Candidates for Oviedo mayor and City Council came together for the first time last week for a virtual interview hosted by the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce. Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann, the event’s emcee, lobbed questions at the candidates that the Chamber collected from residents.
Contending for the mayor seat is incumbent Mayor Megan Sladek, a native Oviedoan, attorney and real estate broker at SunFlorida Realty; Kevin Hipes, a Florida native, former Sanford city commissioner and Oviedo Mall development director and business owner; and Abe Lòpez, who moved to Oviedo 3.5 years ago from New Jersey, is a seventh-grade civics teacher at Westridge Middle School in Orlando and owner of public relations firm Abraham Lòpez Consulting.
The candidates spoke about where they stood on preserving the rural boundary while mitigating the impact that would have on growth within city limits.
Sladek said that with 4,100 unbuilt residential units already legally entitled within Oviedo, the best option would be to build with as small a footprint possible. That would mean building vertically when possible.
“I stand by the rural boundary. It’s the best thing we have going for us,” she said. “It does require us to accept that we’re beyond urban in Oviedo already and that we will see additional development even if we do not increase densities from what already exists.”
Hipes agreed that building vertically is the best option and said that one of the “biggest places” to put that growth is the urban core, which he said includes the mall.
He added that his 35 years in commercial real estate allows him “to negotiate with developers and to understand how they do their deals, how they make their money.”
“I’m going to make sure the city does not give away anything,” he said.
Lòpez, said as mayor, it would not be his job to protect land outside of the city but rather the land within the city’s limits.
“They’re doing such a good job protecting the rural boundary,” he said. “Oviedo’s now considered an urban city and I know many of you…did not sign up for that. You signed up for suburban living.”
Hipes said as mayor, he would recuse himself from votes concerning the mall and would donate to a nonprofit organization any commission he makes from the mall as a consultant or through tenant negotiations during his mayoral tenure. Later in the event, he also said he would donate his $16,000 mayoral salary to a fund that would reward city employees for hatching money-saving ideas as well as city public safety employees who “do something heroic” or spend time with kids in the community.
“Bringing the mall back to life is exactly in line with what the city wants,” he said. “The city is looking for a place for density. You put density at the mall; you don’t knock down trees.”
Lòpez was asked how he would create an inclusive environment for folks with different views or backgrounds.
“I think I have a great record of embracing folks, of loving on folks and doing so unconditionally, regardless of who you voted for for president, regardless of who you love, regardless of whether or not you worship,” he said, adding later that he answered based on how he’d govern.
Sladek was asked about a property on Pine Avenue that her family owned that is being developed. She said her parents owned 11 acres of land there, which was zoned low-density residential, matching the land that surrounds the plot. After her parents died, the representative of the property, which she said is not herself, decided to sell the property and the current owners are building 22 homes there.
She added that when she ran for mayor in 2019, her platform was “to not give developers any more rights than they already have, unless there’s a darn good reason to do so. That’s been my position all along and it’ll continue to be.”
The candidates were asked what their goal would be for their first year in office. Sladek said her goal would be to finish the city’s comprehensive plan. Hipes identified finishing the comprehensive plan, as well as coordinating with Seminole County and the Florida Department of Transportation to work on roads such as County Road 419 and Slavia Road to help ease traffic issues. Lòpez said his goal would be to restore leadership in Oviedo by unifying the City Council in order to move city business forward.
Group 1 Council seat
Vying for the Group 1 Council seat is incumbent Judith Dolores Smith – a native Oviedoan who had a career in mental health and social services, owned several businesses with her husband and wrote four books, one of which was about local segregated schools – and Natalie Teuchert, Oviedo resident of 20 years and a mechanical engineer at Siemens.
Teuchert said she “will absolutely protect the rural boundary” and that smart growth is all about providing the right infrastructure.
“We do have to accommodate new growth. … the way we do that is we make sure we vet those projects the right way. We make sure we’re doing healthy, clean, new builds where the infrastructure can support them. The real problem is that we’re building without the infrastructure,” she said.
Smith said she’s “adamantly for protecting the rural boundary” and agreed that infrastructure is important when considering development but said the city needs to find a funding source for that.
“We don’t want to raise taxes but we have to maintain the infrastructure,” she said. “We’re going to have to be smarter about how we grow and that’s going to take a lot of planning.”
Both candidates discussed what qualifies them for the job. Smith said it’s her roots in the city, the research she did after first being elected to Council by speaking to staff in different city departments and attending Leadership Seminole, an educational program for community leaders. Teuchert said her technical background will help her understand issues coming before the Council and her connections to high-tech business will help her bring in new jobs.
When asked what their goals would be for their first year in office, Smith said she wants to help restore Lake Jesup, bring more high-tech jobs to the area, work with anti-human-trafficking groups and continue working to alleviate major roadway traffic.
Teuchert said she’d like to increase transparency within city hall so the public has more information about how the City Council makes their decisions.
Oviedo Community News is collecting questions from residents so readers can see even more topics covered by these candidates. We’ll publish candidates’ answers to those, in their entirety, before Early Voting on Oct. 30. Submit your questions here.