More than 250 concerned local residents filled the main auditorium of The Foundry Church on Tuesday night to hear from Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon about the future of a potential Walmart store and additional development in Winter Springs.
The project, which has yet to be formally submitted to the city for review, regards the area northwest of the State Road 417 interchange at S.R. 434. The development proposal, expected to include a Walmart store and potentially a hotel, storefronts, townhomes and additional development, would be within the area the city had set aside for a high-tech industry corridor along S.R. 434, mirroring the type of development of the Research Park corridor that’s just south of the University of Central Florida.
“They’re running out of room down at UCF so they’d like to expand that corridor,” Mayor Kevin McCann said in an interview before the Tuesday information session. “They’re looking for something closer to start adding and Winter Springs seems like a good place for that.”
At the information session Cannon said he wanted to dispel rumors that the Winter Springs City Commission was already ready to accept a proposal for the project, which would potentially significantly alter the original plans for the 200-acre area.
“I’m here to tell you that none of the elected officials of the city have had a request of this developer to bring this project,” he said.
“This project is in its embryonic stage,” Cannon added. “Because we don’t have an application, I am not legally allowed to comment specifically on a project that hasn’t even been filed yet.”
Cannon mentioned that in the past developers had met commissioners individually over lunch to discuss projects, effectively skirting the spirit of Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” laws requiring discussions of government business to be noticed to the public and recorded. “We don’t do that anymore in Winter Springs,” he said, clarifying that he had not spoken to potential development applicant Ryan Stahl of Equinox Development other than during the July 11 City Commission meeting.
He opened the informational session by explaining the city’s financial standing compared to other local jurisdictions that are more reliant on development to help fund government operations.
“Some jurisdictions in the Central Florida area basically have to take any development that comes in the door because they’re chasing their tax base,” Cannon said. “That is not the city of Winter Springs. The City of Winter Springs has some of the best finances of any city in the Central Florida area.”
“We are not in a dire financial circumstance where we have to chase after any project for tax revenue,” he added, to applause from the crowd.
In a question-and-answer segment of the information session, using submitted written questions, residents asked why the city didn’t just turn the project down immediately if it didn’t satisfy the city’s parameters for the area in question. Also mentioned were environmental and water drainage concerns in the already low-lying area.
Resident Eric Anderson wrote, “I am concerned that this proposal is a smokescreen to then submit something less aggressive but still requiring the zoning change.”
“Could it be? Who knows,” Cannon said. “But the proof will be in the formal application.”
Asked whether a developer could press the city into accepting a development that doesn’t fit with the city’s plans or codes, Cannon said it won’t happen.
“An applicant doesn’t just trump our zoning and land use plan,” he said.