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City pauses development to study historic flooding

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Winter Springs won’t approve new development projects until it sorts out stormwater issues brought to light by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. The City Commission passed a moratorium on new development at a meeting Jan. 9, brought on by flooding problems laid bare during the storms. The city and surrounding areas endured widespread flooding, with some spots enduring weeks underwater.

Preliminary findings on the quest to fix the flooding are expected in the upcoming City Commission meeting Monday. 

“I think we owe it to the citizens of Winter Springs not just because of the storm but because of what’s happened before the storm, what’s happened in the past few years, and the development that’s happened that’s caused flooding to other people’s homes,” Commissioner Matt Benton said. “I think we owe it to them to find a solution for those residents who, by the way, pay almost all of the taxes in Winter Springs. Almost all of it is from the residents – those of us who live here.”

Benton was responding to the stories residents told during the meeting of their  homes being  flooded, saying they believed it was due to development being allowed near homes, without adequate stormwater management. City staff and consultants are currently conducting a citywide review of stormwater systems and management plans in an effort to discover how to make the city better able to withstand historic rainfall like that which hit the city during Hurricane Ian.  

The city joins a slew of other municipalities that are halting development to study how it might negatively affect stormwater management. Deltona recently extended a residential building moratorium through March of 2023. A week ago New Smyrna Beach voted to pause development. 

This was the second vote by the Commission, with a new amendment that would allow developers to file new development applications and have city staff conduct a preliminary review of projects, but would not allow the projects to progress to an official vote until after the moratorium ends. That moratorium would end only after the city has a better understanding of how to build more safely to stop stormwater from inundating the city, Mayor Kevin McCann said. 

“The intent of the Commission…was simply we know that we had hundreds of homes in Winter Springs that were flooded during hurricane Ian, devastating damage, unlivable homes, taking phone calls from teachers with small children whose homes were purchased in August whose homes were now unlivable,” McCann said. “We’ve got a responsibility to our residents and to our future residents and to make sure we’re taking our responsibilities seriously. We had devastating damages and people who really are hurting. These are our neighbors, our friends, and residents of the city.” 

But not everyone agreed with the moratorium, with some residents and former officials standing up at the public podium to warn the city that the temporary halt would send a bad message. 

“You get a developer who comes in and wants to build a group of homes or a medical center. Guess what? They take their money and go somewhere else,” former Winter Springs Mayor Paul Partyka said.  

Newly elected Commissioner Victoria Colangelo said she wanted more information about what would be done during the moratorium to improve flood-control standards. 

“I’d like some more confirmation and what exactly will be done in this 90-day time frame,” Colangelo said. “Are we going to be doing evaluations and studies on highering the standards? Why do we need three months to higher the standards?”

City Manager Shawn Boyle later explained that, based on the findings of engineers, the city may or may not raise the standards of the city’s stormwater management to be able to withstand 50-year or 100-year storms or go beyond those standards. Currently the city uses the broadly accepted standard of being able to withstand a 25-year storm’s worth of stormwater flow. Hurricane Ian, according to Boyle after conversations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other data, caused a rain event equal to a 1,000-year storm. 

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

Public Works Director Phil Hursh said there will be a presentation at the upcoming City Commission meeting about how that flooding affected areas and how development has changed the city.

At one point in the meeting the Commission had to fend off an accusation of “conspiracy” with the county to stop a possible storage facility project on Tuskawilla Road. The accusation was made by former Seminole County Commissioner John Horan as he chastised the city for the brief halt in new development, claiming that the city was issuing a citywide development ban in order to stop a single development project that was not under the control of the city and would not be affected by the moratorium. 

“I will say the two items are not in any way related,” McCann replied. “This is about stormwater. Conspiracies are not going on.”

Nearing a final vote on the moratorium, Colangelo proposed an amendment that would prevent the Commission from extending the moratorium beyond 90 days. Were the moratorium to end at 90 days, no rule exists that would prevent the city from voting on another moratorium after that point. The amendment was voted down 3-2, with recently elected Commissioner Cade Resnick siding with Colangelo. Both also voted against the moratorium when it passed 3-2 moments later. 

Listen to the full meeting

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