Winter Springs could stop development while it studies flooding

Winter Springs might halt development temporarily while it works to study and stop future flooding, after four significant storms hit the city in the span of a little more than a month. 

The city’s Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-0 on Nov. 17 to institute the moratorium on development in response to two heavy rainstorms, coupled with hurricanes Ian and Nicole, that dumped, in the case of Hurricane Ian, far more water on the city than initially estimated. The move will require the city commission’s approval in two public hearings, the first of which is planned for Dec. 12. 

“We were under the impression we got 17 inches,” Winter Springs City Manager Shawn Boyle said. “The county came out and verified… Gee Creek and the western part of Winter Springs actually ended up getting just under 27 inches, which is a 1,000-year storm.” 

“As I said before, it was biblical,” Boyle added. 

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He said that more than 40 inches of rain fell in the city in a span of 45-50 days. 

Board member Gina Shafer said the flooding was already bad before the hurricanes, and that she worries about development’s flood impact on nearby areas. 

“I’m not against development, but I think everything needs to be an educated [process],” Shafer said. “That water has to have somewhere else to go.” 

Board member Ken Spalthoff was vocally in favor of the moratorium before the vote. 

“We’ve got to do something,” Spalthoff said. “There’s something that needs to be done and we need to start doing it and being forward-thinking, immediately. I’ve lived here 14 years and I’ve never seen what we saw. It’s a historic flood. There’s no finger pointing. There’s no blame, but there’s lessons to be learned and things that we can do better.”

The ordinance does have several exemptions. It does not halt applications for final engineering plans in subdivisions, which were formally filed and deemed complete on or before Oct. 10,, or subdivisions that would be entirely served by a master stormwater system that was already approved. It doesn’t halt pre-application meetings. It also doesn’t apply to applications for development that do not require the construction of a stormwater management system, such as the construction of a single family home. 

Speaking in favor of the moratorium at the meeting, former City Commissioner Kevin Cannon said that while driving around the city he saw extensive flooding that went beyond what came out of the city’s waterways. He said that the exemptions for some stages of development “make me nervous.” 

“I would dare say that you couldn’t take a map of the city and draw a half-mile radius where at least some localized flooding did not occur in this city, and many of those areas it was not affected from creeks or streams,” Cannon said. 

Before voting unanimously with his fellow board members, Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Kok Wan Mah said that the stormwater management study, which the city contracted with engineering firm Pegasus Engineering to help conduct, would likely take longer than the initial 90-day moratorium, which may need to be extended. 

“I don’t know if 90 days is sufficient,” Mah said. “I do suspect that we’re going to have to extend it by 30, 60, 90 days.” 

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