A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
may 3, 2021
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special session on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 1:00 p.m., at Cagan Crossings Community Library, Clermont, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Sean Parks, Chairman; Kirby Smith, Vice Chairman; Douglas B. Shields; Leslie Campione; and Josh Blake. Others present were: Alan Rosen, County Manager; Jennifer Barker, Deputy County Manager; Melanie Marsh, County Attorney; Niki Booth, Executive Office Manager, County Manager’s Office; Kristy Mullane, Chief Financial Officer; and Josh Pearson, Deputy Clerk.
welcome and pledge
Commr. Parks welcomed everyone to the meeting, stating that they planned on doing more of these meetings to get out into the districts and that this was the first of a series of workshops starting in District 1. He then led the Pledge of Allegiance. He also welcomed Mr. David Jordan, Lake County Tax Collector, and mentioned that Commissioner Campione would be joining them shortly. He explained that they would start off with some opening remarks from each of the Commissioners, that they would go over their strategic plan, and that they would allow everyone a chance to speak publicly.
Commr. Shields stated that the reason they were there was because he was informed by the residents that they were not being heard. He pointed out that shortly after being in office, Commissioner Parks had been kind enough to hold a meeting down there for him and get the ball rolling on getting some things fixed, and that he then held a meeting there in the previous month, but he believed that a long range plan was what they needed. He then discussed the individual concerns that were mentioned at the previous meetings and indicated that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) planned on installing additional street lighting to address the lack thereof on United States (U.S.) 27, specifically at Walmart and Sawgrass Bay Boulevard, and that they were going to stay on top of that. He added that the Lake County Public Works Director was at the meeting and could discuss any issues regarding that. He related that they discussed the speeding issues on U.S 27 with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and that they started a third shift to patrol and planned on opening a new substation down there jointly with the Lake County Tax Collector’s Office; furthermore, he believed that it would go in front of the Rubin Groves property. He remarked that FDOT was still looking into the concern of the traffic exiting on the crosswalk at Greater Groves and that they were still in discussions with them regarding the Eagleridge community traffic light problem; however, he did not think they would get that from them. He stated that the U.S. 192/U.S. 27 intersection had issues with sidewalk gaps among other things, and that they were working with FDOT on that for funding. He related that he still did not have good data on why the crosswalk opposite the Wawa was unsafe, and he remarked that the Ruby Red apartment complex had just recently been approved by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and would be going into Rubin Groves, specifying that he did not vote to approve it because it was in the Green Swamp. He noted that there was not much they could do about food trucks since they were licensed by the State; however, the Lake County Office of Code Enforcement could get involved if they were operating in an area where there was no bathroom nearby, and that they could not do much about the sewer smell by Weston Hills either since it was a private sewer; however, the County did call them and they said they were going to try to put in more equipment. He indicated that housing for seniors and the homelessness behind Walmart were ongoing initiatives as they were issues throughout the whole county. He said that the issue of virtual gambling, which started down in the Four Corners area and had moved north into the City of Mount Dora, was being addressed as the County had a moratorium on them, were requiring a good sum of money to open any new ones, and were capped at 25. He added that the BCC would revisit this issue in summer 2021 to see if the regulations were working. He mentioned that they had asked the Lake County Office of Transit Services about getting a route from that area to the north, and that he also thought it was a good idea to have that route go all the way up to the Christopher C. Ford Commerce Park since Kroger and Amazon were putting many new jobs in there, and bring it back down to the City of Groveland for an east-west connector. He related that there was not much of a way to track and regulate vacation rentals other than by the data they received from Airbnb and VRBO through the Lake County Tax Collector. He stated that the vacation rental owners were supposed to get a state license; however, they could not regulate that either so this was a topic they would have to further discuss. He added that the good news was that Airbnb and VRBO were now collecting the taxes to pay the County instead of having the owner pay the taxes; therefore, the collections were increasing. He mentioned that there had been no movement on the concern for entertainment for seniors and youth; however, the top floor of the Cagan Crossings Community Library had a large empty space that they could possibly take advantage of. He also noted that nothing had been done about the County’s influence over long term rentals either. He stated that he had a meeting with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Orlando Health South Lake Hospital, which owned the property behind Ruby Red, and had discussed ways to creatively work with the County to do something with that property. He indicated that the four way stop at Walmart was a large issue, but that it was privately owned so the County could not do much about it; additionally, he did not yet have an answer to the question of whether they would be getting a new fire station down there or in the Wellness Way area. He mentioned that Mr. Fred Schneider, Assistant County Manager, could call the State to see if there was a fix for the issue of people leaving the Orange Tree and Weston Hills communities and going straight across the road and over the concrete as opposed to making a right turn like they should. He opined that most of those issues were because they had never put a massive plan together and that the size and density of the Four Corners area made it large enough to be its own city; however, there was no city government. He then stated that he appreciated the other Commissioners for helping with some of the issues such as the gambling facilities.
Commr. Parks expressed that he appreciated the comments and noted that Commissioner Shields has had an interest in the Four Corners area. He said that some of the issues were big and some were small, but even the small ones could affect quality of life. He related that it was an ongoing list that the County could continue to address to the best of their ability, and that sometimes funding was an issue because they had a large county with many similar and different issues in their districts. He opined that tracking the issues point by point was a great idea as that had never been done before, nor had there been follow-up. He mentioned that they would probably discuss some of those issues on the current day and have some follow up meetings as well.
Commr. Campione arrived at 1:12 p.m.
Commr. Smith thanked Mr. Jordan for the work he did with Airbnb and VRBO, and opined that it would really help the county with the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) money. He stated that when he was campaigning, he said that there needed to be good working relationships with their State representatives to see what they could do to help Lake County, opining that every year they sent tax dollars to the State of Florida but for the most part they never received anything back. He elaborated that with the assistance of Representative Keith Truenow and by approval of the Florida Governor, the City of Mascotte could be receiving $750,000 for a wastewater grant, the City of Clermont could be receiving $500,000 towards public service, the City of Groveland could be receiving $900,000 towards drinking water, and the Green Mountain Connector could be receiving $2 million. He then thanked the public for coming to the workshop and for inviting the Board. He expressed that he was anxious to hear what residents had to say, and that he wanted to listen and make actions on what would be good for them in that area.
Commr. Campione expressed that it was great to be there and that she always enjoyed being in the Four Corners area. She related that her district, Commission District 4, was in northeast Lake County, and that every time she made the trip to Four Corners she saw new things and significant growth; additionally, she noted that new developments happening in Orange County to the east were spilling over into the Lake County portion of Four Corners. She opined that this workshop was a great time to hear from the residents about what they believed were infrastructure deficiencies, and what government services they might be lacking. She indicated that she knew active park and recreational areas were important and much needed in the area, and should be high on their priority list. She noted that safety, public transportation, and the aesthetics of the area continued to be an issue, commenting that Commissioner Parks had worked on trying to create some uniformity so they could have a sense of a whole community even though Four Corners consisted of four separate counties. She stated that she was anxious to hear from the public and get their feedback so they could continue to hopefully make some progress, and she then thanked them for inviting the Commissioners.
Commr. Blake explained that he represented Commission District 5, which was the area furthest away from Four Corners, and that he lived about two miles from the Marion County line. He opined that the district system was positive in that it allowed them to interact with the constituents they represented and be able to bring any issues or concerns before the Commission. He indicated that he was just reelected in November 2020, and that the premise he ran on was trying to reduce the tax burden to make sure that business could thrive and that individuals could raise a family there; furthermore, he did not want to overregulate, and he wanted to try to make the code more friendly to people. He related that those were the issues he focused on, but he also wanted to hear what the constituents in the Four Corners area thought and to try to familiarize himself more with the area.
Commr. Parks stated that he appreciated all of the great comments from the Commissioners and that he realized there was a lot going on down there. He reiterated Commissioner Shields’ comment that if the Lake County side of Four Corners were a city, it would probably be the third or fourth biggest city in the county.
citizen question and comment period
Mr. Ron Sieg, a resident of the Mission Park community, stated that he had been a resident in that neighborhood for about 18 years and had seen many changes. He expressed his concerns about there not being any plans for that area and how the BCC seemed to approve everything there; additionally, he had never been in a community with so many people and no parks. He was also concerned that the BCC approved taking $4 million worth of sand out of the Green Swamp area. He stated that he believed the BCC was trying to do a good job, and that he appreciated what they were doing and that they came down there.
Mr. Vincent Niemiec, a resident of the City of Clermont, pointed out that he attended a Clermont City Council meeting the previous week which discussed the residents along Hartwood Marsh Road, and that they had gathered 175 residents to attend. He expressed his gratitude to the Board for moving the project from tier 2 to tier 1, and he then asked if they could get a workshop closer to the City of Clermont.
Commr. Parks stated that a workshop was coming to Commission District 2.
Mr. Alan Rosen, County Manager, clarified that they were going to work on the location and timing of that workshop after this meeting.
Ms. Ashley Earnest, a resident of the Greater Groves community, stated that she had lived in Greater Groves for the last four years and had seen a lot of changes in that area. She expressed that her biggest concerns were the crime and the growth there. She indicated that they did not have enough law enforcement to cover Four Corners and that there was so much growth coming from the SR 429 corridor that it was spilling over into their area. She also opined that the additional growth could cause more infrastructure problems in the next few years.
Ms. Irene Martello, a resident of the Weston Hills community, mentioned that the police had asked their community to install a system called Click2Enter that would allow the police easy access to their community, and that they had spent about $2,000 to have it installed; however, the police never used it. She related that she had tried to contact the police, and even the LCSO with no luck, and asked if the BCC could look into that for them. She also opined that the issue with the four way stop at Walmart was getting worse, especially with the new restaurants nearby, and that it was completely deadlocked sometimes. She then asked who owned it since Commissioner Shields mentioned that it was privately owned.
Mr. Schneider answered that it was owned by Cagans DRI, which was a Florida quality development, and that they had been building out most of that area with another phase going in behind Walmart for housing. He related that the County had required them to connect to the development to the south that connected to U.S. 192, and knowing the intersection was such an issue, they also had required both developers to work together to find an alternative street layout, noting that the intersection should have turn lanes, a traffic signal, and a roundabout. He remarked that they would continue to pursue this issue.
Commr. Parks suggested taking some leadership on this issue and having him and possibly Commissioner Shields meet with the developer with the realization that some things needed to be changed.
Commr. Shields stated that he could reach out to Mr. Jeff Cagan.
A concerned citizen questioned what would happen in that area when the school opened.
Mr. Schneider replied that they had just finished the sidewalk along Woodcrest Way and that the school could be accessed from there. He added that that was where the majority of the residences were.
Ms. Yvette Matthews, a resident of the City of Clermont, asked if they planned on adding more sidewalks to get to the school because currently the kids had to cross the street to the sidewalk on the left in order to cross back to the sidewalk on the right.
Mr. Schneider responded that this was still needed and that they planned on looking into it.
Ms. Matthews then expressed concerns about the new school that was being built, Lake Pointe Academy, and wondered if they planned on building a concrete wall to help minimize the noise that could potentially come from that school. She remarked that there was already a lot of noise from construction vehicles and that there were many elderly residents in her neighborhood who did not need to be disturbed by additional noise.
Commr. Parks commented that there could already be something within the site plan, adding that the County typically advised schools on the best way to mitigate those kinds of issues. He then asked Mr. Schneider if he knew about that particular site plan.
Mr. Schneider answered that he was not familiar with any kind of wall being proposed, but he could look into it. He added that he wanted to get some of the residents’ names and phone numbers so he could get back to them.
Commr. Parks reiterated that the residents needed to leave their name and email addresses so they could follow-up on some of their questions.
Ms. Jessica Whitehouse, who worked for Cagan Management Group, stated that the Cagans were aware of that intersection and that they would be putting in additional stop signs within the next few weeks at the intersection of U.S. 192 and U.S. 27 since that was also very dangerous. She indicated that the Cagans were willing to talk with Mr. Schneider and find a solution for that intersection.
Ms. Marjorie Benjamin, a resident of the Orange Tree community, stated that she noticed that the lot in the back of the community was being cleared and asked if anyone knew what was going in there.
A resident relayed their understanding that 400 houses would be going there.
Commr. Parks related that he could not remember the name of the subdivision, but phase two would be built in there.
Mr. Rosen mentioned that there was a website called “Development Near Me” that was a geographic information system (GIS) site they could use to find out about any developments near them based on location.
Ms. Benjamin also mentioned that it would be nice for the other Commissioners to state which cities were included in their districts.
Commr. Shields indicated that this would probably be different after the 2020 census data came out; however, currently Commission District 1 consisted of the west side of the county, starting in Four Corners and going up U.S. 27 to the west side of the City of Clermont and the Cities of Groveland and Mascotte, and the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills, and ending on the west side of the City of Leesburg.
Commr. Parks explained that Commission District 2 used to be the largest district, and now it was the smallest in terms of land area. He said that it encompassed the central and east part of South Lake, including the Cities of Clermont and Minneola, and the Town of Montverde, down to the east side of Four Corners and the Wellness Way area, ending near the Arnold property.
Commr. Smith noted that Commission District 3 included the Cities of Tavares and Leesburg, the Yalaha and Bassville Park areas, along with some areas in Lisbon and the Lake Griffin area.
Ms. Benjamin mentioned that some land was being cleared on U.S. 27 in the City of Clermont in front of Woodsong Way, and asked if anyone knew what was going in there.
Commr. Parks replied that it was a medical office.
Ms. Maritza Parrilla, President of the Mission Park Homeowners Association (HOA) and Director of Hands of Hope America, expressed her concerns for the area, stating that the homeless population needed to be addressed as it had been increasing and that they needed parks for the children to help keep them out of trouble. She added that when the hospital was being built, there was talk about setting up vocational programs for the youth; however, she has not seen that happen yet. She indicated that her organization was trying to set up English as a Second Language (ESL) since it was needed in that area, especially when trying to help people get jobs, along with basic computer classes. She also noted that transportation was an issue and that many children in the Four Corners area were in need of food. She related that she was also concerned about crime, and opined that the LCSO needed to train their officers on the rules of the County as it seemed they were not aware of things such as noise ordinances. She then thanked Commissioner Parks and Commissioner Shields for previously coming to the area and being aware of what was going on.
Commr. Shields mentioned that he and Mr. Schneider just recently learned through the Lake County Office of Code Enforcement that trucks could not be parked on a County right of way, adding that the LCSO was not even aware of that. He then noted that maybe the Office of Code Enforcement could address the food trucks that were parking on U.S. 27 even though it was a State right of way.
Mr. Schneider commented that if they were parked behind the sidewalk, then that was most likely private property; however, the Lake County Office of Code Enforcement could contact that property owner about it.
Commr. Campione asked Ms. Parrilla to describe the type of homelessness she was seeing, because in some parts of the county there were encampments in the woods with homeless residents, and in other parts they were sleeping in vehicles due to not being able to find affordable places to stay.
Ms. Parrilla replied that there were people living in the woods, especially families with children, as well as people living in their cars, adding that they were also dealing with a lot of veterans.
Commr. Campione related that there were services available for residents and for veterans to help get them connected to housing, particularly United Way and the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition that the County partnered with helped people get the services they needed. She opined that there were ways that these residents could get connected to housing, adding that they needed to know about it so they could help connect them to people that could help.
Ms. Parrilla noted that they had dealt with all those organizations as well; however, there was not enough housing for all of the homeless people; therefore, those organizations did not know where to place them.
Commr. Campione stated that there was definitely a shortage, but they needed to know the specifics so they could work on a case by case basis because the only way to solve the problem was one person at a time. She added that maybe they could work together.
Commr. Parks related that even though it was different, the BCC was very passionate about addressing attainable housing because there were people working very hard, with two jobs, and were sometimes single parents, and that they wanted to support them so they did not become in a situation where they were forced to live in a parking lot. He indicated that the County had created the Comprehensive Housing and Economic Development Plan in partnership with businesses from across the county to address this issue. He mentioned that Commissioner Campione was very passionate about the homeless and that the BCC had been working on trying to make a plan to address that spectrum.
Commr. Campione commented that she would be discussing that more in the coming weeks or months.
Ms. Evelisse Bookhout, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hands of Hope America, spoke about the homelessness issue, noting that they were living in the parking lots in their cars and now on the roofs of buildings, and opined that they needed to focus on preventing this crisis from continuing as she believed that most of the homeless had been evicted from their homes during the pandemic and now they could not find a way to get themselves out of their situation. She stated that there were no shelters or places for recreational activities for kids in Four Corners, opining that the kids ended up getting themselves into trouble because there was nothing for them to do, and she opined that they should invest in them since they were the future leaders. She added that she had been trying to institute a summer program for the youth for the past two months, but there was nowhere to hold it, and she opined that they needed a community center for the kids to have a safe place to go and be mentored. She shared her personal experience of being an at-risk kid, how one person changed the trajectory of her life, and how she ended up going into the military and was now running an organization that helped the community. She also believed that this area needed a community needs assessment so they could survey the residents to find out what they wanted. She remarked that if they focused on what was most important, then little by little they could achieve their goals and plan for the future of Four Corners.
Commr. Parks thanked her for sharing her personal experience and noted that they would make sure she received a follow-up on this.
A retired veteran asked where the housing for the homeless would be located in Lake County, and how they would approach that.
Commr. Campione answered that the concepts that seemed to be working in other places were not necessarily to have a centralized location of housing, but to find housing for people that needed it. She then explained that the Lake County Office of Housing and Human Services, in conjunction with the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition, had programs that were funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) based on the individual’s needs to allow them to be in housing for a limited period of time while the County worked with them to find permanent housing. She indicated that many times the individual was in a situation because they could not navigate the system, such as paying for their needs and bills, and the County helped them keep up with their daily responsibilities so they could stay in their housing. She added that the scenarios were different and it was adapted on a case by case basis dependent upon what they needed in order to help them stay on track and in their housing.
The retired veteran asked if they had looked at the ratios of homeless individuals to what was available for them, and also asked how quickly they could get someone into housing.
Commr. Campione responded that they kept ongoing counts of people that were identified as homeless; however, that number changed often. She then stated that they could not guarantee getting anyone out of their own situation; however, they would start that process and move them into housing if it was available. She remarked that as previously mentioned, they did have a shortfall of the actual places for people to rent, but that it was a big issue for all of Central Florida and they were working on that. She added that they could not build things fast enough for the needs that were out there and that they had to build it affordably so it was not too expensive, especially in transitional situations where they were trying to help the individual get back on their feet and get employment.
Commr. Parks remarked that they could not give an answer on how fast they could get people into housing because they did not know what was available, noting that this changed on a daily and weekly basis. He reiterated that there was a process in place that they were trying to improve, and that the biggest issue was finding a place for people based on their needs and getting them to the right people to help. He added that supply and space were significant issues.
Commr. Campione related that a lot would have to do with that person and whether they had a shortfall in what they could afford for rent, as well as their particular needs. She added that this would tell the County a lot about where they might be able to place them.
Commr. Shields mentioned that the County had to work with the Cities on affordable housing, noting that Cities could put in higher density housing since they had sewer and water and the County did not, which made the housing more affordable.
Commr. Smith said that there were a lot of private organizations that were helping this cause, such as Hope 2 Restoration and the Christian Coalition of Florida; additionally, there was a resident at the current meeting that was part of an organization that also helped. He opined that people cared about people and that although it was an issue that needed fixing, there was not a quick fix.
The retired veteran opined that towns and cities should not suffer in any way.
Commr. Parks commented that he wanted to get his information and possibly let him get involved in the process.
short term strategic plan
Mr. Rosen explained that when he first started in this position, he created a short term strategic plan to determine the priorities for the upcoming year, and that this was the first reiteration of that plan by going into the different districts, holding listening sessions, gathering that information, and understanding what the needs and issues were for the residents. He indicated that all of that information would then go into creating the five year strategic plan to help move them forward. He related that they held a meeting in the City of Tavares with residents in the community and one of the things that came out of that meeting was communication. He added that communication with the Cities was very important as they each provided different services that sometimes overlapped; furthermore, he stressed the importance of working in concert with the Cities to make sure services were provided and that they were all on the same page. He then mentioned that emergency response had been an issue for the commission before and especially now as they had been in a state of emergency for over a year; additionally, they were trying to make the emergency communications bilingual since many people in the community spoke different languages. He noted that another overlap in priorities was economic development and that they wanted to work on this to make sure whatever development was going in made sense for that area. He gave an example of a 400 home development that was going in the Four Corners area and relayed that usually, those developments had already been platted and were ready to go before the downturn of the economy; therefore, the money was already available and now it was finally coming to fruition. He indicated that housing and homelessness was another significant issue and stated that the County had rental assistance and a number of different programs through the Lake County Offices of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Human Services that were funded by the Federal Government. He added that they struggled with this funding because there were so many different strings attached that it had to be spent exactly the way the government wanted. He related that another plan that the Federal Government was about to implement to Cities and Counties across the United States was the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and that while it was specific in what it could be spent on, there were parts of the bill that would provide more funding for homeless programs and rental assistance. He added that they could work on that with the County departments to make sure they could provide the services that were available. He remarked that the County could not be the only ones providing services anymore, noting that there were many people who were passionate in helping others and who knew the issues; furthermore; these were the ones that could help the County get individuals connected with programs. He reiterated that the County had an emergency rental assistance program; however, it was challenging to give that money away because they were still trying to reach the people that needed it, and it was only available for a certain segment of society, adding that the more the County worked with the residents, the easier it would be for them. He indicated that quality of life was an issue, such as the need for parks and recreation, trails, and community centers, noting that this area seemed to have grown faster than anyone thought it would and they now had to come back and figure out how to create areas where people could go for recreation, learning, and socializing. He related that they also discussed the budget and how they could afford the things the residents wanted, adding that there was always a push and pull of figuring out how to work together with the residents and the Cities, as well as private and public organizations and partnerships without raising taxes too high, but trying to provide the services that were needed. He mentioned that governmental communication and education were concerns, and relayed that he would take all of the information from these meetings to help formulate a five year plan with the goal of looking at who they were as an organization and how to best serve the people in the community. He stated that they wanted to create a strategy to move forward with a concrete road map over five years with objectives and measures, defining who was responsible for what, a timeline, and what resources might be needed to meet those goals. He indicated that it would be a living document and although it would be written and adopted by the BCC, it could change as priorities might change over time.
Commr. Shields asked if the plan would include subsets by region or district, since even though many of the needs were the same, some might be a higher priority for different areas.
Mr. Rosen stated that this was a good question as to how they would break that up since they were such a large county with different needs in different areas. He indicated that they had a parks master plan; however, they would need to look at it and make sure it changed as the times changed, and that they would need to incorporate the different needs. He related that the strategic plan would be more of a high level plan for the organization for what was going on region wide, though they could produce a plan that highlighted specific needs or the top three things in the specific areas.
Commr. Shields mentioned that they had a good planning document for Wellness Way, and asked if they could do something similar for Four Corners or possibly even add Four Corners into Wellness Way.
Commr. Parks noted that he did not believe that they could add Four Corners into Wellness Way from a land use standpoint, and that the concern of addressing these issues through a master plan, strategic plan, area plan, etc. had come up a few years prior. He related that the plan would not necessarily address land use, though it could address design standards, walkability and connectivity. He added that they could possibly consider having a crossover walkway in the plan, which had been an issue for years, so that FDOT would look at that more favorably since the plan suggested it was needed; furthermore, an FDOT lighting study had been completed a few years prior showing the need for more lighting. He expressed that all of this could go into the plan exclusive to Four Corners and that he was supportive of that, as he believed they should have more than what they already had.
Commr. Shields opined that the issue was that they had a city without a city government to do those things.
Commr. Campione addressed Commissioner Shields’ question about the Wellness Way plans in relation to this area, noting that the area was constrained by the Green Swamp and the Orange County line, and that there was a finite amount of land that could even be developed from a land use standpoint. She indicated that they had to work with questions such as what did they already have on the ground, what was still left that could be developed, and could the area be supported as an incorporated municipal area. She opined that most people did not want to see another layer of government because it would mean another layer of taxes and an increase to their tax burden; however, they wanted more services. She added that the County’s issue was how they addressed the services with the resources they already had, and whether they were being strategic with what was left in the area for growth to happen.
Commr. Shields commented that they could possibly do something like a taxing unit, since they had done that before with the hospital district in north Lake County. He elaborated that they could have the residents in Four Corners vote on whether they wanted to pay additional money each year in property taxes for certain things, such as building a park.
Commr. Campione opined that it was highly unlikely that people would vote to tax themselves unless they knew exactly what they were getting in return and if it was what the majority of residents wanted.
Commr. Parks stated that Commissioner Shields was talking about a municipal service benefit unit (MSBU) or a municipal service taxing unit (MSTU) and that there were many funding methods out there, but they would rely on the residents voting for that. He indicated that it was not something the BCC wanted to do arbitrarily over the course of one meeting, because they would want to be very specific and it would need to sunset after five years once it was paid off, assuming that the residents wanted this. He related that they could possibly first start by doing an assessment on all of the properties, see what was still undeveloped, see what could be redeveloped, and see what the cost was for what the residents wanted as compared to what they were already paying for in that area. He noted that some might argue that they could spend less, whereas others might argue they needed to spend more; furthermore, if the cost of what the residents wanted would be even higher, then the County would have to look at other funding mechanisms and bring back to the residents the exact amount or close to the exact amount of what it would cost.
Commr. Campione questioned where they could put a park and if there was available land that was close enough to where the kids could use it. She mentioned that 100 acres of land was dedicated for that purpose in the southern part of Wellness Way; however, that was probably too far.
Commr. Parks agreed that it was slightly too far; however, the residents did appreciate that and it could be significant at some point for all of them.
A concerned citizen questioned what Wellness Way was.
Commr. Parks noted that Wellness Way included everything on the east side from the Arnold property north all the way to Hartwood Marsh Road.
Commr. Campione added that it was a planned area, but that it also referenced the east-west connector that would run from U.S. 27 over to SR 429 that was midway between Four Corners and the City of Clermont, noting that the connector could take some of the pressure off U.S. 192.
Commr. Parks explained that much of the Wellness Way land used to be citrus land, and when the great freezes occurred, they questioned whether they wanted to try to keep fighting the growth battle or come up with a plan to get the best out of the land together with some 29 or more individual land owners. He indicated that there were three east-west connectors proposed, one of which was Wellness Way Boulevard. He added that about 40 percent of the land was in the City of Clermont on the north side, and that 60 percent was in unincorporated Lake County. He related that the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) was currently engineering a road that would connect over to SR 429, that construction might be starting within two years, and that it would most likely be one of the first new large east-west roads. He remarked that the County created Wellness Way because they did not want to see a bunch of subdivisions, as that land had the potential of having possibly 25,000 to 30,000 homes based off the previous land uses within the City of Clermont and the county. He mentioned that the plan took many years, but it now consisted of about 16,000 to 18,000 units with a significant amount of commercial and industrial square feet planned, as well as 2,800 to 3,000 acres of open space.
A concerned citizen asked if that included the new sports center that was being built, and Commissioner Parks confirmed this. He then mentioned that it also included the 100 acres that Cemex was donating for a regional park, as per Commissioner Campione’s comments earlier. He reiterated that Wellness Way was very important from a land use standpoint and that there could be some similarities for creating a plan for Four Corners, but opined that ultimately the plan should include identifying the open areas that were still open for development, what could be redeveloped, and what kind of style and infrastructure could be put in place, as well as the cost.
Commr. Shields asked what the next step would be to move this forward if there was consensus from the Board.
Commr. Parks responded that if it was clear this was a priority of the Board’s, then after this meeting they could ask the County Manager and staff for an agenda item in the near future to discuss the next steps, such as whether they would do this plan internally or if they would hire someone from the outside to help with the plan.
Commr. Shields asked if they would then have a working group with the citizens after that.
Commr. Parks thought that workshops could be held with an open volunteer call for the people who might want to help shape this.
Commr. Shields asked what the general consensus was for the residents in the room and if they would want a separate taxing unit. He explained that they could tax a certain region in the county if the residents were agreeable, and that the money would stay in that region to pay for the things the residents wanted. He added that this was assuming they did not have the money countywide; however, they were under a lot of pressure to not raise taxes. He opined that if he was in that situation and all his peers wanted something enough that they were willing to pay for it, then he would want a mechanism to do that. He said that he wanted to know if the residents agreed or not.
Commr. Parks stated that this was just representative government and that the residents needed to let them know what they wanted. He added that the process could include nicer street lights, new ways to do signals, wider sidewalks and smaller parks, and that some of that could be done by developers. He indicated that all of this came at a cost and that it could take 15 years to realize their current funding if they put it in a plan; therefore, he wanted to know if the residents were willing to help pay to have those things done sooner rather than later.
Mr. Sieg expressed that he would agree with that as long as there was a sunset clause for five years, and if they were told exactly what would be done and how long it would take; furthermore, he wanted to make sure that the funding went directly to that and not into a general fund.
Mr. Jeff Dubey, a resident of Greater Groves, pointed out that Greater Groves was one of the few communities that had an MSBU, which was how they paid their HOA dues as well as their streetlight bill. He gave an explanation on how that worked for their community and opined that it was a great system. He indicated that the County would need to be specific about what the residents would get for their money, and would have to vote specifically for the area. He then opined that they needed a community center in that area, even if it was a storefront.
Commr. Campione asked what he would envision for a community center and if it would be used for meetings, groups, etc.
Mr. Dubey replied that there was nowhere to go for community meetings and that he said it could be a storefront only because there were many vacant storefronts there. He opined that a building would be nice, that he did not think it was something they could put in a subdivision since it would have to go through the HOA, and that it needed to be non-political.
Ms. Earnest commented that it would be nice to have a space for youth programs, but during the day it could also be used for senior citizen programs since kids would be in school. She also mentioned having health and fitness classes for the community, such as Yoga or Zumba.
Commr. Parks mentioned that his take on a community center could be a partnership between Lake County and a group that could do things that the government could not or should not do, adding that they could only do so much even at the building they were currently in. He reiterated that whatever organization in Four Corners wanted to do that kind of work needed to have the space for it.
Commr. Shields relayed that the teen center in the City of Leesburg had partnered with the Boys and Girls Club and was very successful.
Commr. Parks confirmed this.
Mr. Niemiec expressed that he was confused about the Four Corners area as he thought it was part of the City of Clermont; however, they could not vote in the City or for officials that had influence in Four Corners.
Commr. Campione clarified that the City of Clermont did not make decisions for Four Corners and that the BCC was the governing board for Four Corners. She noted that there were unincorporated communities throughout the county, such as Sorrento, Bassville Park and Astor, although they were not as big as Four Corners. She related that they knew the situation well and that the issues in Four Corners were a bit more urban than what they found in other places.
Mr. Niemiec asked if the City of Clermont would receive the MSBU money.
Commr. Parks replied that there was no possible way for the City of Clermont to receive the money, adding that the County could get into a lot of trouble if that were to happen. He explained that the MSBU would be voted on for a geographic area through the Supervisor of Elections Office and that funding would only apply to that area; furthermore, the County would collect and deposit the money, the County would be audited, and an oversight committee would most likely be created if it was a large enough MSBU.
Mr. Niemiec asked if where the current meeting was being held was considered to be in Lake County and not in the City of Clermont, and Commissioner Parks confirmed that was correct.
Ms. Bookhout opined that they needed to have a relationship with the residents in Four Corners, especially when bringing in outside entities into this community, because the more people that advocated for Four Corners, the more resources they could have; furthermore, that was the only way to find the needs of the residents. She questioned whether the builders in the area were building enough recreational systems in their communities and gave the example that her community, Mission Park, only had a pool and basketball court and opined that was not enough for 200 homes. She expressed that if the builders built parks and other recreational activities in the communities, then that would help the County with the cost of having those available for the residents.
Commr. Parks expressed that he appreciated Ms. Parrilla’s comments, and indicated that he believed there were some organizations in Four Corners that could assist with a community center, such as the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.
Mr. Jordan addressed Ms. Parrilla’s comment about relationships and opined that this was the takeaway from her comments as relationships were everything. He then opined that Four Corners would be a tax increase haven if they decided to incorporate, because in the State of Florida that meant having a city tax which could increase their tax bills by about 30 percent, and there would also be cell phone and other utility taxes; furthermore, he expressed that they should be careful of letting their neighbors get into incorporation right away, and noted that the MSBU or MSTU would have clauses. He indicated that the community center concept would be an identity to where they would have a place to rally when the community needed help. He related that his office dealt with everyone as they had services for identification, drivers licenses, veterans designations, and motorist services, and although the closest office for this area was about 15 miles away, he had discussions about being a part of the community to help offset the costs he wanted to better serve them. He also mentioned that he thought they could work with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office as well to help with costs, because they wanted to partner with their regional community. He opined that Four Corners should be called something else, because they were just one corner and that as Commissioner Campione pointed out, this area was very unique and there was a lot more going on down there. He then commended the Board for being there on the current day as there was no mandate under the Florida Constitution to say that they had to be there or that they had to address homelessness. He expressed that he knew the Board, knew their hearts, and knew that they took their position in office seriously.
Commr. Parks expressed that it was great to have those discussions and that they could locate the Tax Collector’s facility with the Sheriff, adding that they were currently hearing that something else would possibly come along with that.
Commr. Campione was curious that if there was a building where the Sheriff had a sub office, the Tax Collector had an annex, the County government had some office space, and then part of it was a community building, would that still feel like it was the residents’ community building. She stated that they did not have a city hall because there was not a city; however, they needed to make it like a city hall but also have space for groups to have meetings or have events for kids, and make it known as a place for the community to use.
Ms. Bookhout opined that would be a great thing as long as they could provide access and have a resource to meet everyone’s needs. She added that it did not necessarily mean that everyone would take advantage of it, but it would give the people a place to interact.
Commr. Shields expressed that he thought they had accomplished a lot and that he was very pleased.
Commr. Parks questioned the next steps of the plan and if it would include this thought.
Commr. Campione stated that they could at least explore the concept, and find out the financial feasibility of it and whether there were locations that could accommodate something that they could afford.
Mr. Rosen expressed that it sounded like there was a two prong approach, with the one taking a look at the undeveloped areas and areas that could be redeveloped, and making sure that their ability to plan for those areas made sense for what was there or what was going to go there. He added that the second was having resources there for the community that they felt were their own such as a community center, a city hall, and being able to access housing and human services. He also stated that they would need to look at the parks master plan to determine what was already down there and where there might be availability for parks. He mentioned that the County collected one time revenues called impact fees when new things went in based on the land development, and that those were generally used for new roads and for improving the roads, parks, trails, etc.; however, he opined that having ongoing funding for those things would be an issue. He added that it would be challenging to have an MSTU fund the things the community wanted, which was a community center, parks, and trails, and have it end in five years, because then the County would not be able to maintain those things; therefore, some of the funding would have to come from impact fees. He elaborated that the MSTU could help with getting things done faster, and then at a certain point they would need to find a mechanism to maintain those things over time. He related that he was always looking for creative funding mechanisms that had the least financial impact but the greatest social impact, noting that he hoped to work with local groups who would allow them to lease space almost for free, or ones that could provide programs for the community. He added that the less the County spent, the less the residents would spend. He then reiterated that legally, the Board could not take any action or make any decisions on the current day since it was a workshop and not a meeting.
Commr. Parks remarked that was a good approach and that they would have this coming up on an agenda in the near future.
Commr. Campione stated that part of this was working the numbers and figuring out the finances for what was doable and reasonable, and that they really needed some more information to be able to do that. She then suggested that the district commissioner and County Manager reach out to a couple of the developers, some that were getting ready to do projects and some that had already done projects, and see if those developers could help them realize some of the things the community wished they had sooner since it would improve the community as a whole and what they were marketing and offering. She added that maybe they would see it as value added for them and the community, as opposed to something the County was making them do, and that they would maybe be willing to offer up some things that could help the County achieve what was discussed at the current meeting.
Commr. Parks asked for Commissioner Shields to meet with the County Manager, Mr. Cagan, and Mr. Rubin to talk to about this.
Commr. Campione mentioned that they had a community redevelopment area (CRA) in the City of Sorrento with a brand, or logo, and suggested having a logo for Lake County side of Four Corners as well.
Commr. Parks agreed that was a great idea.
Mr. Niemiec mentioned that impact fees were brought up and asked where they went and if they went to the County.
Commr. Parks stated that it depended upon which impact fee was collected as they operated in different ways, pointing out that transportation impact fees were for roads, and the funding was split up so that if it was collected within one district, the money stayed within that district. He added that they had four transportation impact fee districts, and that South Lake was one district with it having the highest transportation impact fee in the entire county. He then asked Mr. Schneider if it was about $2,700 for a single family home, and Mr. Schneider confirmed this was correct. Commissioner Parks then noted that the parks and trails impact fee was countywide and was about $200.
Commr. Campione related that she had wondered about that when they did transportation impact fee districts because they did not have a parks and trails district, as it was a countywide impact fee. She remarked that maybe they could do an impact fee study on Four Corners because the parks impact fee could be higher than somewhere else where there was already an inventory of parks.
Commr. Parks clarified that there were actually three districts for the parks impact fee, but that it was one rate countywide and even though the same fee was collected in South Lake as in North Lake, it still had to be spent within that district. He also mentioned that some Cities collected impact fees on top of the County’s, such as the City of Clermont.
Commr. Campione commented that the school impact fees that the County collected went straight to the school district.
Commr. Parks remarked that Mr. Niemiec had brought up a good question; therefore, he planned on starting the next meeting in Commission District 2 with a primer on the different funds they had in County government. He then opined that the BCC received their action and knew what was going to happen next, noting that the residents needed to leave their information so they could stay updated on this. He said that they were going to ask the community to help them go through the process and help them represent. He then complimented Commissioner Shields for addressing this issue and getting involved in the community, even in his short time as a Commissioner.
Commr. Shields thanked everyone for attending.
Commr. Smith thanked everyone for being there as it meant a lot to the BCC to hear from the community.
Ms. Martello commended the county for their efforts in getting everyone vaccinated.
Ms. Molly Ferguson, with Community Health Centers, stated that they would be doing more vaccinations in Four Corners with the Moderna shot and that their website would indicate when it would be scheduled; additionally, she would also let the County know.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 3:01 p.m.
SEAN PARKS, chairman
GARY J COONEY, CLERK