Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Holidays Need YOUR Help!

Each year, the City of Belle Isle holds a toy and food drive for needy families. This event helps over 150 local families per year, but it needs your support to make sure that these families don't get left in the cold. This year's donation drive is organized by Vice Mayor Lydia Pisano, and she is requesting additional donations as soon as possible.

The City especially needs toys for 8-12 year old boys, and I was thrilled to learn that many of these boys aren't looking for video games and inside toys, but active toys like sports balls! It felt great to drop off a bunch of new soccer balls, footballs, and basketballs, but the city clerk said many more are still needed along with other types of toys for boys and girls.

Donations of new, unwrapped toys for children and teens as well as non-perishable food items will be accepted through December 23. You can drop off your donations at Belle Isle City Hall, 1600 Nela Avenue, or the Conway Café, 4542 Hoffner Avenue.

And don't forget to mark your calendar for Santa's yearly ride through Belle Isle this Thursday, December 17 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., where he will be distributing free toys to neighborhood children. Track Santa's progress at belleislesantafinder.com to see when he will be in your neighborhood!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Belle Isle City Manager Resigns

On December 1, 2015, the Belle Isle City Council voted 6-1 to accept the resignation of City Manager Keith Severns. Under the agreement, Mr. Severns will receive salary for an additional six months, as permitted under the terms of his contract with the City. During this six month period, Mr. Severns will continue to serve as city manager for a maximum of four months, or until the council appoints an interim city manager. For the remainder of the six-month period, Mr. Severns will serve as a consultant to the new or interim city manager.

As expected, Mr. Severns brought his core supporters to the meeting, most of whom made statements about how much they will miss Mr. Severns as our city manager. Many also admonished the council for accepting his resignation, despite the fact that this resignation was endorsed by every commissioner except Commissioner Ady, as well as by the mayor and city attorney. But even those admonishments were kept to a heated but respectful level.

Unfortunately, not all of Mr. Severns' supporters were able to maintain the level of dignity and restraint shown at the meeting. Following the meeting, former council candidate Larry Miles issued a statement simultaneously endorsing the reelection of Commissioner Shuck (a vocal supporter of Mr. Severns) while describing Commissioner Readey (presently battling leukemia) as a "corpse."

But while a period of negativity from Mr. Severns' core supporters is understandable, I share Mayor Brooks' optimism that the solution reached at the December 1 meeting will allow Belle Isle to move forward working with a city manager who inspires the faith and support of all our City's residents.

BIPD Officer Retention Update

At the December 1, 2015 City Council meeting, Belle Isle Police Chief Rich Ring provided an update on the BIPD officer retention issue explored in the previous article: Attend Tonight's Meeting to Support Our BIPD!

Chief Ring's presentation and the ensuing discussion did not produce any definite plan for increasing officer retention in our City, but left the door open for further discussion. Commissioner Nielsen indicated that the residents of Belle Isle, if asked, might be willing to dedicate a bit more of the City budget towards enacting a solid plan to retain some of our most talented officers.

Chief Ring has hired some great new officers during his term at Belle Isle, and he is correct that there will always be officer turnover in a small city like ours. But there is no substitute for experience and wisdom, especially in the kinds of legal and life or death matters that our officers face on a regular basis, and our City should have a goal of keeping some of its long-term officers on the force.

Chief Ring also referenced the Sun's November 3 article about the BIPD, articulating his concern that my statement regarding two talented Belle Isle officers who would "soon be leaving the BIPD" might be misinterpreted by readers to mean that these officers had already left the BIPD. In case that is so, please be assured that these officers are still with the BIPD for the time being while seeking new employment.

This means there might still be a hope for our city council to come together and agree on a solution that would keep one or both of these officers at the BIPD, or at least increase the officer retention rate as we move forward.

This officer retention issue is complex and cannot necessarily be fixed just by throwing a little money at the problem. But citizen input is always helpful, so if you have thoughts on this matter, please contact your commissioners.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Discussion of Police Pay Blocked by Mayor

This article continues the prior "Support Our BIPD" article, linked here:
Attend Tonight's Meeting to Support Our BIPD!

If you weren't able to attend the meeting on Tuesday, you may be wondering about the Council's discussion regarding additional compensation for our Belle Isle police officers. Unfortunately, any Council discussion on this matter was completely precluded by the improper actions of Belle Isle Mayor William Brooks and the commissioners who facilitated those actions.

Under our City's meeting procedures, a City Council meeting does not end until a commissioner makes a motion to adjourn. This motion has to be seconded by another commissioner before proceeding to a "voice vote" where commissioners speak their votes in unison. As the meeting chair, the mayor is empowered to decide whether the motion passed based on the voice votes. But if there is any question as to the outcome of this vote, the chair is also responsible for clarifying the vote by performing a "roll call" vote where the commissioners vote one by one.

Unfortunately, that procedure bears little resemblance to what occurred on Tuesday. The draft minutes for the Tuesday meeting (linked below) tell part of the story. At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Nielsen stated that she had additional business to discuss. Ignoring her request, Mayor Brooks asked Council for a motion to adjourn. Commissioner Nielsen repeated her request to speak, and was again ignored by Mayor Brooks asking for a motion to adjourn.

Although the meeting had only been underway for about 20 minutes and there was clearly still city business for discussion, Commissioners Van Dyke and Shuck obliged the Mayor, quickly moving and seconding a motion to adjourn. The third time Commissioner Nielsen tried to speak, she was cut off by Mayor Brooks, who stated that there was a motion on the table for adjournment and immediately called for a vote. Within a span of approximately ten seconds, the Council voted, Mayor Brooks stated that the motion passed, and Mayor Brooks and Commissioner Van Dyke disappeared out the door.

The biggest problem in all this? That motion to adjourn did not pass. While three commissioners (Karl Shuck, Larry Ady, and Keith Van Dyke) voted to adjourn, four commissioners (Harvey Readey, Sue Nielsen, Lydia Pisano, and Ed Gold) voted against adjournment. There was no roll call vote, which the mayor was required to call because the vote was too close to discern by voice vote. Any commissioner could have also called for a roll call vote, but in the seconds it took them to comprehend what had happened and realize what needed to be done, the Mayor was already in his Lexus and pulling out of the parking lot.

City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher commented that he's "never seen anything like this" in his many years of of experience as attorney for numerous local governments and boards.

Although Mayor Brooks, Commissioner Van Dyke, Commissioner Ady, and Commissioner Shuck successfully blocked the rest of the Council from discussing the officer retention problem and its potential solutions, you can learn more about the issue in the channel Channel 9 article and video linked below:

Belle Isle Commissioner Fights for Higher Police Pay - WFTV Channel 9

The City Clerk has posted draft minutes from the Tuesday meeting (linked at the end of the article). The last two paragraphs are of particular note, stating that:

Due to some concerns with the adjournment process, Attorney Kruppenbacher was asked for his opinion on whether the meeting could reconvene. At 7:25pm he stated that Council is not in a noticed meeting and the Sunshine Law is in effect. He read from the Roberts Rules of Order, 11th Edition, Page 48 which reads, “Under all of the voting methods described above except a counted rising vote (or a counted show of hands), the result is determined by the chair’s judgment as to the prevailing side‐which it is his duty, in doubtful cases, to verify beyond reasonable doubt, and to the satisfaction of the members, by the procedures described below.”

Attorney Kruppenbacher said what had just happen was the Chair using his judgment; he heard it passed and the meeting was adjourned by these rules. Attorney Kruppenbacher understands that some of the Council members are stunned, but the Chair adjourned before anyone made a motion to have a call of the vote. He recommends that we open discussion on “adjournment rules” at the upcoming workshop. He stated that we cannot reconvene because it will be starting a new meeting which was not properly posted; in addition we lost another member who was in attendance.

City Council Meeting Minutes - November 3, 2015 (DRAFT)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Attend Tonight's Meeting to Support Our BIPD! [UPDATE]

If you drove past Cornerstone Charter Academy or went online this morning, you may have seen notices about Commissioner Sue Nielsen attacking the Belle Isle Police Department. These notices urge residents to attend tonight's 6:00 p.m. City Council meeting in order to protect our local PD. Playing on resident fears about shutting down the BIPD or the school are common scare tactics around election time in Belle Isle. But Belle Isle elections aren't until March, so something must have prompted today's notices. What's going on?

It was recently announced that beloved Belle Isle officers Dawn Nodzon and Tren Trendafilov will soon be leaving the BIPD. Dawn Nodzon is our City's Community Resource Officer and has won the "Officer of the Month" award an incredible THREE times. Officer Trendafilov is a local Belle Isle resident who has patrolled our City's lakes and streets for years, also winning the "Officer of the Month" award in Belle Isle. Both officers have shown significant dedication to the BIPD over the years, but our officers need jobs with retirement benefits and/or higher pay in order to support their families.

Concerned by this loss of two of our best officers, Commissioner Sue Nielsen called Belle Isle Police Chief Rich Ring last Friday to discuss how the City can do a better job of retaining highly-trained officers. More specifically, Commissioner Nielsen consulted with Chief Ring regarding whether the City's implementation of an officer retirement plan would help solve the retention problem. And while Chief Ring believes that retirement benefits are not the whole solution, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

So how did this discussion of increasing officer benefits become an all-call for residents to attend tonight's meeting and prevent Commissioner Nielsen from attacking the police department? Certainly not from Chief Ring, who would welcome new benefits and/or increased pay for his officers if he had the resources to provide additional compensation, but Chief Ring was also required to report this conversation to City Manager Keith Severns. Regardless, Chief Ring is doing the best he can with the budget he is provided by the City. The 2015-16 budget, as with prior years' budgets, concentrates City resources in upper-level positions at City Hall, especially the salary of our City Manager.

Most readers of the Sun are probably already aware that the Belle Isle City Manager receives well over $150,000 per year in salary plus benefits. But in the wake of losing two skilled officers, it's important to consider the message that this disproportionately large City Manager salary is sending to our valued Belle Isle police officers, who make significantly less than their Edgewood counterparts and receive no retirement benefits. Salaries should be proportional to ability and workload, and it is a tragedy to lose two of our finest BIPD officers because the City is unwilling to allocate sufficient resources to financially recognize our officers' ability and experience.

If you want to support our BIPD officers and learn more about potential solutions to the officer retention problem we face in Belle Isle, please be sure to attend tonight's City Council meeting at 6:00 p.m.!

Disclaimer: Except where specifically attributed to others, these are my thoughts and opinions expressed herein. I don't want this article to be construed as a veiled plea from your trusted Belle Isle police officers for additional benefits or pay, although they certainly deserve it.

UPDATE 12/2/15:

At the December 1 City Council meeting, Chief Ring referenced the Sun's November 3 article about the BIPD, articulating his concern that the above statement regarding two talented Belle Isle officers who would "soon be leaving the BIPD" might be misinterpreted by readers to mean that these officers had already left the BIPD. In case that is so, please be assured that these officers are still with the BIPD for the time being while seeking new employment.

Read more in the following linked article: Belle Isle Officer Retention Update

Monday, September 7, 2015

2015-16 Budget Review

Do your streets needs re-paving? Are you wondering about our City's emergency reserve funds in case of a hurricane or other disaster? Concerned about tax rates, neighborhood grants or capital improvements?

This Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., our City Council will hold its first budget hearing to review Belle Isle's proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-2016, which covers October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016. The proposed budget also includes the City's capital improvement plan (CIP) for 2015-2020. You can find a copy of the budget and CIP linked below

Belle Isle 2015-16 Proposed Budget & CIP

Emergency Reserves

One important concern that has been brought up at numerous City Council meetings is Belle Isle's lack of a designated emergency reserve fund. Despite many discussions about designating a separate emergency reserve fund, there is no indication that the City has yet established any separate interest-bearing account that cannot be touched except in cases of designated City emergencies.

It is also important to note that our City's financial reserves are still nowhere near what the City held prior to Hurricane Charley in 2004. When our City faces another serious emergency, we will be at the mercy of insurers, creditors and contractors if we are unable to provide the up-front cash needed to incentivize quick repairs to City infrastructure.

Paving Plans

At the beginning of FY 2014-15, both Belle Isle and Orange County did some much-needed resurfacing of streets in and around the City. Before these projects began, the City Manager obtained rankings of streets that Belle Isle is responsible for paving, to determine the condition of every street. These rankings are printed in the meeting agenda linked at the bottom of the article.

Street rankings utilized a 1-10 scale with lower numbers indicating poorer road condition. Some streets are omitted from the list, including all streets in Lake Conway East and Lake Conway Estates, as well as Cove, Peninsular, and the City’s two short unpaved streets (MacCawley and Avocado ). Also not included are streets inside gated communities and streets that are maintained by Orange County, such as Hoffner, Seminole, Judge, Matchett, McCoy, part of Gondola, and Daetwyler.

Below, you will find a street list which includes the rankings provided by Middlesex paving company as well as the fiscal year that each street was or will be resurfaced according to the proposed CIP linked above. As you can see from the data, some of the worst streets are not scheduled to be repaved for many years, while other streets which are still in decent shape are scheduled for repaving sooner.

Streets with rank of 1:
Horizon Court    2014-15
Wilks 2014-15
Woodbine 2014-15
Waltham 2014-15
Streets with rank of 2:
Warren Park Road 2016-17
Trentwood 2014-15
Burbank Avenue 2014-15
Overlook 2016-17
Nela Ave (near city hall) 2019-20
Perkins 2016-17
Idaho 2016-17
Swan (near city hall)   2016-17
Conway Circle 2016-17
Nevada 2016-17
LaBelle 2014-15
Belle Vista 2014-15
Oak Island (with curb) 2017-18
Crosslake 2017-18
Kissam Ct 2017-18
Streets with rank of 3:
Lake Conway Shores 2014-15
Jade Circle 2014-15
Ming Drive 2014-15
Hollyhock 2014-15
Honeysuckle 2014-15
Barby Lane 2016-17
Indian Drive 2016-17
Willoughby Lane 2016-17
Via Flora 2014-15
Trentwood#2 2014-15
Flowertree 2014-15
Lake Drive 2016-17
Windharbor/Windwillow 2015-16
Colleen 2015-16
Stafford Drive 2015-16
Pam Circle 2015-16
Windmill Ct 2014-15
Oak Island (no curb) 2017-18
Pleasure Island Rd 2017-18
Streets with rank of 4:
All streets in Windsor Place (Battersea, Deerhurst, Rothburg, Hawford, Chiswick, Wadsworth, and Edingham Court) 2018-19
Gondola (Nela to Perkins) -----------
Fulmer 2015-16
Wind Drift 2015-16
Wind Harbor Road 2015-16
Dewayne Drive ----------
Derine Way ----------
Oak Island Point ----------
Venetian ----------
Parkway Drive ----------
Streets with rank of 5:
Stockbridge 2016-17
Cay 2016-17
Delia 2016-17
Gibson 2016-17
Homewood 2019-20
Island 2019-20
Trace 2019-20
Easter 2019-20
Pasadena ----------
Streets with rank of 6:
Streets with rank of 7:
All streets in The Lakes and Landings (Conway Lakes Drive, Waters Edge, Admiralty, Orange Knoll, Citrus Valley, The Landings Drive, and St. Partin Place) 2017-18
Streets with rank of 8:
Nela Avenue (Seminole to near city hall) 2019-20
Unranked streets:
Nela Avenue (Seminole to near City Hall) 2019-20
All streets in Lake Conway East 2018-19
McCawley Court 2015-16

City Taxes & Fees

With regard to City taxes and fees, your city ad valorem tax rate will remain the same next year, but an increase in local property values may result in an increase of the dollar amount that you will pay. The City is also doubling its stormwater fee to be collected from citizens. No other increases are planned under the proposed budget.

Neighborhood Grants

The 2015-16 budget does not include any funding for the Belle Isle Neighborhood Grants (BING) program, likely due to lack of use. This program was initiated in the 2013-14 fiscal year, but the City had no applicants for these grant funds in the 2014-15 year.

Proposed Council Resolutions

In addition to the budget itself, a number of Council resolutions related to budgetary issues will be considered and voted upon at the upcoming meeting. Complete copies of these resolutions can be found in the meeting agenda, which includes proposals to:

  • repaving City streets in the order of the worst-ranked streets first
  • qualify the City of Belle Isle as a "Tree City, USA"
  • designating a separate Emergency Reserve Fund
  • requiring detailed monthly income and expense reports
  • establishing a cooperative effort with the Conway Navigational Board for funding water quality improvements in the Conway chain of lakes

Unlike ordinances which must have more than one reading and votes, Council resolutions are only voted upon once. So if you have comments about these proposed resolutions, please be sure to attend the Tuesday meeting and speak your mind.

Meeting Agenda

Sorry for the delayed publication of this article, but I did not obtain a copy of the meeting agenda until earlier this evening. As of the time of publication, the meeting agenda is still not available on the City website, but can download it through the link below:

City Council Special Meeting Agenda - September 8, 2015

Please note that following the budget hearing on Tuesday, September 8 at 6:00 p.m., there will be a second and final budget hearing on Monday, September 21. You will have an opportunity to make your opinions heard at both meetings, so be sure to fill out a green comment card if you have anything to say. Our City Commissioners do listen when citizens come to speak on an issue, so please plan to participate in this exercise of democracy!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tuesday Mystery Meeting [UPDATE]

Despite the posted meeting agenda indicating that the City Council meeting this Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. will have another packed schedule, there are a lot of questions and confusion surrounding why many of these agenda items have been included on this agenda in the first place.

The Tuesday agenda includes two appeals of recent Planning & Zoning Board decisions which were heard and voted upon by Council at the July 7th meeting. These include the Council’s decision to grant a variance to Wood Spring Suites (formerly Value Place) permitting an over-height extended stay hotel and denying an appeal regarding a rear set back on a property in Oak Island. The reason that these appeals are back on the agenda is unknown, as the appeals were already decided and Council has not voted to reconsider its ruling with regard to either of these appeals.

Significantly more concerning is that the Tuesday agenda also includes a public hearing regarding the proposed preliminary plat for the six-home, walled and gated, subdivision at the intersection of Nela Avenue and Seminole Drive. This proposal was denied by the Planning and Zoning Board on July 28th, in-part due to an ongoing petition drive, a good resident turnout, comments from neighbors, and arguments from a citizen-retained attorney.

The inclusion of this issue on the Tuesday agenda is purported to be a public hearing scheduled for Council consideration pursuant to the Belle Isle Land Development Code, section 50-33(3)(a)(4). However, the Code requires that notice of such hearings be publicized in a newspaper and by mailings to all property owners within 300 feet of the subject property (see section 50-33(1)(d) in the link above).

It is likely that this hearing will not go forward on Tuesday, as the required publications have not been completed by the City (see update below). Clarification has been requested from the City Attorney on this issue, and this article will be updated if new information is received prior to the Tuesday meeting.

But regardless of whether the public hearing on the subdivision plat can proceed as scheduled, you are still encouraged to attend the City Council meeting this Tuesday, August 4, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. You can download a PDF copy of the Tuesday meeting agenda at the link below.

City Council Meeting Agenda - August 4, 2015

UPDATE 8/3/15:

The mystery deepens. All information initially indicated that the required notices were not mailed to residents, but according to records just received from City Hall, notices of the public hearing regarding the proposed subdivision were mailed to the 20+ required households on July 24, 2015. However, a quick poll of six of these households which should have received this notice reveals that NONE have actually received a notice in the mail, despite it supposedly being mailed by the City a week and a half ago.

Regardless, the City Attorney now states that the public hearing will proceed on Tuesday based on the City's claim that the notice was mailed. Residents opposed to this proposed subdivision at the intersection of Nela and Seminole should be prepared to speak about their concerns at the 6:00 p.m. meeting on August 4.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Two Important Meetings This Week

Planning & Zoning Meeting on Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The large number of residents concerned about the proposed development at the intersection of Nela and Seminole will want to know that the Belle Isle Planning & Zoning Board will address this issue at the coming meeting this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. The developer of this property is requesting permission to build a six-home gated and walled subdivision to be constructed on the two existing lakefront lots that have been vacant since 2011. All residents are invited to speak about this issue, including those who live, drive, bike, or walk near that intersection.

A complete set of plans and drawings is attached to the meeting agenda linked below. It appears as though the developer is set to move forward with this project. If you have opinions that you want considered, take this opportunity to make your voice heard and meet like-minded neighbors!

Planning & Zoning Agenda - July 28, 2015

Special Workshop Meeting on Wednesday July 29, 2015

Following the Planning & Zoning meeting on Tuesday evening, our City Council meets this Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. for a special workshop session. Because it is noticed as a "special" workshop session, residents will be given an opportunity to speak and the Council will have the power to vote on pending issues, just as at a regular Tuesday evening Council meeting.

The agenda, linked below, promises discussions about several important topics. One of these important topics is the City Budget, including both City spending priorities and revenues. This will be the last chance for the Council to propose an increase in ad valorem tax to pay for necessary infrastructure repairs and improvements. If the Council proposes such a tax increase at the upcoming meeting, it can remain on the table for Council discussion and resident input at future meetings. If not, the possibility of an ad valorem increase will be foreclosed until the next fiscal year.

Special Workshop Agenda - July 29, 2015

Having Trouble Hearing At Meetings?

Florida’s requirements for open meetings requires that citizens in attendance be able to hear all discussions between our representatives. If you are having trouble hearing at meetings, be sure to speak up and let your representatives know!

Monday, July 6, 2015

City Council Meeting This Tuesday

There will be a City Council meeting this Tuesday, July 7 at 6:00 p.m. You can find a copy of the agenda linked at the end of the article. Here is a brief description about some of the items that will be addressed at the upcoming meeting.

Property Development at Nela & Seminole

At the recent City Council Workshop on Wednesday, July 1, City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher rendered his legal opinion on the zoning of the property at 6806 Seminole Drive. His opinion addressed only the question of the property's present zoning status. More specifically, he addressed whether the property is R-2, which would allow for medium density residential dwellings and a proposed six home gated community at the corner of Nela and Seminole.

Based on the evidence presented, Mr. Kruppenbacher believes that this lot is zoned R-2, although it appears there is still significant evidence that the lot is zoned R-1AA (which would prohibit the proposed development). Although this issue was addressed at the Wednesday workshop and is not on the upcoming meeting agenda, residents are encouraged to speak out about this property development on Tuesday if they wish to be heard.

Planning & Zoning Appeals

There are two appeals of recent P&Z rulings listed on the Tuesday meeting agenda. The first is an appeal regarding a variance granted for a reduced setback from the lake on Oak Island Road.

The second appeal regards a variance recently denied for a 51-foot high extended stay hotel in the business district south of McCoy Road and the Beachline (SR-528). The maximum building height allowed under city code is 30 feet. The hotel developer is seeking to overturn the Planning & Zoning Board's recent denial so that a high-rise hotel can be built.

These appeals will be heard by the City Council on Tuesday as de novo hearings. The council will be acting in a "quasi-judicial" role, meaning that will be acting something like a judge. However. be assured that even judges are swayed by public opinion. If you have an opinion on these issues, please be sure to complete a yellow “Request to Speak” form near the entrance. Speak up when you are called so all can hear your concerns.

Winn-Dixie Property

Although it is not on the agenda, the future of the Winn-Dixie property is an issue that has concerned many residents over the past months and years. Most recently, the City Council instituted a temporary moratorium on issuing certain types of building permits while it could evaluate the potentially negative effects of operating gas stations near residential property.

While this moratorium is in effect, the Belle Isle City Manager is responsible for gathering evidence that could support the need for a permanent ordinance prohibiting 24-hour gas stations near residential areas in Belle Isle. But until that evidence is gathered and presented to Council, the future of this proposed ordinance and the Winn-Dixie property will remain unknown. No such ordinance can be passed without an evidentiary hearing conducted by Council.

Other Agenda Items

Several "housekeeping" ordinances are on the agenda. These are basically changes to the language of our City Code to reflect that law enforcement and permitting in Belle Isle are presently perfocmed by our city departments instead of through Orange County.

However, one proposed ordinance (15-02) is of special note as it changes the method of canvassing of votes in Belle Isle city elections will be done. If passed, canvassing will be performed by the city clerk, city manager, and one city council member. If there is a county-wide election, canvassing will instead be performed by the county elections office. Although this is unlikely to cause any serious issues in the future, it is important to be especially cautious about changes to our voting process.

Please attend this Tuesday, July 7 beginning at 6:00 p.m. Citizen comments are at the beginning of the meeting, so try to be prompt! Agenda linked below:

City Council Meeting Agenda - July 7, 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015

Another Big Agenda for Tuesday Meeting

There seems to be quite a lot happening at recent City meetings, including last week's Planning & Zoning Board meeting. Tomorrow's City Council meeting at 6:00 p.m. will be no exception.

On the Tuesday meeting agenda, linked below, you will find a proposed resolution along with six proposed ordinances up for first reading and consideration by the Council. These proposed resolutions and ordinances include the following:

  • Resolution 15-07 increasing Belle Isle stormwater fees to more than double their present amount.
  • Ordinance 15-02 changing the Belle Isle election canvassing board to be the county when City elections are held in conjunction with county-wide elections. This ordinance also changes the canvassing board for elections held not in conjunction with county-wide elections to consist of one City Council member, the City Clerk, and the City Manager.
  • Ordinances 15-03, 15-04 "regulating the construction, repair and maintenance of boat docks" as well as the anchoring of manufactured homes, which shifts the permitting process and applicable code to that of the City instead of the county.
  • Ordinances 15-05, 15-06, 15-07 changing enforcement of the Belle Isle Code of Ordinances and other law enforcement activities to be performed by the Belle Isle Police Department instead of the county sheriff's office.

Proposed ordinances 15-03 through 15-07 simply aim to clean up the code to conform with current City practices. It does not appear that these will have any effect on the City's present actions.

However, proposed ordinance 15-02 will make significant changes to the composition of our election canvassing board. This ordinance contains two components. The first designates the county canvassing board as the canvassing entity in elections held in conjunction with county-wide elections. This change was recently discussed in Council and it appears that most residents and Council members are in favor of this change. 

The second portion of this ordinance bears a strong resemblance to a similar change proposed and rejected by residents and Council nearly two years ago. The second effect of this ordinance would be to change the composition of the canvassing board in strictly local elections from a majority of the City Council to a single member of the Council, along with the City Manager and the City Clerk.

In addition to the numerous items listed on the agenda, a number of residents are interested in addressing the issue of the six-home walled and gated subdivision which a developer is presently seeking to build in the lakefront lot at the intersection of Nela and Seminole. On that issue, resident Gregory Gent requested publication of the following statement:
The matter of the six-home walled development and the zoning of that property was discussed in the City Council workshop last week. Several issues were discussed but primarily that there was city code passed 5 months prior to the ordinance (05-17 granting R-2 status) stating that all waterfront property in Belle Isle, unless already zoned something else, must be zoned R-1A, R-1AA, or R-1AAA.
The City Attorney is presently reviewing documents regarding Ordinances 5-17, 5-18 & 5-19, discussed back in 2005 but never committed to City Code. For those most concerned with the 6 foot concrete wall surrounding the proposed subdivision, code has been identified that prohibits a fence or wall "within 20 feet of a corner intersection of street rights-of-way.” 
Each of us has many ways they would rather spend a Tuesday evening, but we need a strong showing at Tuesday's council meeting to make it clear to the City that this proposed development does not belong in our neighborhood for many reasons. Residents will have an opportunity towards the beginning of the meeting to voice their opinions.
Please help the cause and be there Tuesday, June 2nd at 6:00 p.m. (at Belle Isle City Hall) to show how you feel about the six-home walled subdivision at Nela/Seminole. 
And please pass this info on to all your neighbors and visit keepthecharacter.info to find more information about this proposed development!
Hope to see you all this Tuesday, June 2 at 6:00 p.m. You can find a copy of the meeting agenda linked below:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Huge P&Z Meeting Tonight

Four cases are on the Planning and Zoning agenda for the meeting tonight at 6:30 P.M. If you are concerned about the outcomes, please be sure to attend.

You can see these cases on the city website under Departments - Planning and Zoning. Just scroll down to the date and click on “agenda.” Here is a summary for your convenience. Remember that variance means a departure from code, so if you have any opinions on these changes, come to the meeting and say so. All matters before P and Z are public hearings, so come and exercise your right to be heard.

1. Variance request to place a 5 foot fence across the front of the property and a six foot fence going eastward to the front of the garage. Address: 7210 Seminole Drive.

2. Variance request to allow a 21 foot increase in maximum building height for a hotel at 1934 McCoy Road.

3. (WITHDRAWN) Variance request to build six homes on the one acre lot at the intersection of Nela and Seminole. This request has been withdrawn by the applicant (contractor and purchaser Brent Walters). The withdrawal occurred because Mr. Walters and City Manager Keith Severns have stated that no variance is necessary to proceed with this walled and gated development. Many concerns and questions have been raised about this development and this sudden announcement that the property in question is zoned R-2 rather than R-1AA. The County property appraiser has the property zoned as R-1AA, which does not allow for six homes on the lot. Mr. Walters intends to go through with the purchase of the property only if all six lots are allowed, and has announced on Lake Conway Estates Next Door site on May 23 that he will be available for discussion with citizens at 6:00 P.M. before the meeting at City Hall on Tuesday night. He also provided his e-mail where you may contact him: brentwalters@mac.com

4. This is the previously denied variance request to raise the existing billboard at 2635 McCoy Road from 45 to 65 feet. Trentwood residents and all who enjoy the skyline from Nela Bridge or from the middle of the south lake will have an opportunity to speak your mind.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

P&Z Meeting Cancelled / Workshop Tomorrow [UPDATE]

It was just announced that the Belle Isle Planning & Zoning Board meeting scheduled for tonight has been cancelled. The City's announcement regarding this cancellation states as follows:
Based upon concerns expressed by Council at the last meeting, special counsel Tom Callan recommends, and City Attorney Kruppenbacher concurs, that the full composition of the Planning and Zoning Board should be ratified at the next City Council meeting along with the consideration of the appointment of the two new members to fill the vacancies, consistent with the provisions of Sec. 42-32 of the City Code.  
Therefore, the P&Z Meeting scheduled for tonight April 28, 2015 at 6:30pm is being rescheduled once the Board has been confirmed by City Council the meeting will duly posted. 
Please go ahead and mark your calendars for the next P&Z session, presently scheduled for Tuesday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. The variance requests previously scheduled for tonight's meeting will likely be addressed at that time.

In the meantime, there is a City Council workshop meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, April 29 at 9:00 a.m. This workshop has been announced as a special (voting) meeting to allow confirmation of the new P&Z board members, meaning that residents will have an opportunity to address the City Council with any comments. Following tomorrow's workshop, the next regular City Council meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, May 5 at 6:00 p.m.

UPDATE 4/29/15:

While the P&Z confirmation process was discussed at the workshop meeting, the new nominees will not be confirmed until the next regular meeting on May 5. Instead, this special meeting was called for the second reading of an ordinance designed to keep any new Belle Isle gas stations or convenience stores from being built within an unsafe distance of a residence.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Proposed Development at Nela & Seminole - Meeting Tuesday

Many have received notice of a variance request for a proposed six home gated housing development at the intersection of Nela Avenue and Seminole Drive. Concerned residents have written to the Planning and Zoning Board as well as their City Commissioners regarding this variance request. A couple of these residents have requested publication of their comments, included below.

Please make time to attend the upcoming Planning and Zoning Board meeting this Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30 p.m., where the P&Z Board will address this gated development variance along with a fence variance at a location further down Seminole Drive.

You can read more about these variance requests in the attachments to the P&Z meeting agenda linked below as well as the below resident comments.

Belle Isle Planning & Zoning Board Meeting Agenda - April 28, 2015

Resident Comment #1

After seeing the request for variance and then reviewing the details, I am strongly opposed to the variance to allow for 6 homes on the parcel of land at Nela & Seminole.

1) This area of Belle Isle has a certain character & personality. Homes do not have walls surrounding them. The addition of 6 homes with a large concrete wall surrounding them certainly does not fit in with the area. I believe, if this were allowed, it would damage the character of Belle Isle that we all love & appreciate. That character is the reason why many of us moved here / lives here.

2) The lake lots on Seminole road all follow a pattern. Each has an entrance on Seminole and a deep lot extending to the lake. Any development on the property in question should continue this pattern.

3) Related to #2, all houses on Seminole and Nela have the front of the house facing the street. The proposed design would place the BACK of three homes on Seminole, which would be an oddity in the neighborhood and inconsistent with the current character. As with #2, the front of the homes built should be consistent with all other homes in the neighborhood and face the road.

4) A ‘Gated Community’ concept does not fit at all in this area. Nowhere on Nela or Seminole is there anything resembling this. And thus, to preserve the character, a gated community should not be permitted in this area.

5) The corner wrapping around the property in question is already dangerous. Adding an entrance/exit to a gated community will only add to the danger. The entrance(s) to any home(s) on that property should be on Seminole, not in the middle of an already dangerous curve.

Myself and many of the nearby neighbors recommend several options:

1) that the variance be denied and the lot be developed as it is currently split, with entrances from Seminole road.


2) that property be allowed to be split into 3 long lots, each running from Seminole to the lakeshore, with entrances from Seminole road. If this variance were allowed, no further splitting of the lot should be allowed.

Also, no wall should surround the development, but rather that natural hedges/landscaping be used.

Resident Comment #2

I would like to make some inquires regarding the proposed variance for the proposed six lot development at 6806 Seminole Drive, Belle Isle. My main concern is for ensuring that granting a variance for this project will not require future variances and exceptions that might undermine rules put in place for water quality and public health and safety purposes. Specifically considering,
  • The lots on the lake being able to meet septic setback requirements from Lake Conway without obtaining a variance to the rule from the Health Department.
  • Proper and permittable design of a stormwater system to capture stormwater runoff from the impervious area due to the increase in the number of lots.
  •  Maintaining the atmosphere of the neighborhood, along with considerations for water quality and public health and safety.

We all enjoy a beautiful community on Lake Conway and want to make sure that the character of the neighborhood is maintained, as well as ensuring Lake Conway is protected. In an area, one has a reasonable expectation of what the character of the neighborhood will be, especially in one as established as this. As Commissioners and Board Members, you are custodians of the City for the citizens and are charged with having consistent land development regulations. You have been entrusted with ensuring the best interest of the character of the neighborhood, such as the maintaining consistency with the home density of the existing neighborhood.

In the variance request, staff recommended approval based on the conditions of approval listed on page 12 of the variance application (page 14 of pdf document). I have some questions and concerns regarding or related to conditions 6, 7, and 8 of the variance “conditions of approval.” These specifically regard setbacks from the ordinary high water line of Lake Conway, environmental swale on lots 4, 5, and 6, and individual septic tank permitting.

Rule 64E-6.005(2), Florida Administrative Code requires septic systems not be located within five (5) feet of building foundations. Rule 64E-6.005(3), Florida Administrative Code requires that the systems be located at least 75 feet from the boundaries of surface water bodies. Based on the plans available on the Belle Isle website that were submitted for the variance, it appears the proposed homes are set back approximately 80 feet from Lake Conway, which would not leave enough space available to meet setback requirements for a septic system in the back yard of the lakefront homes.  Looking at the plans, with the driveway and setback from the road, it appears that there is limited space in the front yard with setback considerations taken into account. Septic systems could potentially range in size from 400-600 square feet of required drainfield area, in addition to placement of the tank. The rule is meant to protect water quality and public health. Please confirm that there will be adequate space on the lots to appropriately meet the minimum setback for the septic system of 75 feet away from a surface water body (Lake Conway) and not require a variance from the septic rule if a variance on lot width is granted.

Retention areas are an important part of pollution prevention by capturing the storm water runoff from directly discharging into the lake. This helps protect water quality in the lake our community surrounds. With the decrease in lot size and increase in number of homes, the impervious area of the project site will increase. Rule 62-330.020, Florida Administrative Code sets for the standard for requiring an environmental resource permit. With the number of lots, docks, and work in surface waters, the project would need a permit from the water management district. Under Section 5.2 (Treatment Volume) of Volume II of the Environmental Resource Permit Applicant’s Handbook, it requires the first flush of a rain event be routed into a retention basin and percolated into the ground. Based on the increase in impervious area by increasing the number of lots from four to six, I’m questioning whether the small swale proposed will be sufficient to hold the amount of water to meet the rule requirements. Is there an associated permit or calculations to show this area meets the rule and is of sufficient size? Also, it appears that the proposed environmental swale is within the flood zone and normal high water line listed on the plan sheets. For the purpose of the stormwater management system, having the system within the boundary of the normal high water area of the lot would not allow for adequate capture of stormwater runoff if it is under water.

I would like assurance that the Commissioners and/or Board Members granting a variance to reduce the lot width, which results in an increase in impervious area due to the increase in houses, will not result the site not being able to meet stormwater requirements required by the Florida Statutes and Florida Administrative Code. If a variance is granted, I would like assurance that it does not result in a snowball effect of requiring other variances or exceptions to meeting rule criteria designed for many reasons, one of which is protecting water quality and public safety.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of my inquiry and your response to my concerns. I hope that if it is determined this project meets within the characteristics of the neighborhood with the variance in place, that this project will show to meet all other applicable rule criteria related to stormwater management and septic systems.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Belle Isle Arbor Day Celebration This Saturday!

The City of Belle Isle is celebrating Arbor Day and Earth Day this Saturday, April 18 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Come down to City Hall to for electronics disposal, gardening advice, and family fun!

Do you have your green shirt yet? Available now for only $10 at City Hall. It's a really nice shirt designed by our own City Clerk, Yolanda Quiceno, and all proceeds go towards planting trees around Belle Isle!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Second Open Letter on Billboard Variance

The below letter was written by a Belle Isle resident regarding the billboard height variance which will be in front of our City Council this Tuesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m.

[Letter subsequently removed at the request of its author. Based upon the Council decision on April 7, it is not appropriate to leave this letter published at this time because the underlying issue will soon be back before the Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board for further deliberation and another vote.]

Attending a short meeting can make a big difference. Please attend the meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. to express your opinion on this billboard variance. The height variance hearing will be the first issue at the meeting and public comment is at the beginning of the hearing.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Billboard Hearing Confirmed for Tuesday

The first item on the Tuesday City Council meeting agenda is a de novo hearing on the billboard height variance previously rejected by our Planning and Zoning Board. This will be a rehearing where our City Council members will consider the developer's variance request anew.

You can find the meeting agenda linked below, along with the developer's appeal request and presentation documents recently provided to our City Council members. This appeal request contains a number of assertions about the billboard and the requested variance, including the following:
The sign structure is approximately 348 feet from the closest residential property to the north. It is heavily screened by vegetation on the subject property from the residential. It is not visible now from Trentwood Boulevard to the north, and will not be visible even at the increased height of 65 feet.
The developer's statement regarding visibility starkly contrasts with residents' assessments of the billboard's present and future visibility, especially when lit at night. The developer's request does not address what would happen if the vegetation on this lot was thinned or removed. And while approving this height variance may not create a formal precedent for approving future height variances on this lot (such as for a high-rise hotel), the approval of a tall, lit billboard will be a powerful argument in favor of permitting another tall, lit structure down the road.
City Council Meeting Agenda - April 7, 2015 
Variance Appeal Request
Presentation Photos & Diagrams
Don't want another lighted billboard marring your beautiful Belle Isle views? You need to act now because once approved, a billboard is forever. It is vitally important that everyone interested in this issue be in attendance at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. You are also encouraged to write your City Commissioners at the following addresses:


Friday, April 3, 2015

City Council to Vote on Billboard Variance

Most readers should be aware of recent attempts by local developers to obtain building height variances for the lot located at at 2635 McCoy Road, directly behind and across from homes on the west end of Trentwood Blvd.

The first variance sought was to build a high-rise extended stay hotel much taller than permitted under our building code. Although this variance has not been formally requested, it is still potentially in the pipeline. Immediately following the community meeting on the proposed hotel, a developer filed for a different height variance, this time to allow the height of a billboard on the property to be increased to 65 feet. You can get a better idea of what this billboard looks like by clicking here.

The Planning and Zoning Board denied the developer's variance request to construct a taller billboard, recognizing that the lighted billboard would now be above the tree line and much more visible. It is not only Trentwood residents who would be able to see this lighted billboard from their homes - it would be in plain view of residents all around south Lake Conway. Furthermore, residents are concerned that approving this billboard variance could encourage a hotel developer to seek the height variance that was so clearly opposed by residents at the recent community meeting.

The P&Z Board's denial was promptly appealed by the developer and the appeal will now be heard by our City Council, which could approve the height variance regardless of the P&Z Board's ruling. According to discussion at the recent workshop meeting, the Council will likely vote on this variance appeal at the upcoming Tuesday meeting, although the final vote could be delayed for various reasons.

In advance of this vote, residents are advised to contact their City Commissioners by email. Such emails will be entered into the public record and considered at the hearing, along with any public comments made at the hearing. Here is one such email authored by Trentwood resident Mike Sims and copied to each of our seven City Commissioners:

Dear Commissioners,
I understand that an appeal of a variance request will be before you at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 7. This variance request is to raise the height of the billboard on McCoy Rd behind Trentwood Blvd to 65 feet.
I am opposed to this variance and do not believe allowing this height variance is in the best interests of our city. At the recent Planning and Zoning Board hearing, many residents voiced serious concerns about light pollution. Residents in attendance made it clear that they were against this variance. Please note that it is not just residents on or around Trentwood who are concerned about this height variance - you can see these extra-high lighted billboards all the way across the lake.
To be clear, neither myself nor my neighbors are against development of this lot on McCoy within the parameters set by our building code. However, allowing this variance could be a gateway to allowing further variances for a high rise hotel or other undesirable development properly prohibited by our code. Furthermore, permitting this variance request will provide no benefit to our city, financial or otherwise, to balance out the harm that it will cause to the quaint character of our city. 
As residents of Belle Isle, my family and I request that you vote against this variance. Belle Isle needs to remain the beautiful city we all love.
Mike Sims

Mr. Sims further recommends that all concerned residents email each City Commissioner (not just the one from your district) at the following email addresses:


Please be sure to calendar the upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. More info about this meeting will be provided once the meeting agenda has been posted by the City.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Busy Agenda for Wednesday Workshop

There are lots of interesting and important items up for discussion at this month's workshop meeting, which will take place this Wednesday, April 1 at 9:00 a.m. Council discussion topics will include:
  • Belle Isle political signs ordinance
  • Canvassing audit
  • Lake Conway East 1995 engineering report
  • Delia Beach update

Additionally, City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher will be addressing the issue of the height variance recently requested by Beech Outdoor Company for a billboard in the Trentwood/McCoy area. You can read more about the requested variance by clicking here.

The requested height variance was denied by the Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board on Tuesday, March 24. However, the billboard company has appealed the P&Z Board's denial, which means that the Belle Isle City Council is scheduled to vote on the height variance at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m.

Just as a reminder, workshop meetings such as the one this Wednesday are intended for in-depth Council discussion of City issues. However, public comment is not presently permitted at workshop meetings. So if you are concerned about the billboard variance or any of the other issues up for discussion, you can learn more at the workshop meeting and then express your thoughts at the regular Council meeting coming up next Tuesday.

Once again, the workshop meeting begins at 9:00 a.m. this Wednesday, April 1. You can find a copy of the workshop meeting agenda linked below.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Second McCoy/Trentwood Billboard Hearing This Tuesday

As reported previously, there is a developer seeking to increase the height of a billboard on McCoy Road, located immediately behind many homes on Trentwood. In order to increase this billboard's height, the developer requires and has requested a code variance from the Belle Isle Planning & Zoning Board (P&Z Board).

The first P&Z hearing on this issue took place last month, where Belle Isle residents expressed their concerns about the proposed increase in height. The primary concern is that this lighted billboard, already visible to many Trentwood residents at night, will become significantly more invasive once its height has been increased.

Last month, the P&Z Board postponed voting on this height variance until they could evaluate the amount of light emitting from the billboard as well as how this change in height would affect Trentwood residents. Tuesday night, the P&Z Board will take this issue back up, and will likely rule on the developer's variance request. If the developer's height variance is denied by the P&Z Board, the developer could appeal the decision to the Belle Isle City Council at a later date.

You can read more about this billboard height issue in these prior articles:

If you are concerned about this proposed increase in billboard height, please be sure to attend the P&Z Board meeting this Tuesday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Also, don't forget about the Orange County meeting regarding transportation-related issues tonight at 6:00 p.m. You can read more about the Orange County transportation meeting here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Upcoming Aviation Noise & Transit Meetings

Pete Clarke, our Orange County District 3 Commissioner, will be hosting two important upcoming meetings that directly impact our Belle Isle community:

Aviation Noise Meeting
Thursday, March 19 @ 6:00 p.m.

Coming up first is an informal meeting regarding flight noise in Conway and Belle Isle. Many residents were unable to attend the last aviation noise meeting, held on a weekday morning at the Orlando International Airport. The upcoming meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, March 19 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. It will be conveniently located at the nearby Agricultural Center, at 6021 S. Conway Road.

Orange County Planning Update: Developing with Transit in Mind
Monday, March 23 @ 6:00 p.m.

Next Monday, March 23, at 6:00 p.m., Commissioner Clarke will be hosting a community meeting regarding a number of topics related to local transportation, including:
  • Sand Lake Road Station Plans
  • Airport and Convention Center Transit Plans
  • Orange Avenue Multimodal Corridor
  • Land Development Code Changes
The transit meeting will be held at the Pine Castle Woman's Club, located at 5901 S. Orange Avenue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

2015 City Council Election Results [UPDATE]

Here they are, the unofficial results of your 2015 Belle Isle City Council election! Remember, these results are unofficial and subject to change prior to final certification by the Canvassing Board.

City of Belle Isle, District 5:

Larry Miles - 443 votes

Harvey Readey - 491 votes

Thanks to everyone who came out to vote this year! I think this was a great election season that really set the stage for some positive campaigning next year!

UPDATE 3/14/15:

The above election results were certified by our Belle Isle canvassing board on Thursday, March 12 and have been made official.

Election Day Is Here!

Today is the day! We had a record turnout for the City Council election last year, and I can't wait for another great turnout today!

Voting Locations and Times

Find your proper polling place on your sample ballot or the green post card mailed to you by the Supervisor of Elections. Below are the addresses of the two Belle Isle polling locations. Click the links to load maps.

Belle Isle City Hall, 1600 Nela Avenue

Pine Castle Masonic Lodge, 1216 Hoffner Avenue

The polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Try not to wait until the last second, but so long as you arrive by 7, you will get to vote!

Election Results

Get your election results first from the Sun! If you haven't already, sign up for Belle Isle Sun email alerts, which will notify you each time a new article has been posted. Emails usually go out no more than once or twice a week, and often much less.

You can find the "Subscribe" link at the top right of the page under the Belle Isle Sun banner when viewed on your PC. This link may not appear on your phone or tablet. You can also follow the Sun on Twitter (@belleislesun) for new article notifications.

Election results will be posted here as soon as the counting is done!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Trentwood & McCoy Area Update

As previously reported, two separate development projects were proposed over the past weeks for the property located at 2635 McCoy Road, directly behind and across from homes on the west end of Trentwood Blvd.

Value Place Extended Stay Hotel

To date, the hotel developer has not yet proceeded to requesting a height variance from the Planning and Zoning Board for the planned hotel at 2635 McCoy. According to reports at the last City Council workshop meeting, the developer is now evaluating a different site for their hotel - the old Unified Aircraft Services building located at 1934 McCoy Road.

Billboard Height Increase

Last Tuesday, February 24, the Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board addressed a height variance request for the billboard located at 2635 McCoy. Trentwood residents can already see light emitting from the present billboard at night, and are concerned about a significant increase in the amount of visible light if the billboard becomes taller.

The Planning and Zoning Board delayed voting on this height variance until they could evaluate the amount of light emitting from the billboard and how this change in height would affect Trentwood residents.

Please stay tuned to the Belle Isle Sun for more information about these issues as they develop.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stormwater Update at Wednesday Workshop

There will be a City Council workshop meeting this Wednesday, February 25 at 9:00 a.m. The agenda includes a number of stormwater issues in Belle Isle that have come up over the past months.

The Council will discuss a potential interlocal agreement between Orange County and Belle Isle for a Cullen Lake Shore Drive Curb Inlet Basket (CIB) program intended to catch leaves before entering our drainage system. The agenda also includes an update on the present status of the stormwater issues at Delia Beach, Belle Vista and Lake Conway East.

You can view a copy of the agenda linked below:

Workshop Meeting Agenda - February 25, 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Trentwood Can't Catch A Break

Trentwood residents recently received notice of a Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board meeting this Tuesday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. The letter informs residents that a height variance has been requested for a nearby billboard located on McCoy Road.

The address of the billboard is 2635 McCoy Road, the same address where developers have discussed building a high rise hotel. Unlike the recent meeting on the hotel variance, this billboard developer has already requested a variance from the Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board. The requested variance will be discussed for possible approval at the Tuesday P&Z meeting. Any decision by the P&Z Board can be appealed to the City Council. You can read more about the process here.

I sat down with a couple Trentwood residents to discuss their concerns about the requested variance. Although the present billboard height is not provided in the letter, it appears that this variance would increase the present billboard's height by more than 50%. A taller billboard will be more visible to nearby residents, especially when lit at night. Residents also question what benefit a taller billboard could provide to Belle Isle or its residents.

Google map images, as well as residents' personal observations, demonstrate that the present billboard is easily visible from the highway without the need for any variance. You can view a street view image as well as an overhead view of the affected area below.

The Belle Isle Planning and Zoning Board meeting regarding the billboard variance will take place this Tuesday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Public comment is permitted.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Aircraft Noise Meeting This Friday [UPDATE]

There will be an Airport Noise Abatement Committee (ANAC) meeting this Friday, February 13 at 9:00 a.m. The purpose of the ANAC program is to monitor and limit the impact of airport noise on the community. At the ANAC website, you can view flight patterns, register for email alerts, and file a noise complaint if needed.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Noise Abatement Program

Some may recall that there were recent discussions about possible changes to the airplane noise abatement program that has been in effect for the past 30 years. However, those changes had been tabled as of December 2014.

The Friday meeting is being held due to the number of recent noise complaints from local residents, many from Belle Isle. Orange County District 3 representative Pete Clarke will be speaking to address these noise complaints.

The meeting will begin at 9:00 a.m. this Friday, February 13 in the Carl T. Langford Board Room at the Orlando International Airport. Attire is business casual.

UPDATE 2/11/15:

Confused as to where this meeting is located? Here are some directions once you arrive at the Orlando International Airport:

Park in the Airport parking. Walk to the Airport Security Gates for 70-129 on the 3rd floor. You will see a Starbucks. Walk down the hallway near Starbucks and you will find the Greater Aviation Authority, where the meeting is being held.

Thanks to reader Dina Goodenow for the helpful tip!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Softer Side of the Sun (Now With Teddy Bears)

As I have mentioned before on the Sun, our Belle Isle Police Department appears to be flourishing under the new direction of Chief Ring. At the recent workshop meeting on January 28, Chief Ring swore in three new BIPD members, Officer Jon Paul Gargano, Officer Justin Lemieux and Deputy Chief Laura Houston.

Not wasting any time, Deputy Chief Houston requested Commissioner Nielsen's assistance in getting the message out about some new ideas at the BIPD. Although Commissioner Nielsen has not done much writing for the Sun lately (articles written by contributing authors are clearly marked with the authors' names), she thought that this would be the perfect forum for getting the BIPD's message  out to additional residents.

In a recent conversation with Chief Ring, he stressed the importance of making connections between BIPD officers and the members of the our community, noting that police officers often meet residents under the worst of conditions. Chief Ring believes that we can improve trust and communication in Belle Isle by putting residents together in less formal and tense social situations.

To this end, you may have heard that the BIPD sponsored a project over the recent holiday season aimed at providing and hanging house decorations for elderly residents who needed assistance. While hanging decorations at the home of one local resident living alone, Community Resource Officer Dawn Nodzon noted how much a teddy bear meant to this woman, one of the dozen or so "adoptive grandparents" that Officer Nodzon checks on daily. This sparked the idea that perhaps children would also be comforted by holding a bear while the BIPD works to resolve the potentially stressful situations that can occur during service calls when children are present.

But for this to happen, the BIPD needs your help. More specifically, they need teddy bears. Here are the details:

  • Bears must be NEW - not gently used
  • Bears must be "huggable-sized" - not too big or too small
  • Bears must be sealed in one gallon zip-lock bags so they can be transported and kept clean by the officers
  • Bears must not be holiday-themed - nobody wants a Christmas bear in July
  • Bears must be bears - not alligators, seals or honey badgers

Drop off teddy bears meeting the above requirements to the Belle Isle Police Department headquarters, located at 1521 Nela Avenue. You can also email Officer Dawn Nodzon for more information at dnodzon@belleislepolice.org or call the BIPD at 407-240-2473.

Another way to meet and support your local BIPD officers will be the upcoming "Tip-A-Cop" event at Fish On Fire on Thursday, February 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Residents can meet and be served by their local BIPD officers, who will fill in for the regular Fish On Fire waiting staff. All tips collected will go to "BIPD Cares." Funds will be utilized to support police initiatives for our community, especially our elderly and youth residents.

The BIPD will also be hosting a golf tournament in the spring or summer of 2015, details to be determined.

So for now, mark your calendars for the afternoon of February 26, and don't forget to drop off your teddy bears. According to Commissioner Nielsen, "we're going to need a steady flow of bears."

Monday, February 2, 2015

Big Money In Little Belle Isle [UPDATE]

It seems we are in for another Belle Isle election cycle with political operator Doug Guetzloe. Mr. Guetzloe has been regularly appearing on community Facebook pages and strongly urging support for Belle Isle City Council candidate Larry Miles.

Many of you probably remember Doug Guetzloe as the author of the attack mailer against City Council candidate Sue Nielsen in last year's election. You can read more about Mr. Guetzloe's involvement in the 2014 Belle Isle election in the articles linked below.

Who is Doug Guetzloe?

Who Is Doug Guetzloe? - Part II

Where Is All This Money Coming From?

Although "Ax the Tax" is a registered Florida PAC, Mr. Guetzloe utilizes a simple strategy to avoid revealing the identity of his donors and details of his expenditures. He repeatedly violates the law by not filing the required financial disclosures, then pays the resultant fines, presumably using excess funds contributed by his donors. Mr. Guetzloe's PAC records can be found by searching for "Ax the Tax" through the below link:

Florida Division of Elections Campaign Document Search

Because Mr. Guetzloe does not file the required income or expenditure reports for his PAC, there is no way to know where his funding comes from or how it is spent. Residents are understandably concerned about the serious impact Mr. Guetzloe's PAC could have in a small town like Belle Isle. Many have already begun seeing signs of Mr. Guetzloe's big money campaign strategies in Belle Isle, with the recent mailers performing voter research and requesting funding for Mr. Miles' campaign, as well as the city-wide robocalls from market research firm GMI.

GMI is the source of the "survey" robocalls made to residents throughout the City over the past week, requesting information regarding which candidate you will support in the upcoming Belle Isle election. The questions in Mr. Miles' recent mailer are even more pointed, and the collected data will allow the candidate's message to be individually tailored to match the political views of each respondent.

True to the form of our last Belle Isle election involving Mr. Guetzloe, his preferred candidate and core supporters are now spreading rumors and innuendo that the Belle Isle Police Department will be defunded and/or destroyed by a vote in the wrong direction on March 10. However, anyone who regularly attends City Council meetings can tell you that the entire Council supports the Belle Isle Police Department. No member has ever proposed a reduction in the BIPD's funding, let alone elimination of the department.

In fact, the original decision to buy property for establishment of the BIPD on November 24, 2008 was authorized by two of our present Commissioners, Lydia Pisano and Harvey Readey. Commissioner Larry Ady was also on the Council at that time, but was absent for the November vote.

I am proud to live in Belle Isle, where elections aren't ruled by big money tactics and rumor mongering, but by residents' careful evaluation of the facts about each candidate. I urge you all to consider each candidate's history, ideas and qualifications and use your independent judgment to decide who will best serve you and our City.

UPDATE 2/3/15:

Correction, the date of the original Council decision to buy property for establishment of the BIPD was November 5, 2008. The decision was authorized by present Commissioners Lydia Pisano, Harvey Readey and Larry Ady.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tuesday Meeting Reminder & Agenda

Reminder that there is a City Council meeting this Tuesday, February 3 at 6:00 p.m. The agenda is linked below:

City Council Meeting Agenda - February 3, 2015

There are no specific issues mentioned for Council discussion except a confirmation of the canvassing board to review votes in the upcoming March 10 election. There are also three items on the "consent agenda," which contains items expected to be voted upon by Council without discussion of the individual items. Commissioners can always remove items from the consent agenda for discussion by making a corresponding motion.

The consent agenda for this Tuesday's meeting includes approving the January 6 meeting minutes, a temporary waiver of the "no parking" ordinance on Venetian Park for the Ultraman event on February 18-20, and a formal excusing of Commissioner Ady's recent absences due to medical issues. Commissioner Ady is recovering in the same ward as Belle Isle resident Dr. Stuart Bernstein, and I hope you will wish them both a speedy recovery.

Friday, January 30, 2015

High Rise Hotel - Update & Open Letter

As many of you are aware, there was a recent meeting regarding the possible construction of a high rise hotel in Belle Isle at 2635 McCoy Road, right behind many of the homes on Trentwood Blvd. It appeared that nearly all of the residents from Trentwood attended the meeting, along with other residents from around our City. Also in attendance were Commissioners Nielsen and Readey as well as Gregg Templin from the Planning and Zoning Board.

During the public comments section of the meeting, Mr. Templin gave a thorough overview of the process that the developer would have to go through to receive the necessary variance. First, the developer would have to request a variance from the P&Z board. If the variance is denied by the P&Z board (which is likely, as I have observed that they tend to stick to the rules), then the developer can appeal to the City Council. If the developer's appeal is granted by City Council, then the Planning and Zoning Board's decision is overruled and the variance is granted.

Mr. Templin further clarified that no variance has yet been requested by the developer. Since P&Z meetings take place on the fourth Tuesday of each month, the earliest this variance could be addressed by the P&Z board is February 26.

Some of the residents' objections to this variance are issues that affect residents throughout our City, not just those few residents on Trentwood who received notice of the meeting from the developer. I received today the following open letter from Belle Isle resident Mike Sims, providing his perceptions of the meeting for those Commissioners not in attendance.

Dear Belle Isle Commissioners,

Reference the meeting held at Belle Isle City Hall, 27 Jan 2015, regarding the high rise hotel being proposed on McCoy Road. The meeting was hosted by developer Kimley Horn. In the meeting, the developer informed residents that they would be seeking a variance to move forward with this high rise hotel. I would like to inform you of how the meeting went and the tenor of the meeting. 

Bottom line:  The citizens of Belle Isle that you represent do not want this variance approved and absolutely do not want this project to be built. Many attendees spoke up, all with the same message. The passion of these citizens was unmistakable. Note, the meeting was standing room only.

The developer had a briefing that claimed Value Place extended stay hotels were clean, safe, and attracted clientele such as visiting nurses and engineers. After the briefing, the audience referenced internet reviews of similar hotels in our area which illuminated the opposite. These types of hotels are historically unsafe and are havens for drugs, prostitution, and crime. These weren’t our words, these were actual internet reviews. Unfortunately, this fell on deaf ears and the developer seemed unmoved. Many viable alternatives were offered but it was clear that the developer was getting a good deal on this land and only wanted to build his prefabricated building, on this site, and nothing else.

There was an overwhelming emotion that Belle Isle does not need this hotel and building it would be a disaster for our community. Traffic impacts, increased crime, water issues, and adverse effect on nearby homes were all discussed, and these are only examples of the concerns. All this after discussing that there were already six (6) hotels on this small strip along McCoy Road.

Everyone seemed to have the same question:  “Is this proposal the best use of that land? – A 50 foot high extended stay hotel?” In speaking with other residents after the meeting there was a feeling that the land owner and the developer, by even proposing this project, were sending us a message loud and clear: We don’t care about you, or your homes, or your community.

I recognize that this issue is not presently before the commissioners but am simply being forthcoming with the prevailing sentiment should it ever come before you.

This is the type of project we trust our elected officials to protect us from. I ask that all Belle Isle city government persons research for themselves the track record of these “extended stay” hotels and whether they want such a hotel in our community.

As residents of Belle Isle, I believe our city officials should be as against this project as we are. 

Mike Sims
Resident of Trentwood Blvd.