Four-story facility nears big vote in Winter Springs

Weeks after resident uproar failed to stop Seminole County from allowing the rezoning of a three-story storage facility near Winter Springs’ downtown, a taller project is making its way to the city commission.

Weeks after resident uproar failed to stop Seminole County from allowing the rezoning of a three-story storage facility near Winter Springs’ downtown, a taller project is making its way to the city commission.

A four-story independent-living facility proposed on the city’s western border passed through the city’s Planning and Zoning Board on June 1 and was set to be voted on June 26 before that City Commission meeting was canceled this week, despite recommendations by city staff. 

“In staff’s opinion the applicant has not demonstrated a good-faith attempt to adhere to the streetscape requirement, nor have they addressed how the proposed landscape amendments will offset the smaller streetscape,” Winter Springs Senior Planner Nick Tafelsky said, mentioning just a few of the initial 133 comments and concerns staff raised about the project when it was first submitted in March of 2021. 

The Living Life independent living facility would remove more than 800 trees from a forest comprising the majority of the southern shore of Lake Talmo, at the city’s northwest corner, where Winter Springs meets Longwood at the intersection of State Road 434 and U.S. 17/92. A portion of those trees would be replaced, part of an elaborate landscape plan that city staff said does not comply with S.R. 434 streetscaping requirements and would seek to cut one landscape area requirement by more than 80%. 

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Resident William Pinto, whose home would see the development built just outside of his backyard, said that the project would be cutting down a forest. 

“A lot of those trees there are big live oaks, and big pine trees, there’s a lot of wildlife in there,” he said. “We’ve got owls, gopher turtles, I’ve seen turkeys in there, you name it. I’m just wondering with this 10-year plan with the trees, I don’t see how it’s ever going to be like it is now. I guess I’ll be looking into people’s pools and stuff. Basically my house is going to be ruined, but it is what it is.” 

Pinto also mentioned the potential for traffic accidents due to dangers already present in the area. 

“You can’t hardly get out onto [S.R.] 434, period,” Pinto said. “In the mornings it’s a nightmare. There’s already been so many wrecks there and accidents. Somebody’s died there. There’s an accident there every few weeks, bad accidents. I don’t see how you’re going to have elderly people.”

A four-story independent-living facility is being proposed on the city’s western border. Image courtesy of the City of Winter Springs.

P&Z Board Chairman Kok Wan Mah, who is a traffic engineer by trade, said the project was acceptable for trips added per day. 

Resident William Morrisey accused the city of “smacking gifted folks in the snout.” 

“He’s bringing something amazing to our city. It’s needed for the older folk, and it’s going to bring in needed income. What more are we going to ask for? Are we really going to pick on trees?”

But the overall scale of the project, and concessions that caused the developer to request exceptions and a conditional use, saw the biggest objections from staff, who submitted their report on the project with a recommendation that the Planning and Zoning Board recommend denial. Tafelsky said the developer of the project, Amco Developers, “has failed to demonstrate how the greater scale and intensity will be harmonious and compatible with the adjacent land uses.” 

Aaron Hakim of Amco Development disputed some of the staff’s assertions, saying that he’d had communication issues with the city, some of which came from staff turnover during the project. 

During the Planning and Zoning meeting, staff mentioned some of the requirements the developer was asking the city to waive, including a normally 16-foot landscape setback along the city’s right of way which the developer had requested be cut down to 3 feet, and a 27-foot-deep streetscape requirement from the street which the developer requested be cut to 14 feet. Despite more than two years of proposals, many of those issues remained unresolved as the meeting began. 

“I respectfully disagree with the applicant’s assertion that they haven’t heard about some of these issues until 2 weeks ago because we have documentation going back 2 and a half years,” Tafelsky said. 

After more than two hours of discussion to clarify more than a dozen issues of contention related to the project, the Board requested that the developer build enhanced streetscaping, increase tree size, increase shrub size, remove parking along S.R. 434 “to the greatest extent possible,” and keep three specimen trees, defined in Winter Springs as a canopy tree with a 24” diameter trunk, measured at 4 ½ feet above the base. But by the end of the meeting the details of those changes weren’t in writing, which Board member Michael Ferrante pointed out. 

“You’re asking us to take a leap of faith,” he said. 

Hakim said that he agreed with “99% of what you guys have presented tonight.” 

“I believe we’ve been able to create some momentum and we’d like to keep that moving with this project,” Hakim added. 

Tafelsky said that the developer had been working to clarify issues the city had presented. 

“The overwhelming majority of comments have been resolved,” he said.

The Board voted unanimously to approve a waiver on streetscaping with the conditions to enhance landscaping and move parking, and gave conditional approval to having a 4th floor on the building. 

The next scheduled City Commission meeting is set for July 10, when the project could potentially be discussed and voted on. 


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