Winter Springs mulls future of its “centerpiece” 

The big question of what to do with Winter Springs’ “centerpiece” intersection has Commissioners now considering a slew of options after a developer approached the city, wanting to build a gas station at the southwest corner of State Road 434 and Tuskawilla Road. 

The big question of what to do with Winter Springs’ “centerpiece” intersection has Commissioners now considering a slew of options after a developer approached the city, wanting to build a gas station at the southwest corner of State Road 434 and Tuskawilla Road. 

The final piece of developable land, at an intersection fronted by a McDonald’s restaurant, The Zoo Health Club, Mobil gas station and an empty lot, has drawn the ire of Commissioners in the past. Former Commissioner Kevin Cannon in 2022 excoriated developer Ryan Stahl for cutting down a canopy of oak trees lining the sidewalk at the intersection and then leaving the lot empty. 

What’s remained is a field of grass and weeds, only recently seeing construction on a bank building on part of the lot. 

The gas station – potentially a 7-Eleven or Wawa – informally suggested by Stahl to the Commission at its July 10 meeting, was dismissed as a non-starter by Commissioner Rob Elliott and Mayor Kevin McCann, citing a more than 20-year-old ordinance that creates a 350-foot buffer zone between competing gas stations and from residences. That ordinance also prevented Stahl from being able to formally present it as a potential project to the city. 

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Commissioner Victoria Colaneglo said she’d be in favor of the ordinance going away, suggesting that a fuel station for cars might help increase walkability in the city by having a convenience store. 

To soften the blow of a second gas station at an intersection, the aesthetics of which Elliott said he wanted to protect, Stahl said that gas stations aren’t really just gas stations anymore. 

“Gas stations aren’t developed these days,” Stahl said. “They’re called convenience stores. A supermajority of the sales come from what’s inside. That’s where the real sales are.”

An image of an empty lot at the S.R. 434 and Tuckawilla Road intersection.
A recent Winter Springs Commission discussion about the development of the S.R. 434 and Tuskawilla Road intersection evolved into one about how to drive business into its Town Center by improving amenities along the shores of Lake Jesup, such as Central Winds Park. Photo by Isaac Babcock.

But the idea of a second gas station or convenience store in the center of the city drew the ire particularly of Elliott. 

“That location is somewhat of a centerpiece of our city and to say the centerpiece of our city is a convenience store while somebody else three blocks down the road wants to put a storage facility, it just doesn’t really seem to fit my vision of what Winter Springs should look like,” Elliott said. 

Commissioner Cade Resnick asked Stahl if he had any other ideas for development at that intersection, and Stahl said “we’re running out of ideas.” 

“I think the city really needs more sit-down restaurants,” City Manager Phil Hursh said. 

Stahl countered that because so much of the land near the Town Center is consumed by Lake Jesup, rather than homes or businesses with potential customers in them, it’s turned off restaurants that rely on being at the center of a geographic circle filled with customers.

“Not as much daytime traffic as they’d like because half the radius is alligators,” Stahl said. 

McCann agreed, highlighting a key issue for much of Winter Springs’ central core, which runs east to west within a half mile of the famously alligator-infested lake.  

“Look at a map, you drop a pin, you must have a certain population within let’s say 2 miles, you need to have a certain income based on what type of restaurant it is,” McCann, who worked in the restaurant business in the past, explained. “But with Lake Jesup, it’s like a line that cuts that circle in half, and that is why all that development takes place at Red Bug and Tuskawilla and doesn’t take place up here. We struggle to find larger sit-down restaurants in the heart of the city because of Lake Jesup.”

An image of Central Winds Park in Winter Springs.
Central Winds Park sits along the shore of Lake Jesup. Photo by Cari Hicken.

McCann said that the city is working to solve that problem by improving amenities and walkability, making its downtown area more palatable to businesses. He mentioned the pickleball facility and potential boardwalk being developed in Central Winds Park as future draws to the area. 

That boardwalk has been informally discussed by the Commission in the past, part of a larger vision that includes the pickleball facility, followed by an event venue building and further expansion toward Lake Jesup along the western border of Central Winds Park. Winter Springs’ waterfront development of Lake Jesup so far has been limited to a simple fishing pier and a water reclamation facility to draw and filter water out of the lake.

“With … making Central Winds Park more of a destination, we’re hoping that those kinds of things will help drive our business community,” McCann said. “It works in every other municipality in the state.” 

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