Citizen concerns over childcare development bring change

Dozens of residents, as well as a number of City Council members, voiced strong concerns about a proposed childcare center in Oviedo

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated with additional information noted in bold below

Dozens of residents, as well as a number of City Council members, voiced strong concerns about a proposed childcare center in Oviedo during the June 19 City Council meeting where an empty seat could not be found. 

The proposed childcare center, which is part of the Seneca Bend planned unit development (PUD) and located along Winter Springs Boulevard, just west of the State Road 417 overpass in Oviedo, has many residents concerned about its potential impact to safety, the environment, traffic, noise and wildlife. A PUD is typically a community of homes that belong to a homeowner’s association and can include businesses in the development.

Seneca Bend’s PUD was adopted in 1994 and expired in 2005. It allowed for up to 22 residential units — 21 of which were built — and commercial business tracts. Because it expired, the developers, MH Design Build and Zoser Design Build Group, need City Council to amend the zoning map to establish development regulations and a conceptual development plan to allow them to build a nearly 5,500-square-foot building for a proposed childcare facility on one of the commercial tracts. 

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The amendment is a procedural process using the previous PUD plans, and was approved by City Council, but not without some changes.

Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek said that the city’s new rules, put in place after the expiration of the original PUD, make projects such as this one more difficult to accomplish. 

“Quite honestly, I’m delighted that there are a lot of hurdles, and it’s going to probably make people rethink whether this is a financially feasible project,” she said. “The new rules are harder, guys. The new rules are a lot harder.”

Voices heard

Initially discussed in the May 16 Local Planning Agency meeting, and then again in the June 5 City Council meeting, the development of the childcare center has led to strong community involvement.

“I think it’s awesome that that community came out, because they did change things that were happening in that project,” Councilmember Natalie Teuchert said. “We wouldn’t have been as aware [of the issues] without them coming out. So I do want to stress that they should come out and that they have gotten results.

“[The developers] have a lot of hurdles they have to get over before they can even get a development site plan that will actually work,” she said.

Following outcry about the allowable height of the potential building being 45 feet to the ceiling plate, City Council voted unanimously to limit the height to 25 feet, while the homes in Seneca Bend have an allowable height of 35 feet. Councilmember Bob Pollack even suggested limiting the building’s height to 20 feet before agreeing to 25.

While the daycare, which could allow for a maximum capacity of 100 students according to the plans, was not planning to build higher than 18 feet, according to project applicant and Zoser Design Build president Ramadan Seyam, the alteration affects what can be done with the property in the future. 

“It limits our options for potential other development, should there be the need,” MH Design Build’s Michael Hilal said.

Environmental concerns

The Seneca Bend development uses a shared retention pond, and residents were worried that it was not large enough to serve the proposed project.

“That retention pond right there does fill up after several days of rain, and a lot of that water goes into [a] wooded [wetland] area,” William Carlucci, who lives on Oak Bend Court, said during the public comment section of the meeting. 

“If that buffer is no longer there, will the retention pond overflow and impact our houses, which are right there next to the retention pond?”

Updated 3:33 p.m.: The SJWMD permit for the PUD requires the site to have its own surface water management permit, Hilal said. Following a study the developers commissioned prior to the May 16 LPA meeting, they said the childcare center would have onsite retention, most likely with use of a pond.

Following a study the developers said they commissioned prior to the May 16 LPA meeting, it was determined that the retention pond could not accommodate the new facility, and the childcare center would need to have onsite retention, whether it be by using another pond, underground system or something else. 

The developers said that they will have their own retention and retain stormwater on their property, most likely with use of a pond.

“They didn’t have to do that before, so that will alleviate a lot of the flooding concerns,” Teuchert said. “That was a big win.”

In addition to the retention issue, the site sits on a large swath of wetlands, which are managed by the St. Johns Water Management District. To mitigate the nearly acre of wetlands, the developers will have to work with SJWMD, and the process can be difficult.

“The major hurdles, in my opinion … are wetlands mitigation,” Hilal said. “With the diligence and care that we had to design this PUD … we’re going to use the same diligence and care with St. Johns Water Management District and dealing with whatever we have to deal with in regards to getting our wetland permit.”

While costs and other factors could become a concern for the developers, the impact on the landscape, wildlife and environment are front of mind for residents. 

“One of the great benefits that attracted us to live in Oviedo was the small-town feel and the mature landscape that’s everywhere — or used to be everywhere,” Seneca Bend HOA president Jovian Anaya said at the meeting. “It is now becoming rapidly more scarce.”

“Our neighborhood has no need for a daycare, [and] once this wetland is removed, it is gone forever,” Anaya said. 

Hilal said they presented an environmental report to the city before submitting their application.

Why would a developer choose to build on wetlands despite the cost and other impacts?

“There are no other locations available,” Teuchert said. “Oviedo’s out of land, so the land that is left is wetlands. It’s swampy land. It’s a lot more expensive land to develop because you do have to de-water it, you have to de-muck it, you have to bring in a ton of filters, things like that.

“The state has mechanisms to allow developers to do that, and that’s these mitigation credits,” she said.

Hilal said his team has experience with the process.

“Building on wetlands is actually quite common,” he said. “You excavate it out and you allow the soil to dry and then replace it with compactable dirt.”

Safety concerns 

The initial plan was to have the one access point to the property on Oak Bend Court, leading many residents to worry about the impact on traffic. The city asked the developers to look into potentially adding a second limited access point on Winter Springs Boulevard, which is still being explored, according to Oviedo’s Development Services Manager Teresa Correa.

“We’re concerned about additional car stacking, we’re concerned about them having to come down our street to turn around,” Carlucci said.

There is currently a school bus stop on the east corner of Oak Bend and Winter Springs Boulevard, which could be affected by the addition of the childcare center. The Seminole County School Board said they can accommodate the potential issue by moving the stop to the west corner, Correa said.

This would mean students would need to cross the street for unimpeded access. And while this does offer an initial solution, parents are not satisfied. 

“My area of expertise is protecting my children, and I’ve been watching my children walk to the school bus safely for the past five years, and now that is going to be taken away from them,” Seneca Bend resident Elizabeth Gase said. 

To further alleviate these concerns, Teuchert brought up the idea of adding blinking crosswalks, ‘local traffic only’ signs and other safety mechanisms, which Hilal said he is open to. 

“We never had a problem with doing that,” he said. “We are not trying to make it where there’s cars zooming in and out of there at 70 miles per hour while their kids are walking around.”

There are at least 10 daycare centers within a 4-mile radius of Oak Bend Court according to Google Maps. But that does not mean another is not warranted.

“Through a client of ours, we discovered that there is a need for [childcare centers],” Hilal said. “Just because there are a few of them around doesn’t mean that they all don’t have a two-year waiting list.”

With all of the development, the residents’ concerns about the area’s feel and atmosphere being dramatically affected by change is just a symptom of growth, Teuchert said.

“I understand where people think we’re losing our small-town charm, and I get that,” she said. “I guess it’s how you define that small-town charm. I define it by the community we have here. 

“I do think it’s sad when trees go down, I do. I want to minimize it as much as possible, but I also want to make sure we’re keeping our rural boundary,” she said. “And we do keep that small-town feel, which means we allow small businesses to flourish and be local and stay local.”

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