Bushes that may have been mistaken for trees and a neighborhood suddenly inundated with traffic dominated a problem-solving workshop Monday in Winter Springs.
Members of the City Commission, residents of the Jesup’s Reserve neighborhood and developer Ryan Stahl spoke at the meeting to try to solve issues that had developed since The Winter Springs Marketplace commercial development began rising out of the ground next to the neighborhood at the southwest corner of State Road 434 and Tuskawilla Road. The development, when finished, will feature an Aldi grocery store, a Chipotle restaurant and other businesses.
Residents expressed frustration with mixed messages they said they’d received during the planning phase of the development, and unexpected traffic issues that one resident said had removed the neighborhood’s walkability.
“I think there’s a disconnect in communication as far as what we thought was promised,” resident Pia Valenciano said. “We have a lot of back alleys which are private. Mine is in the back where nobody ever used to travel and now it’s continuous traffic.”
Lou Atti, president of Jesup’s Reserve Townhomes Homeowners Association, said that he’s seen the neighborhood transform since the new project began developing next door.
“Historically, for the last 13 years, this has been a quiet neighborhood,” he said. “Our children are going to need to be taught not to go out into the street the way they have. We have dog walkers and children who play because we’ve had so little traffic in our neighborhood. That’s already changed.”
The biggest problem, said Atti and attorney Asima Azam, representing the Jesup’s Reserve community, has been cut-through traffic along the one-way Roberts Family Lane, which runs along the west end of the development.
“I’ve represented Jesup’s Reserve for 10-plus years and this road has been an issue for 10-plus years,” Azam said. “What we’ve discussed as an option is just taking the road, and that’s not an option.”
By “taking the road” Azam meant a proposition floated by some commissioners and residents that Jesup’s Reserve take over the road and make it private, including adding gates, which would prevent the public from using the road to enter the Marketplace plaza. That appeared to not be possible due to expense and possible legal issues.
Commissioner Rob Elliott asked about either making the road private or a suggestion that a gate be installed on the road that only operated for neighborhood residents, “Is that off the table now?”
“You’re either all in or all out,” City Attorney Anthony Garganese said. “The city can’t privatize or provide limited private access to a public road, in my opinion.”
When presented with the idea that the city might be able to permanently block the entrance to Roberts Family Lane at its north end at S.R. 434, Azam expressed surprise that the option existed.
“When the project plans were initially submitted, the city advised us that cutting off access to the Marketplace parcel via Roberts Family Lane was not an option for us. So we were told that multiple times. To find out now that that’s not the case obviously is disheartening for the residents because that was their initial request.”
Ryan Stahl, president and CEO of Equinox Development, which is developing the project, said he would poll tenants and see if anybody responds favorably to closing the entrance.
“That’s a sign of good faith and a good developer,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon said. “Not every developer that’s built projects in this city has demonstrated that at all. I won’t name names but, many of us on the Commission and the city manager, they know that.”
“I think it’s probably the best option,” Elliott said of closing the road entrance. “And then we’re not talking about all these people trying to cut through and whether they go the wrong way…all of it just kind of goes away.”
The Commission and Stahl agreed to do more fact-finding before any decisions about road closures or additional road signage would occur.
In another moment of confusion about the development’s plan versus what residents have seen, a wall of trees and bushes planned to surround the Marketplace and obscure it from Jesup’s Reserve and nearby roads became a point of contention when the residents and the city disagreed on what had already been planted.
“They were supposed to be Japanese Blueberry trees,” Azam said. “It looks like what’s been put in was Japanese Blueberry bushes, which stay low to the ground.”
The trees were expected to grow to 30 feet tall by 30 feet wide, she said. Atti said that the bushes would be nearly impossible to train to grow that high.
“We have an arborist on staff and he is attesting that those are blueberry trees,” City Manager Shawn Boyle said.