A planned McDonald’s restaurant in Oviedo has been put on a temporary hold following an at-times tense Oviedo City Council meeting on Monday night.
The applicants for the McDonald’s, which would be built on the 1.4-acre empty lot on the corner of East Chapman Road and State Road 434, appeared before Council for approval of their architectural design order (ADO), but left with the plans being tabled for 60 days due to continued concerns over the potential traffic impact the development may have.
Councilmembers voiced their concerns about not being able to review site plans, including the in and out points of the McDonald’s. When a development that has already won the Council’s approval does not involve any major deviations – greater than 20% – from the city’s development code, the site plan, which includes traffic impact details, will be subject to city staff approval, not Council’s.
“I want the site plan [to be] on the Council agenda to be approved,” Councilmember Bob Pollack said. “Staff isn’t the one that’s going to get all the emails [from citizens] and everything else because it’s not done.”
Attorneys for the applicant, Axis Infrastructure, took exception to the request, as they said they are following city procedures.
“I certainly understand the concerns from the members about review of the site plan, but we are not here tonight for the site plan. The applicant is working diligently with staff,” said Joseph Kovecses, Jr. of Lowndes Law in Orlando. “These concerns about traffic … are relatively recent.
“There is a process in the code for review and approval of the site plan,” he said. “The applicant asks [Council] to apply the code, let the normal, usual process play out.”
Traffic worries were initially discussed in the Feb. 20 Council meeting following community outcry, but council members said they have not seen enough movement on the issue for their liking.
“I just feel like these concerns were there since February,” Pollack said. “They were provided to the applicant. The applicant did nothing with them to address any of the residents’ issues. No meetings, no nothing.
“Right now I’m a little frustrated with the applicant to say the least,” he said. “We have plenty of applicants that come here and they actually directly meet with the residents to hear those concerns.”
As the plans are continuing, the project’s traffic consultant, Jason Utley, said Axis understands the concerns.
“The applicant is very open to talking to the residents,” he said. “We want to work with the residents and create as small of a footprint, as small of an impact as possible and address their concerns and make sure that this is a viable parcel that’s contributing tax base to the community.”
With the development less than a half of a mile from Evans Elementary School on Chapman Road, residents voiced their displeasure over potential gridlock and safety issues with increased traffic near the school.
“It’s almost like taking a funnel and trying to force it in one way in the mornings, forcing it out the other way, but it’s actually running both ways all day long,” Oviedo resident Michael Boykin, who lives on nearby Suncrest Court, said at the meeting. “It’s congested. When you’ve got all those school buses piled up, it makes it very difficult.
“There needs to be work on that intersection, and that work needs to be done before you take that McDonald’s and drop it into that slot because it’s too small as it is with the existing number of school buses that roll through there,” he said. “We want to keep those kids safe.”
Proposed site layouts – which are not finalized – show access points to the McDonald’s on both Chapman Road and S.R. 434, despite the Florida Department of Transportation seeing possible issues with people crossing multiple lanes on the already-busy S.R. 434. The entry and exit on S.R. 434 was added to help alleviate some congestion on Chapman Road.
Safety was also top of mind for resident Jason Human, who lives on Carriage Way Court and has two daughters who attend Evans Elementary. A bottleneck can be created by those leaving the McDonald’s and heading west on Chapman Road or south on S.R. 434, he said.
“I have concerns for children who live [nearby], crossing that street every morning to get to Evans Elementary, and the potential backlog of vehicles … potentially causing a disaster situation to the children of our community,” he said.
Human suggested that the city add a left- and right-turn lane from West Chapman Road to help with the congestion.
“The concern is the access onto Chapman Road, a block from the elementary school that has a lot of traffic already, and this is going to exacerbate that,” Councilmember Keith Britton said. “What I’m seeing is not the solution.”
The motion to table was passed on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Megan Sladek and Councilmember Natalie Teuchert dissenting due to the process and procedure of the plans.
“While I don’t agree with the site plan, we are voting on the ADO,” Teuchert said.
City attorney Juliana Ross said the ADO and site plan approvals are unrelated, separate procedural matters that are not contingent on each other. Normally, if the ADO were to be approved, and residents still had concerns, they could then appeal to Council, requiring the applicant to restart the process from the beginning.
“We have to follow our process through to completion, and if it’s not something that the residents like, then we continue to follow our process through to completion on appeal,” Sladek said.
Existing traffic issues
The traffic issues at the intersection are not new, and are being worked on by the city.
“Any improvements to Chapman now are going to be included in our mobility plan,” Oviedo Development Services Director Teresa Correa said.
The mobility plan will be reviewed July 24 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall and updated with proposed changes.
Having the changes included in the city’s mobility plan allow for direct funding and promote studies that identify traffic flow improvements relating to the school car line, the potential McDonald’s and any other future developments around the intersection, according to Britton.
Utley does not see a benefit of tabling the decision, due to the already-existing traffic issues and the standard process of review.
“This is really a ‘buyer-beware’ type of situation for McDonald’s at this point, it’s at their own risk,” he said. “It’s an administrative review for transportation if there are not significant deviations on the concept plan.
“So, in essence, what would happen is you would table this … and you would come back and review exactly the same thing,” he said.
While some on City Council see a benefit in tabling the approval, others see potential harm in doing so. Sladek said that she sees potential problems in the Council delaying normal procedure by combining two, unrelated processes.
“To hold hostage the architectural approval and slow down the ordering of materials that may take [significant] time [could be an issue],” she said. “We should not use this as a punishment for people who are not talking to residents when it is not required by our code.”
Kovecses agreed with the sentiment.
“The applicant has invested time, money, resources, consulting staff, and not approving the ADO [now] creates a level of uncertainty that going into further negotiations and further site plan review with city experts and transportation engineers, it makes the entire process more difficult and uncertain,” he said.
Millage rates stay the same
During the same meeting, City Council approved a tentative tax rate for the next fiscal year (October 2023-September 2024) at $5.48 per $1,000 in property tax value (note that’s assessed value not the market value) – the same rate as this year. For a resident owning a home worth $200,000 of assessed value, the city’s property tax would be $1,096.
“That 5.3 millage rate has historically been the baseline for us, and I’m glad we’re keeping it that way,” Britton said, referring to the tax rate based off of the general fund alone. The total tax rate includes an additional 0.13 per $1,000 in assessed property value for the city’s general obligation bond, which results in a total of $5.48.
The first public hearing about the millage rate will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7. The Council can decide to reduce the tentative tax rate as it works through the budget but cannot increase it.
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