Storage Facility meeting draws contentious crowd

Dave Axel did his best Tuesday night to quell fears of a proposed three-story storage facility that could potentially tower over nearby homes in Winter Springs. 

The Oviedo-area real estate agent, speaking from a plain black stage in front of about 100 residents, represented the seller and potential buyer of a controversial piece of land that lies in the middle of Winter Springs, but isn’t technically a part of Winter Springs at all. The small Seminole County enclave along north Tuskawilla Road, bordered on all sides by Winter Springs, could soon see an industrial zone converted into a public storage facility if approved by the county. 

“It’s an abomination,” Winter Springs Deputy Mayor Rob Elliott called the proposed development in January. But Axel on Tuesday tried to explain to residents that, of the options that current zoning would allow for the nearly four-acre parcel, a storage facility might be the best one. 

“It was one of few potential uses that made sense, given the circumstances of the property,” Axel said. 

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Dozens of residents asked Axel questions about the project, many of them openly criticizing the choice of development given the proximity to the local Tuskawilla Crossings neighborhood, with some homes within 20 yards of the property. 

That neighborhood, once the site of a meat rendering plant and a paint factory, had since been converted to residential zoning, as had nearly all of the land to the east of Tuskawilla Road, with some parcels requiring annexation by the city. But the small industrial-zoned area surrounded by them remains. 

Residents listened for more than an hour in a not-quite-packed room in the back of the Foundry Church, less than half the room that was necessary to contain a cacophonous July 2022 meeting in the same building that had drawn more than 300 residents over fears of a potential Walmart superstore in the city. 

The rumored Walmart project, which was never formally proposed or submitted to the city but which spurred speculation on social media and featured in the campaigns of multiple City Commission candidates in 2022, has rarely been spoken of again on the City Commission dais. But the storage facility project less than half a mile from city hall is already making its way through Seminole County’s formal development review process. Axel said it could come up for its first Planning and Zoning vote in early May. 

Faced with residents worried about the size, scale and potential impacts to school-children walking daily past the facility, Axel explained project details piece by piece. 

Asked pointedly whether another type of project could go in place of the storage facility, which Mayor Kevin McCann had described as “bigger than a Walmart,” Axel said there were other options the parcel’s M1 zoning would allow, including an automotive repair shop, body shop, storage warehouses, and contractor storage yards. 

The parcel of land has no water or sewer connections, and the proposed storage facility would plan to use underground wells and a septic system. Winter Springs, were it to annex the land, could potentially provide those services, but annexation talks stalled in the past. Tuskawilla Crossings Homeowners Association board member Joel Trouse said he would speak with his board Wednesday about the possibility of facilitating granting water and sewer line extensions into the industrial property if it would facilitate allowing it to be annexed by the city, with the goal of preventing a storage facility development. 

Resident Art Gallo said that, given the reaction by residents, he hoped another proposal could bridge the gap between residents and the developers. 

“It’s pretty evident the community doesn’t like this there,” Gallo said. “Why don’t we get together and figure out if there’s a win-win?” 

Axel, at multiple times in the meeting, pointed out concessions that developers and the county had made to the project to make it more palatable to nearby residents, including a design by the designer of the nearby Winter Springs Marketplace commercial development, reduced outdoor lighting glare, a building façade that makes the three-story main structure appear like a two-story building, and banning any vehicle storage from the premises. 

Asked by a resident whether the potential sale of the project was contingent upon the land’s rezoning being approved, Axel refused to comment. 

“Do you have a plan B if they don’t get the rezoning?” resident Gina Shafer asked. Axel said no. 

The project, if approved by P&Z, would be followed by a hearing by the Seminole County Commission, as early as late May. 

“Certainly everyone’s free to reach out to them in the interim if anyone wants to,” Axel said. 

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