*Correction noted at end of story
Winter Springs got some of its power back from the state and took some shots at Tallahassee on Aug. 22, when the City Commission passed two ordinances to replace ones that the state legislature had stripped away from Florida cities.
The result is the city will be able to fine nuisance home-based businesses, including ‘sexually-oriented businesses,’ and be able to protect trees from being cut down in the city again.
“There are problems that are brewing around the state of Florida regarding really obnoxious home-based businesses,” Winter Springs City Attorney Anthony Garganese said. “If the Commission wants to have some tools to deal with that issue this is the best that you have available at the moment.”
The tools that he was referencing are codes that the city can now write and enforce to stop noisy businesses from being housed in residential neighborhoods. Until the Aug. 22 meeting, the city had its hands tied in trying to stop many home-based businesses from popping up. That included adult entertainment, escort services, funeral homes and pain management clinics.
The Commission had openly lamented the removal of home-rule laws in the city in 2021 after the state passed the controversial laws preempting city control over some local issues.
“We’re going to rise to the top and we’re going to be the ones that are fighting this,” Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann said in December of last year.
According to Garganese, the city hired a noise expert to establish noise standards that the city can base enforcement on.
But Commissioner Rob Elliott was wary that previously outlawed home businesses, which the state preemption had since made legal, might be able to continue operating in the city.
“I understand that the state has given us somewhat of an out to this statute by adopting this type of noise ordinance and other type of ordinance and I’m glad to see it, but it doesn’t mean I can’t have a nice, quiet, well-organized, sexually-oriented business next door to your house,” Elliott said.
Commissioners expressed disdain about the laws passed down by the state legislature that had caused cities to have to scramble to remove large sections of city code and replace them with laws in-line with the state, effectively removing local control over issues previously within their domain.
Cannon, who had been vocal about his disapproval of the laws in 2021, and had worked with the Florida League of Cities to, in his words, “bring some sanity back to this statute” doubled down on his vow to fight the state if necessary.
“Just because the legislature writes a statute doesn’t mean a circuit judge would uphold the statute,” he said, speaking specifically about the home-based business laws.
He said that he welcomed legal challenges if the city tried to continue enforcing laws that the state preempted.
“The state got this wrong,” Cannon said.
“So we have a longstanding duly adopted ordinance that doesn’t allow that type of business activity in a residential area and we’re going to stand by that. And if somebody wants to violate it, I assume, chief, you will enforce our existing ordinances, and if they’re going to file a legal challenge, let them have at it.”
“We’re not going to just unilaterally withdraw an ordinance and open up our residential neighborhoods to the litany of activities that you just mentioned,” Cannon added. “Not gonna do it. And if a court orders it then we’ll take an appeal.”
McCann agreed, echoing a vow to continue fighting for the city’s ability to self-govern.
“I think the Commission’s made it rather clear what our intentions will be,” he said.
The city also unanimously passed a new ordinance that sets clearer standards for whether residents can remove trees, along with setting fines, tree replacement requirements and payments.
Elliott was concerned that the city might not have enough power to go after residents or developers who cut down trees and simply pay a fine.
“That’s my concern,” Elliott said. “I don’t care how much money you throw in the bucket. The tree’s still gone. If someone has the wherewithal to pay the money, they’re going to do what they want and pay the money. It’s a shame that some people think that way.”
The city government will continue to use fees and fines collected from tree removals to help plant more trees in the city.
“We have collected, under our arbor ordinance just in the last few years, over a million dollars and we have planted over 3,600 trees throughout the city, in the medians, in the parks. We’ve given them to neighbors, any resident,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon said.
Correction 9/1/22 5 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the new ordinance reduced the tree bank replacement fee for 24″ or larger non-specimen trees from $1,800 to $1,500. The fee, which did not exist before on trees 24″ or larger, was added in and the $1,800 number was a typographical error that was corrected to $1,500 but was left on the proposed ordinance document.