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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The More You Know...

As our City Council has begun to more seriously discuss City issues over the past months, an interesting difference in opinion between certain City officials has become clear. The issue was highlighted openly by Commissioner Shuck at the recent January 6, 2015 meeting, when he made the following statement in the context of considering plans for Delia Beach Park proposed by the UCF Stormwater Management Academy:

"Just one thing while we're on this [topic], and it really deals with any large city projects, it kind of seems that individual commissioners are going and talking to UCF and Dr. Chang and various and assorted things, which is fine..."

"That's our job." stated Commissioner Readey.

"Well, I beg to differ. I personally think that is the city manager's job because that's what he's paid for, to run the city," responded Commisioner Shuck. "We put our faith in the city manager, I think we ought to keep it there."

This exchange highlights extremely differing viewpoints regarding the Council's role in our City's governance. Whereas Commissioner Shuck advocates for a "hands off" approach, in which City Council members simply vote on whatever ideas are presented by the City Manager, Commissioner Readey believes in City Council members taking an active interest in reviewing City planning, construction and expenditures as well as personally exploring new ideas for our City. That's why you'll often find Commissioner Readey out and about examining our lakes, streets and parks so that he can form his own ideas regarding City issues.

This dichotomy was further explored at the January 28, 2015 workshop meeting when Mayor Brooks chastised Commissioner Readey for independently seeking to verify the competitiveness of the Belle Isle Police Department.

By way of background, I am sure most readers are aware of the string of troubles that affected the Belle Isle Police Department last year and finally ended with the resignation and eventual indictment of Belle Isle's prior Chief of Police. In the wake of these extremely troubling events, which posed serious ethical and financial implications for the City of Belle Isle, many residents contacted their commissioners with concerns about the propriety and financial status of the Belle Isle Police Department.

To help alleviate some of these concerns, Commissioner Readey made a quick call to Sheriff Demmings, known personally to Commissioner Readey through his many years of service as a Sheriff's volunteer, in order to inquire what the present rate would be for Orange County's police services. Although Sheriff Demming's response - providing a formal written proposal several months after the initial request for information - may have been a bit of an over-response to an informal personal inquiry, the proposal is quite illuminating as it directly addresses the question of whether the Belle Isle Police Department is competitive as compared to their Orange County counterparts.

The proposal demonstrates that not only would Orange County's services cost the City more, but our level of police service would be greatly reduced. So why is this bad news for Belle Isle, which now has indisputable evidence of the BIPD's service level and efficiency? According to Mayor Brooks at this morning's meeting, even asking for facts related to the BIPD is harmful to the City because it undermines faith in our police. It appears that the same concern did not apply in 2012 and 2013 when Mayor Brooks sought to evaluate the service level and efficiency of our Orange County firefighters by initiating a feasibility study for a Belle Isle fire department.

Regardless, the evidence clearly shows that our Belle Isle Police Department is a good value for the citizens and that we are getting better service than we would be receiving from Orange County. Furthermore, even those most vocal regarding their concerns about the BIPD at the time of Chief Jackson's resignation have come to have significant faith in the BIPD under Chief Ring's leadership. That is an amazingly quick turnaround in the public relations world and Chief Ring should be extremely proud of his part in this achievement.

But in spite of Attorney Kruppenbacher's unequivocal opinion that Commissioner Readey "did nothing wrong," Mayor Brooks again admonished Commissioner Readey for seeking information about Orange County's services because Mayor Brooks "already knew" that the BIPD is the best thing for Belle Isle. Fortunately, Commissioners Gold and Nielsen brought a voice of reason to the table, stating that it is always good to have more information, if for no other reason than to quell the concerns of interested citizens.

Interestingly, it appears that a local TV reporter is investigating a news story about whether Belle Isle will be going back to Orange County's police services. The answer is a clear and resounding "no," as every single Commissioner affirmed their solid commitment to keeping and supporting the BIPD's services (except Commissioner Ady who is still recovering from a recent medical issue - please wish him well).

But while reporters can always request public documents, the question becomes how any reporter knew that this proposal had been received by the City. Although Commissioner Readey requested that the proposal be distributed to Council so they would all be aware of its contents, the City Council was not actually informed of the receipt of any proposal until City Manager Keith Severns and Mayor Brooks used the proposal as the basis for an "ambush attack" against Commissioner Readey at this morning's meeting.

Commissioner Readey, presently up for reelection, is a long-time proponent of instating performance reviews for our City Manager and also one of the few Commissioners willing to question our Mayor at public meetings. It was entirely improper for our City Manager and Mayor to present Orange County's proposal in a manner clearly designed to demonstrate that Commissioner Readey wants to "destroy the BIPD," though nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Florida Statutes, Section 110.233(4)(b) states that it is "unlawful" and "prohibited" for a city official or employee to "[u]se the authority of his or her position to secure support for, or oppose, any candidate, party, or issue in a partisan election or affect the results thereof."

If this situation sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because it bears a striking resemblance to what took place in last year's election, when Commissioner Nielsen's political opponents attempted to paint her as trying to "destroy Cornerstone" simply because she inquired about the school's organization and finances. Our City Council needs accurate information to make the important decisions that affect all of us. Our elected officials should be praised, not attacked, for volunteering their time to ensure they are acting on accurate information. In the immortal words of that old NBC ad:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A High Rise Hotel in Belle Isle? Community Meeting TONIGHT! [UPDATE]

I just received word from two separate readers of a notice that went out only to property owners on the south side of Trentwood Boulevard. Not only was this notice just received by residents over the last few days, and only by a few affected Belle Isle residents, but the notice was distributed in a colored envelope that appeared to many recipients to be a regular "junk mail" ready for the recycle bin. Furthermore, the notice was not posted on the City website, nor is this meeting listed on the City calendar.

According to the notice, there will be a “community meeting” tonight (Tuesday, January 27) to discuss a variance from a height of 35 feet to 50 feet for a hotel to be built at 2635 McCoy Road. The meeting will to take place at 5:30 p.m. in Belle Isle City Hall, apparently in advance of the regularly-scheduled Planning and Zoning meeting set for 6:30 p.m.

I have been informed that several residents plan to attend this meeting to object to the building of a hotel which will destroy local homeowners' privacy expectations by providing hotel guests with an open view of their private back yards.

Please be at City Hall tonight, Tuesday January 27, at 5:30 p.m. if you want to have a say in this developer's high rise hotel plans. And don't forget about the workshop meeting coming up tomorrow (Wednesday) at 9:00 a.m.

UPDATE:  Although it is listed on the City calendar, Commissioner Readey informs me that there is no regular Planning and Zoning Board meeting tonight at 6:30 because there are no outstanding variance requests for P & Z to review. The 5:30 p.m. "community meeting" regarding the proposed high rise will take place as scheduled. Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Workshop Meeting This Wednesday

Just a quick reminder of the upcoming workshop meeting this Wednesday, January 28 at 9:00 a.m. There are no specific items on the agenda other than the swearing in of three new Belle Isle Police Department officers - Officers Houston, Gargano and Limieux.

However, a number of readers have reminded me that this would be an excellent opportunity to discuss plans for the Delia Beach park. I assume that this issue will be discussed, as it was a major focus at the last regular meeting and was left somewhat unresolved. However, there's no way to know for certain from meeting agendas lacking descriptions of the issues up for discussion.

While the council does not presently have any rules requiring it to post specific notice of the issues that will be discussed at a workshop meeting, it would be very helpful for residents if the major issues up for discussion would be described in each agenda. It would also give council members a chance to prepare themselves for an informed discussion of the issues that will be on the table.

As I have repeatedly reminded readers on the Sun, it is often at innocuous sounding meetings where major issues are discussed. There's really no substitute for attending meetings whenever possible. Although no voting occurs at workshop meetings, they are intended as public meetings where important ideas and future decisions are fleshed out ahead of the regular meeting sessions.

Hope to see you all on Wednesday, January 28 at 9:00 a.m. A copy of the agenda is linked below, although it doesn't contain any more information than what is described above. There will also be a regular meeting next Tuesday, February 3. An agenda for the February meeting will be posted when available.

City Council Workshop Agenda - January 28, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Open Letter Regarding Delia Beach

As you may be aware, the City has been working on plans to fix the stormwater issues in Gene Polk Park at Delia Beach. Below, please find a copy of an open letter from Belle Isle resident Dina Goodenow regarding the work planned at Delia Beach.

Dr. Chang, director of the UCF Stormwater Management Academy, intended to attend the upcoming City Council meeting to present his plans, but is unavailable on the next meeting date. Dr. Chang will instead make himself available by phone for questions during the Tuesday meeting as his plans are reviewed by Council.

Please attend the upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 6 at 6:00 p.m. so that you can review the plans yourself and provide input regarding your opinions about the Delia Beach project.