Oviedo City Council denies fire fee, approves 25-year plan and zoning for wedding barn

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect that there is an option to impose a service-based fee other than fire, which was discussed at a June 6 meeting and reported by OCN

The Oviedo City Council made several important decisions at its Monday meeting:

  • It rejected the fire fee after months of meetings to hash out the details
  • It approved a zoning change to make way for a barn-style wedding venue despite residents’ concerns of gentrification
  • It gave final approval to the city’s 25-year plan

Read all about these votes, hear from residents and your elected leaders, and more below.

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Fire fee denied after throngs of residents turn out to meeting

Oviedo residents turned out in droves on Monday night, asking the Oviedo City Council not to approve the proposed fire fee, which could have meant an increase of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on property owners’ tax bills.

The standing-room-only meeting spilled into the City Hall lobby and onto the front porch where a television was rolled out so people could watch the meeting outside.

The Council voted unanimously to deny the fee after months of meetings hashing out its details.

“I was surprised that they listened. I thought they had their minds made up,” resident Brandon Owen said after the meeting.

He said he’d rather the city raise the overall taxes instead of adding fees, which was a sentiment repeated by other residents who spoke against the fee at the meeting.

Several residents who are on a fixed income said they could not afford the proposed fee.

“You can’t do this. This is going to break everybody. You have to find a better way. Just find a better way,” resident Claire Walker told the Council.

Oviedo resident Thomas Lee Shaffer agreed, adding that the tough economic climate is another reason to skip the fee.

Several people said they would be willing to forego some of the things they consider to be nonessential, such as a new community center, for which the city has been scouting a location. The Council approved using $2.5 million of the $21 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding allocated to the city for a community center on March 7.

“Funds in the town budget should be allocated around what is needed, not what is nice to have,” resident Rich Kuechenmeister said. “Start viewing the city budget the way most of us view our household budgets and start prioritizing the requirements.”

Local real estate agent and Oviedo Local Planning Agency board member Emma Reichert said that, as a business owner and a resident, she would have had to pay two fees.

“The lack of creativity in finding the right way to spend our money is so disappointing. I love our city so much. I’ve built a business. I can’t leave here. I’m stuck. I am literally stuck,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t have been able to afford this fee when she was raising her now-grown children as a single mom.

For years, public safety costs have outpaced the amount the city collects in property taxes. The premise for this fee is to free up funding for things that the city has gone without because of this gap – mostly maintenance and capital projects – and to provide a dedicated funding source for fire services that cannot be affected by the economy or by state rules that limit the city’s ability to create revenue. Currently, the city’s fire protection services are funded through the general fund, which is fueled by city property taxes.

Like several other Oviedo residents who spoke, Kuechenmeister said that he didn’t like that the city put the fire budget up for this fee instead of something they considered to be less essential, such as parks and recreation. Mayor Megan Sladek has asked city staff to research a possible parks-and-recreation fee, which City Manager Bryan Cobb said at a June 6 meeting that the state would allow. The Council has not yet discussed this potential fee.

Assistant City Manager Patrick Kelly said the city is currently examining several budgetary options. Public hearings for the city’s budget are expected to take place in September.

“Staff will present the City Council with a balanced budget as the city charter prescribes,” he wrote in an email to OCN.

Land for proposed wedding barn gets zoning change, prompts gentrification discussion

A major hurdle was cleared for a proposed barn-style wedding venue in historic downtown Oviedo on Monday night. The Oviedo City Council approved a request to change the zoning of the 3-acre lot near the intersection of Oviedo Boulevard and Franklin Street from residential to office/commercial.

A crowd of people who live in the area or worship in the churches that surround the property showed up to speak to the Council about the proposal. Several people said that they fear that land changes in the area will raise land prices and push them out of their community.

Moments before the zoning change was considered, the Council approved a major update to the city’s 25-year plan, which allows for more building density in several areas in Oviedo, including the area where the subject property is, which is in Oviedo’s historically Black community. (Read a more detailed report of the plan’s passage below).

Dominique Young, who was born and raised in the area, said she has a good job and has been searching for a house near her family for about five years but hasn’t found anything she can afford. She wanted to buy a piece of the subject property when it was for sale. She said a half an acre there was selling for $98,000 – a price she could not afford for land alone.

“The cost of living in Oviedo is insane. It’s hard for anyone to find affordable housing.
This is going to increase taxes for the area,” she said of the future land use changes. “It’s hard to live here with all the changes. There’s nothing left for us. Changing the zoning for downtown increases the taxes.”

Sladek said that the changes to the future land use from office/commercial to “downtown transitional,” which allows more diverse uses for the land as well as increasing the potential residential density, will not trigger a tax increase. Landowners’ successfully changing the zoning of the land is what prompts that.

Sladek agreed that gentrification is already happening in the area. She suggested several scenarios: people who own single-family homes there could band together and build affordable, multi-family housing on the property instead, creating opportunity for others. She also said that the city could create a historic district in the area to preserve what’s currently there, but that would lock residents into their current situations.

She also pointed out that the changes to the comprehensive plan made the area’s property values increase substantially.

“What essentially happened this evening is you were gifted money. By having the property designation change, it’s like being handed money you can go cash out and a developer will pay you more for your property just because of what happened here tonight. It’s a terrible thing to talk about in those terms but that’s what happened.”

Cynthia Smith said that she remembers a time when Black people had no choice but to live on the east side of the railroad tracks and said the city has not provided for the community in an equitable way.

“You let us down. You didn’t put in any infrastructure. We’re still on septic,” she said, adding that she called the city to put in sewer lines for the church but was told it was too expensive.

“You wrote a grant for a fire truck but you can’t write a grant to put infrastructure in our part of the city, where we were forced to live?”

Oviedo City Attorney David Hall explained that in a quasi-judicial hearing, the Council can only consider whether the proposal meets the land use and code and cannot be opinion based.

“This is what I’m wrestling with. We have to treat all property owners the same,” Deputy Mayor Bob Pollack said before the Council approved the zoning request. “They bought a piece of property and it came with intrinsic rights. I’m truly sorry for that but they have the rights.”

The Council said the community’s concerns about things such as traffic, the sale of alcohol and noise control on the proposed wedding barn property will be addressed when city staff considers the site plan for approval.

City’s 25-year plan gets final approval

On Monday night, after two years of planning by city staff and more than half a dozen public meetings, the Oviedo City Council gave its final approval of the city’s comprehensive plan – a document that’s updated every decade, laying out where the next 25 years worth of population growth should be concentrated.

Florida must use the state’s population projections – an increase of 16,000 residents by 2045 for a total of 58,000 – and ensure those residents, plus current residents, have ample places to live and recreate, enough schools, and sufficient city services such as water, sewer and police and fire protection. It also considers roads, environmental protections and financial sustainability.

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest changes that the updates makes possible in Oviedo:

A maximum of 50 dwelling units per acre and maximum floor‐area ratio to 1 (meaning the plan takes up the entire buildable lot) will be allowed in the following areas:

  • Downtown Core, which is the new downtown (Oviedo on the Park) and the historic downtown (the area surrounding Central Avenue and Broadway Street)
  • The Marketplace (The Oviedo Mall land)
  • Gateway West Core (the sliver of land east of the Oviedo Mall)
The 2045 land use map shows where the density is planned to go. Image courtesy of the City of Oviedo.

The density in these areas could be doubled to 100 dwelling units per acre and 2 FAR with developer bonuses, which are awarded on a case-by-case basis by staff if the developer does things the city likes, such as include affordable housing, use “green” building practices and fund public transportation programs.

The new downtown area already had a similar density in the 2010 plan, when the city was planning for its 38,000 population to increase to 49,000 in 2025. But the plan update increased Oviedo’s historic downtown density from a maximum of 18 dwelling units per acre. The Marketplace increased from a maximum of 5.5 dwelling units per acre and the Gateway West Core changed from a mix of office land use with a maximum of 8 dwelling units per acre and commercial, with a maximum of 15 dwelling units per acre.

The West Mitchell Hammock Corridor is a 214-acre area that is currently a mix of zonings, including commercial land, agricultural land (which is mostly A. Duda & Sons sod farms) and rural land. The update will increase the residential allotment on parts of the Mitchell Hammock corridor land to a maximum of 30 residential units per acre (or 50 if it’s developed vertically or as mixed-use).

According to city documents, the appropriate land use for that area “should focus on non‐residential uses, complimentary to the existing commercial uses along West Mitchell Hammock Road, with an appropriate balance of high-density residential.”

This area’s future land use was primarily rural and low-density residential (less than one dwelling unit per acre), as well as office (maximum of 8 dwelling units per acre) and commercial (maximum of 15 dwelling units per acre).

Watch the full meeting

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