A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
MARCH 31, 2021
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session with the Eustis City Commission on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 at 5:00 p.m., at the Eustis Community Center, Eustis, Florida. Lake County Commissioners present at the meeting were: Sean Parks, Chairman; Kirby Smith, Vice Chairman; Douglas B. Shields; Leslie Campione; and Josh Blake. Eustis City Commissioners present were: Michael Holland, Mayor; Emily A. Lee, Vice Mayor; Karen LeHeup-Smith; Willie Hawkins; and Nan Cobb. Others present were: Alan Rosen, County Manager; Melanie Marsh, County Attorney; Kristy Mullane, Chief Financial Officer; Josh Pearson, Deputy Clerk; Ron Neibert, Eustis City Manager; Derek A. Schroth, Eustis City Attorney; and Mary Montez, Eustis City Clerk.
Mayor Holland welcomed everyone to the meeting and confirmed with Ms. Mary Montez, Eustis City Clerk, that proper notice had been given. He thanked the Board of County Commissioners (BCC), County staff and residents for attending as the Commissioners talked about some ideas regarding where they had been and where they needed to go to make sure that Lake County and the City of Eustis grew in a proper manner. He hoped that this meeting would help them have open dialogue and work together to move forward as two commissions, while keeping residents informed and engaged in the process.
Commr. Parks thanked everyone for their time, noting that he considered the City of Eustis as a friend and a partner in creating a great community for their constituents. He thanked the City for the time and hoped that the meeting could be productive. He also said that the BCC was looking forward to working with the mediator, and that they were keeping the future in mind and trying to grow together. He commented that 1,000 or more people were moving to the State of Florida per day, and that this meeting was about how the County and City could do this together.
Mayor Holland introduced the Honorable Rick Orfinger, a retired judge who would be the mediator for this meeting.
Mr. Orfinger thanked everyone and commented that growth in the State of Florida was inevitable; furthermore, they had to plan for it, manage it, and not compromise the lifestyle of people who were already there. He explained that this was different than a typical mediation, noting that if there was a lawsuit between two parties, then they would not be subject to the Sunshine Law. He elaborated that this was a voluntary process and that there were people with interest in this area who had to be considered, and he hoped that they could chart a path forward. He mentioned that a deal would not be forced on anyone, and that it was up to the City and the County whether they could reach a negotiated settlement. He asked them to consider what their options were on both sides, including the best and worst alternatives to a negotiated settlement. He thought that one item that they could likely agree on was that nobody wanted to be involved in lawsuits, and he commented that the process was neutral. He clarified that he was not sitting as a judge or a lawyer, and that he would not tell them want to do; furthermore, their legal advice would come from their lawyers. He added that he was not here to replace staff; rather, he would facilitate discussion and dialogue. He said that he had talked to Mayor Holland, Mr. Derek Schroth, Eustis City Attorney, Commissioner Parks, and Ms. Melanie Marsh, County Attorney, and that he had some sense of the issues that had caused disagreement in the past. He commented that they were not here to relive the past, noting that there was an issue before them that needed a resolution. He suggested that constituents would prefer that their elected leaders make that decision rather than a single judge. He relayed that this seemed to be a policy driven issue, and he proposed to focus on what the policy ought to be. He also proposed to try to understand what the City would like to accomplish, along with the concerns of the County and the residents in the area, and then work through more granular issues as the process moved forward. He thought that if this issue could be resolved in a manner that made everyone reasonably happy, then this could help restore some of the working relationships that the City and the County wanted. He said that he wanted this meeting to be driven by the elected leaders, noting that this was an opportunity for them to address their counterparts directly with concerns and their objective. He asked Mayor Holland to summarize his feelings about the relationship, the current issues, and a path forward. He added that he would then ask the Chairman of the BCC to do the same, and he would then go through the seats numerically back and forth.
Mayor Holland remarked that there were two new Eustis City Commissioners and that the City had longtime relationships with the BCC. He commented that the City and County needed to be on the same page to grow and to do the right things for Lake County. He said that the City and the County had the ability to work together and to come up with an even playing field for them and the residents. He opined that growth was inevitable, and commented that it was up to the commissions to decide the quality of growth and what happened with those areas. He expressed a desire to start a new dialogue to move them forward and be able to negotiate ways that the city could grow in a smart and rational way. He commented that it could take several times with them meeting and moving things forward, and reiterated that he wanted them to move forward.
Commr. Parks recalled the recent Georgefest event, and he mentioned how unique the event and the City of Eustis were. He commented that he had recently visited residents in the Thrill Hill area, noting that he appreciated the rural character and agricultural component of that area. He believed that there was a way to keep the uniqueness of the city while also addressing the uniqueness of that area, noting that the area would be under growth pressure in the coming years. He also believed that this was something that the City and County could do together, and he hoped that it started at the current meeting. He remarked that he could envision it as a long term plan that the City, the County and residents could be part of. He said that there were examples of planning in the state for these types of areas with rural character next to more urban land uses.
Mr. Orfinger commented that because his goal was to have this dialogue between the commissions, and that because he did not anticipate any formal action being taken, he would not think that the current meeting would be an appropriate time to take public comment. He elaborated that there was really nothing to comment on at this point, and if they decided to move forward, public input would be important in the process and final approval.
Eustis Commr. LeHeup-Smith relayed that her concern was to keep in mind that there were processes in place, along with established guidelines that they had to go by. She expressed interest in finding a resolution, noting that they previously met and had not come away with anything. She hoped that they could respect each other and move forward.
Commr. Shields noted that the County did not have water or sewer; therefore, they could not provide workforce housing or economic development to a great extent. He believed that the County and City needed a good relationship, though they had to look out for the residents that elected them into office to protect their quality of life. He stated that he had been to the Thrill Hill area, and he commented that there had to be a way to get to the City’s goals, which he assumed were to bring more revenue to the City, and for the County to protect its residents as much as they could. He thought that this was a good first step, and he thanked the City for meeting with them.
Eustis Commr. Hawkins commented that he had run on smart growth, and he thought that the City needed to be forward thinking. He also thought that in this situation, there was nothing they could do but compromise. He said that he understood what the residents in the Thrill Hill area had and that he did not want to change their way of life; however, he opined that there had to be some growth and compromise. He relayed his understanding that the residents knew that there would be growth, and he commented that they had to be smart about how they did it.
Commr. Smith relayed his history with the Thrill Hill area, commenting that it was not close to the downtown area. He mentioned that he saw it as a transitional zone, and he thought that the County and City could work together. He said that he did everything for the betterment of the people, and he hoped that they could come to an understanding that would be palatable for everybody involved. He relayed that this would include safety and road issues, noting that the County did not have water and that there would be some enhancements in the area that would be better for the residents. He stated that growth had to be smart, and that he liked transitional zones where it was known where it would go 20 years later. He thanked the City for allowing the BCC to be there, noting that the residents were seeing two government bodies coming together to work hard to try and come to a resolution on a situation that impacted their lives. He supported making sure that whatever the BCC and City did was in the best interests of everybody involved.
Eustis Commr. Cobb commented that she lived in the City of Eustis and was also a constituent. She said that she understood what the residents were feeling, and that she was about the bigger picture; furthermore, she was interested in the total growth for the city moving north, east and west. She mentioned that she would like this to be considered when moving forward in these discussions.
Commr. Campione thanked everyone for being here and hoped that this would be a positive process. She stated that this was about the bigger picture and the larger vision that the City had, opining that they would have to get into the details. She stated that one of the first things she wanted to ask everyone was to think in terms of what their vision was for every direction that the city grew. She questioned that if they were focusing on the east currently, what subdivisions existed that the City was familiar with and that they felt would fit the area. She noted that this was an opportunity to chart this course, noting that the County had worked on joint land development regulations (LDR) with other Cities. She said that she had made some maps of some subdivisions that she thought would be helpful to visualize what two, three and four dwelling units per acre looked like. She stated that when adding in things like open space requirements, or gross density versus net density, the outcome of the subdivision looked completely different. She hoped that the County and City could discuss some of these details, and said that the City Commission could take these items with them. She added that the County used net density in their calculations and that it yielded a less dense subdivision. She thought that with the road situation and safety issues in this area, planning together made sense because typically the County was the entity that would be called on to make improvements or address road issues. She commented that if they did not come up with a solution for how to fund some of these things, then they could be in a situation similar to what they were dealing with in some parts of the City of Clermont where they had deficient roads and not enough right of way to widen them or alleviate issues. She remarked that density played into this and that a higher number of houses in a concentrated location could lead to a greater impact on nearby intersections. She also mentioned that people expected to have sidewalks, noting that sidewalks were expensive; therefore, this was another item that could be addressed in joint planning. She relayed that often when a subdivision was built in the city, sidewalks would be required, but then there could be a gap; additionally, she supported coming up with a plan to fill those gaps on the frontend. She thought that these were some things that they could do together to yield an overall long term vision that they could feel good about.
Mr. Orfinger asked if there were any subdivisions that she thought would be a great development and the way it ought to be done.
Commr. Campione commented that her personal vision would be for the area to stay at the current densities; however, for compromise and trying to accommodate growth and property rights, one of the closest examples in their area would be Park at Wolf Branch Oaks. She noted that it had a conservation design where they clustered the homes and created large open spaces around the perimeter of the property. She commented that this was a unique approach that started about 20 years ago with the designer Mr. Randall Arendt, noting that he had a book that explained how to do this. She noted that lots could be clustered so that utilities were confined to a smaller area; therefore, it would not be as expensive to install them. She added that common open space could give a rural feeling with a subdivision in a rural area.
Mr. Orfinger inquired if the architecture was of a specific nature.
Commr. Campione thought that Park at Wolf Branch Oaks went with a southern living front porch design, noting that having a design theme helped because when homes were together, it created a feel that they all belonged in that neighborhood.
Vice Mayor Lee shared her interest in more positive and productive communication and cooperation between the City and the County, how they could build trust and work together to focus on the future of the City of Eustis and the County, and how they could get past the Thrill Hill area and focus on growth in the city. She said that it seemed like they were stuck on the Thrill Hill area, and that she would like to see them do more to look at the big picture for the city. She believed that they could work together, and that it was an opportunity to be an example of unity and planning. She noted that they had processes and established guidelines, and said that she would like to see it respected and to develop a process to work together. She hoped that they could think of what was best for growing the city.
Mr. Orfinger asked if by processes, she meant the land development codes in place currently, and Vice Mayor Lee confirmed this. Mr. Orfinger relayed his understanding that the land development codes and the Comprehensive Plans (Comp Plans) between the County and City were somewhat different.
Mr. Derek A. Schroth, Eustis City Attorney, said this was correct.
Mr. Orfinger inquired if the Eustis City Commissioners were open to the idea that some amendments to the land development code might be appropriate if they received ideas from the County.
Vice Mayor Lee thought that these items were in place and if anything, it should be considered of upmost importance. She felt that the City was being told to change whatever they had, and she thought that they needed respect as to what they had in place.
Commr. Blake commented that he had taken the City’s side on this issue, relaying that he was primarily a libertarian for property rights. He believed that the market should make decisions on what went where, opining that it was better suited for their republic than overregulation. He said that he understood the concerns of residents who lived next to areas that would be developing, and relayed that he was aware that compromise could eventually settle this.
Mr. Orfinger asked the City Commission if they heard anything from the BCC that they felt an urgent need to address.
Eustis Commr. LeHeup-Smith thought that the City of Eustis was being asked to do many things before they even annexed the property such as make decisions on roadways, along with police and fire protection. She noted that this was all part of the process and that until they saw what was being planned there, she did not know how they could make those decisions. She commented that it would be when the design came and they saw what was needed: additionally, reports had to be done about roads and what was needed there.
Mr. Orfinger inquired that if a developer came to the City and wanted to do something, did the staff typically meet with the developers and work out development agreements so that there would be some understanding of what was going to go on.
Mr. Schroth replied that those circumstances did exist where the developer came prior to annexation to discuss what the property could be used for and what a general plan might be.
Mr. Orfinger remarked that it would then not be unusual for those discussions to take place in concert with an annexation request.
Mr. Schroth clarified that it was not required and that in some instances, the developer would have a plan prior to annexation. He believed that they did not have a specific plan in this instance and that they wanted to annex currently to be within the City of Eustis to have future plans considered.
Mr. Orfinger asked that if a piece of property was annexed from the county to the city, did it carry the existing zoning unless the City went through a rezoning and Comp Plan amendment process.
Mr. Schroth thought that this was the case, and Ms. Marsh agreed.
Mr. Orfinger inquired that if a developer wanted to come into the city but they did not know what and when they were going to do there, would it come into the city with the same land use designation.
Mr. Schroth confirmed this but noted that there would be no guarantee of an increase density or use in the City code, and they would be paying City taxes.
Mr. Orfinger indicated an understanding that for at least one parcel where there were no specific plans, it just came in exactly as it was now, and the decision to change that land use would be dependent on the normal planning process, public hearings, etc.
Mr. Schroth said this was correct.
Mr. Orfinger asked the BCC if there was anything they would want to ask for clarification, to reemphasize, or to mention.
Commr. Parks said that he recognized the concerns of Eustis Commissioner LeHeup-Smith and Vice Mayor Lee for their process being challenged. He thought that they were focused on three or four different parcels, and he proposed possibly redirecting the conversation to the larger area, or the east side of the City of Eustis in unincorporated Lake County. He commented that if they were going to do a plan together, the City would not necessarily be compromising their principles, noting that he liked form based codes that could be applied to enclaves. He stated that the County wanted a standard that would ensure the protection of the unincorporated residents, and he proposed possibly doing something that was outside of the City’s normal planning processes and the County’s standards to come up with something together that would include more than those three or four parcels. He said that it could be a long term area plan where they got into specifics.
Commr. Campione stated that she appreciated what Commissioner Parks said from the standpoint of putting a positive spin on the idea that they would not be abandoning the City’s process and were not saying that only the County’s processes would work, but they would be coming up with something together. She thought that the process that the City used lent itself to residents becoming concerned for the unknown and for a worst case scenario because they did not get to see a development plan on the frontend. She relayed that many Cities would not annex property unless they had a development agreement in place, along with density and design. She mentioned the possibility of the City having a development agreement requirement that imposed at least a requirement for a concept plan and a density study, noting that when large tracts are developed, the Florida Statutes state that those reports and studies should be done on the frontend. She noted that this was different because it was a voluntary annexation; therefore, the City was not required by the statute to do it, though she opined that good planning would suggest to look at those things on the frontend. She recalled issues in the past where individuals saw the City’s suburban residential density of up to five units per acre, with even more units when applying a gross density, noting that this could be concerning.
Mr. Orfinger thought that he was hearing two issues with a certain amount of overlap, with one being that there were other areas that could potentially be affected by an interlocal service boundary agreement (ISBA). He also commented that the City had an application and an obligation to act on it, and he relayed a concern that trying to resolve the ISBA could take longer than what was reasonable. He thought that the idea of a comprehensive look was great, though wondered that, given the timeframes that these items normally took, whether it was realistic to think they could get that done in a reasonable time to address the current issue.
Commr. Parks agreed that this was a challenge, and he noted that for long term plans, there was bureaucracy that could make things take longer; however, he thought that there was still the ability for the County and the City to do this. He said that it would be a larger area and that there were ways to table applications. He hoped that landowners could be part of the process, and he stated that it could be a predictable process after they were done.
Vice Mayor Lee believed that the County and City should work together. She expressed a concern that the County saying that they were trying to protect the residents made it sound like the City was not trying to protect them. She then asked about Park at Wolf Branch Oaks.
Commr. Campione clarified that she thought it was a concept that could work well in a rural transition area, adding that it was on Wolf Branch Road between Round Lake Road and County Road (CR) 437. She commented she had looked at some other communities and that Sullivan Ranch was another example, though it was a more traditional neighborhood; however, it had 75 foot wide lots which she opined was the direction to go. She explained that Park at Wolf Branch Oaks was a conservation design where they made the lots smaller and the common open space larger; therefore, it felt like the subdivision was in the middle of a pasture.
Eustis Commr. Hawkins agreed that the Eustis City Commission should see development before it was done, and he opined that citizens had a right to know what was coming to their neighborhood. He commented that no matter when the City decided it was going to annex property, they would still have people who did not want this to happen, and he said that they had to find a way to get this done.
Mr. Orfinger thought that he sensed a positive feeling that everyone wanted to look forward, and he also thought that everyone realized that growth was going to happen. He questioned what their path forward at the current meeting was. He opined that it was challenging to work on these sorts of details in a large group like this, and he proposed possibly considering a smaller working group, perhaps with one Commissioner from each entity. He also suggested the attorneys from each entity, and possibly one of the planners from each side. He noted that the property owners and developers needed to be involved at some point, and he proposed that this working group meet and try to figure out what was realistic for development. He commented after the working group met for a meeting or two, the County and City could then come back and see if they were moving in the right direction. He thought that as part of that, it would be appropriate for leadership on the management side to discuss how they could convene a group and look at the larger planning issues. He commented that it was inevitable that the City needed and wanted to grow, and he asked what the City Commission thought of his suggestion for a path forward. He noted that it may or not involve him, and that it would be up to the leadership on both sides.
Eustis Commr. Cobb said that she was amicable with the working group, and she thought that the Mayor needed to represent the City.
Vice Mayor Lee agreed with this.
Mayor Holland stated that the City Commission was in agreement that the small working group would be a good idea, noting that they would have a discussion at the following night’s City Commission meeting.
Commr. Parks commented that he was in favor of this, and he asked if it would be focused on a larger plan.
Mr. Orfinger thought that it had to be a two part process, and that the starting place likely had to be these parcels because the City had an obligation to deal with them in a reasonably prompt manner. He added that the same kinds of development discussions they would have at that meeting would affect the larger discussion as well. He hoped that they could have this on parallel tracks with the same group, though this particular issue may be addressed more rapidly than the overall issue.
Commr. Parks mentioned that other parcels could follow an annexation, noting that with the development pressure on that area, he thought it was something they could work out.
Commr. Smith relayed that he was amicable with this.
Commr. Campione thought that it was a good approach and worth trying, and that Mayor Holland and Commissioner Parks would be perfect to work on this.
Commr. Parks stated that he was going to defer to the district Commissioner, but that he would do this.
Commr. Campione suggested that if there was a sense of urgency to deal with the properties that had come in, one approach could be that they would be like a pilot for the rest. She relayed that once the door was opened with these properties, then this was how the rest of the area could be developed.
Mr. Orfinger commented that if this could be done right, it could form a model to move forward.
Mayor Holland remarked that he could sit on that committee and that this could be the step of putting everything together. He expressed interest in fairness and resolution for the residents and Ms. Marsh, who had both attended City Commission meetings regarding this issue.
Commr. Campione asked if they could at least establish that the cases would not be at every City Commission meeting so that the residents would not have to keep attending.
Mr. Schroth thought that this could be decided on the following day, relaying his understanding that the City Commission was receptive to this.
Mr. Orfinger stated that this seemed like a reasonable request. He noted that the lifestyles of those who lived there needed to be respected, but they also needed to respect that the landowners had rights to do something with their property. He commented that they needed to find reasonable compromise, and he suggested to adjourn the current meeting and leave it with staff to schedule and come up with an agenda for another meeting. He expressed support for making progress incrementally, and he thought that it was up to the County and City to discuss amongst themselves if they wanted his further participation.
Commr. Parks said that he would appreciate Mr. Orfinger’s involvement for another meeting.
Mayor Holland concurred with this, noting that it helped to have someone from outside to help facilitate them.
Eustis Commr. Hawkins proposed to make this process become a priority for staff on both sides.
Commr. Smith agreed, noting that both Commissions wanted this done as much as the residents.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 6:17 p.m.
SEAN PARKS, chairman
GARY J COONEY, CLERK