encourages service routes to be analyzed on a regular basis, so they will look into that.
Mr. Raul Perez, who recently moved to the Clermont area, declared that a school should be provided to the Cagan Crossing area in order to prevent over population in the surrounding schools. He suggested that the Four Corners area should either be incorporated into Clermont or form a city.
Commr. Campione stated that the reason for this meeting was to form a better understanding of what the Four Corners residents want, so that they can all be on the same page.
Commr. Sullivan explained that state law prohibits building a school unless certain population requirements are met, which Cagan Crossing does not have yet.
Commr. Parks pointed out that the presence of four commissioners at this meeting is a good sign, and they are hoping to be a catalyst for change in the Four Corners.
Mr. Chandler recounted that the purpose of this meeting was to raise these issues, not attempt to solve them all at once, and reiterated that this would not be the last meeting, but the beginning of many.
Mr. Perez voiced his hope that the Four Corners will not be forgotten and remarked on his concern over the lack of school crossing guards, as there had been accidents and fatalities due to school traffic.
Commr. Cadwell remarked that they will create a comprehensive to-do list and suggested that they speak to the school system about possibly offering a later bus service from East Ridge High, so that students will have more access to after school activities without having to make their way home alone. He related that their transportation system is too far out to wait for a regular route to be built in that area.
Pastor Gonzales agreed with this suggestion, adding that even one bus to start off with would help a great deal, particularly with East Ridge High and Windy Hill Middle School.
Commr. Cadwell remarked that the transportation problem needed to be addressed and that they will work to figure out the logistics of how to do that, such as working with the schools about monitoring the buses.
Mr. Lightenar relayed that there was a system in his hometown in New Jersey that is similar to the one being suggested which has been very successful, and pointed out that better after-school access for students will lead to improvements in the extra-curricular programs like student athletics, which in turn will help the students prepare for college.
Ms. Wendy Breeden, Public Resources Director, gave a brief overview of some of the projects the Public Resources has been handling. She relayed that they are implementing a Parks and Trails Master Plan for county wide service, which they are currently updating, and they hope to improve access to parks for the area in the coming year, as residents currently have to travel to Clermont or into Polk County for activities like sports. She mentioned that the Cagan Crossing library was established in 2008 and that they are hoping to develop the recently added second floor within the next few years to provide more new services. She reported that they had several partners in the area, such as the Learning Club, which allow them to provide a range of services, including teaching English as a second language, a summer reading program, and the “Pronunciator” program for learning languages online. She commented that the second floor of the library will be used as a flexible space that can be devoted to economic and work force development, as well as serve as a creative space.
Mr. Chandler clarified that support of local businesses is important to economic development and that the closest business opportunity center program is currently located in Clermont, but now they will work to bring a small-business development representative to the Four Corners area. He explained that a small-business development center is used to help provide business support for local businesses through training classes on subjects such as how to start a business, how to write a business plan, and business financials taught by certified business analysts. He mentioned that they were working with Lake Technical College to improve work force training and that the Sector Plan will impact this area, which is a plan designed to create jobs, so they will begin to see changes as these things progress.
Mr. Lightenar pointed out that these were all very good things, but that the main issue is with transportation. He opined that they can offer job training and create jobs, but none of it will matter if people cannot travel to them, so transportation needs to be the main priority.
Mr. Chandler relayed that this was an essential, unspoken part of economic development, because everything is contingent on being able to travel, and agreed that it has to be a priority.
Ms. Carol Cervantes relayed that there are only a limited numbers of students who that can attend her tutoring center resources due to insufficient bus transportation, though many desperately need tutoring.
Mr. Chandler commented that there was no one shot approach to finding a solution to this and that they need every aspect of improvement, because all these things will help the other.
Commr. Parks opined that they wanted the citizens to be engaged with these problems, because they will help find answers as well.
Ms. Cervantes specified that if there was a bus route from the school to her area, it would help alleviate some of these issues.
Mr. Baylis remarked that most of the things being discussed would hinge on transportation.
Ms. Tara Boshell, a citizen of Clermont, declaimed that new citizens should be fully informed as to what they are moving into, such as with the transportation situation.
Mr. Lightenar remarked that citizens should not accept inferior services when they move into an area either, because if they are all paying the same amount of taxes, they deserve the same education and utility services. He commented that the commissioners’ presence here shows that the County does care.
Mr. Levine reported that he has been doing business in this area for 17 years and noted that a rising tide lifts all ships, so work in one area will help others.
Mr. Chandler specified that everyone would need to contribute in order to bring about change, as there is only so much the County can do, and it will take input from the community. He relayed that the next step was the creation of a Four Corners task force in order to show the County’s engagement with the community and to facilitate change within it. He related that the task force will be made up of both city and County representatives, will ensure that the community’s concerns are heard on a consistent basis, and will determine what the priorities of the community should be.
Commr. Campione pointed out that historically the County has been rural and while the area is urbanizing due to its proximity to Orlando, Lake County does not have large transport systems in any region. She elaborated that what the Four Corners is suggesting is for an urban transportation system, like in major cities. She commented that perhaps the private sector might be able to create a business solution, as not every situation needs government intervention. She agreed that after school transportation for tutoring was needed, but noted that the cost of the additional services needed to be considered before moving forward.
Commr. Cadwell clarified that the task force will likely start with the three main topics discussed at these meetings regarding pedestrian traffic, community mobility and transportation, and the U.S. Hwy-192 improvement that will create a commercial tax base. He advised that Windy Hill Middle School should be added to the list of schools that the Board will look into getting after school transportation for and to start working on the logistics of how that might be achieved.
Commr. Parks added that the system would need to be ready before the start of the next school year.
Commr. Campione inquired if a committee of parents and teachers could implement a shuttle system for parents who are currently unable to attend their child’s graduation, as that is a definite problem.
Commr. Parks commented that there was a ride-share service from Lynx that parents might be able to utilize for special events.
Pastor Gonzales opined that this is where the community can help, and he suggested that maybe a local church or business can furnish a bus for events like graduations, similar to the partnership between Lowes and Sawgrass Elementary that works so well. He mentioned that the Four Corners was waiting for services that the other parts of the county get much sooner, and the County needs to put the Four Corners higher up in pecking order.
Mr. Levine pointed out that the Four Corners was unincorporated and that the cities had officials to advance their agendas, but this task force will be a great help because they will have a group of people who live there to advocate for the area.
Commr. Parks agreed that the task force will be important because no one knows what an area needs more than the locals and those partnerships such as the one between Lowes and Sawgrass will help improve the area.
Commr. Campione clarified that the nearest park was technically located across County lines in Polk County and inquired if the Four Corners residents knew it was available or that they could use it.
Ms. Breeden reported that the park charges a non-resident fee for Lake County residents.
Commr. Campione inquired what the non-resident fee was and whether there was a possibility of working with Polk County so that Lake County residents could also use the park.
Commr. Cadwell explained that they had previously had an agreement with Polk and Osceola County, but it was dropped when the Commission changed.
Mr. Perez declared that there needed to be a park in Lake County, not Polk, for the Four Corners residents.
Commr. Parks remarked that there was a Parks and Trails master plan for the County, but there are still funding questions associated with it. He relayed that the park issue will be addressed by the task force.
Commr. Cadwell related that when the Cagan Crossings library was being built, an agreement was reached with Polk County that residents could utilize the library or the park no matter which county they lived in; however, that partnership is no longer in effect.
Mr. Dodd relayed that there was an overcrowding issue at the local schools and that they are in a transitional time at the moment. He commented that the School Board was looking to move 538 students from overcrowded Lake Minneola High to nearby South Lake High for the 2019-20 school year, but that it was challenging trying to solve these issues in the meantime as well, particularly with finding funding for the school. He opined that the sense of community in the Four Corners was strong and that he could not wait until some of these additional resources are put into place. He mentioned that at the last School Board workshop, there had been a dialogue about the use of facilities and what sort of partnership might exist between municipalities in the County in order to make resources more widespreadly available.
Mr. Perez specified that Sawgrass Bay Elementary was only on Phase 2 out of 7 and that the overcrowding will be worse in 2019. He expounded that children are the future of Lake County and that education is the most important issue in the County.
Mr. John Arnold, of Arnold Groves Ranch in Showcase of Citrus, relayed that he owned a parcel of land north of Sawgrass Bay Elementary with enough land for several sports fields. He specified that there is an issue with access to the parcel due to an out-of-town property owner, but if the County would help facilitate access to that parcel and sufficient donations were collected, he would be willing to work with the Parks and Recreation Department to turn it into a park.
Commr. Parks thanked Mr. Arnold profusely for this solution and relayed that he would be in touch with him later.
Commr. Sullivan stated that this is the kind of input they need and that the dearth of both parks and sufficient transportation systems is a county wide issue, not just in the Four Corners. He noted that change will not happen overnight, but it would not happen at all without these kinds of meetings to ensure that the priorities of the community are being addressed.
Mr. Arnold pointed out that there was going to be major road work done with Disney’s Western Way being extended across Flemings Road through the western portion of West Orange County that will connect to the traffic light by Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and they will need to put in an access road to the proposed park before the area becomes too busy in the next two years. He advised that the opportunity for this park will be lost if they did not move quickly.
Commr. Parks opined that they needed to set up the action plan for the task force and that the most important topics that this meeting has generated are the cross-over from east to west on US Hwy 27, the business opportunity center, and planning around the intersection from the Western Way connection.
Mr. Levine asked the Cagans what the status of the possible educational facility in this area was.
Mr. Cagan reported that he had signed a contract with the School Board for a piece of property in the north part of Cagan Crossings for a new K through 8th grade school.
Mr. Levine noted the increase in activities in the area will raise the tax base, so they will need to do a financial analysis of that impact, as that rise may help to pay for some of the development. He remarked that the presence of a technical school would improve the business in the area, if only by teaching better computer skills, because businesses become more efficient when technical skills are improved. He commented that a technical school, next to a hospital where nursing training could be offered, would be a major attraction for this region that might become the foundation for the economic stimulus the region will need to accomplish these goals.
Commr. Sullivan specified that this is why Dr. Culpeper is here, since these things are currently located in North Lake County.
Dr. Diane Culpepper, Director of Lake technical Center, pointed out that Lake Tech was built 50 years ago in North Lake County because that was where the population was the largest. She related that they are aware of their lack of presence and would love to establish a campus in the Four Corners, so having a facility would make a key difference to the economic development and continued growth of the area.
Mr. Levine relayed that there were opportunities for funding, because these suggestions for healthcare and education all tie into the regional plan. He suggested that if they organized a grant request, the East Central Florida Planning Council would endorse these programs because they are in keeping with 6 pillars that the Florida Chamber established.
Dr. Culpepper reported that the major barrier preventing a campus from being built in the area was the lack of funding.
Mr. Levine suggested that the second floor of the Cagan Crossing library was available, just as a start to begin implementing some of these ideas. He opined that if they begin work on the Four Corners, they will get cooperation from other areas as well.
Commr. Campione inquired about the possibility of associating Lake County more directly with the Four Corners.
Mr. Chandler mentioned that this sort of branding is on the agenda for the first meeting of the task force.
Mr. Arnold suggested that they should incorporate everything south of Tradd’s Landing, since that is where all the development is occurring.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 10:47 a.m.
jimmy conner, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK