Building moratorium near Sanford airport shot down before it can take off

GrowthSpotter contributor

The race to build a hotel near the Orlando Sanford International Airport (OSIA) veered off course this week when airport leaders proposed a development moratorium on surrounding private property.

On Monday, the Sanford City Commission was scheduled to consider a zoning-in-progress policy for property around the airport. City commissioners were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, struck it from the agenda and indicated they were not in favor of the resolution being brought up in the future.

Still, the fact that such a proposal made it to Sanford's agenda highlights the competing interests to develop in and around OSIA, one of the fastest growing airports in Florida.

There is a behind-the-scenes race to build a hotel at the airport. The first property owner to open a hotel will have an advantage over other land owners with similar plans. 

Airport authority board members have made it clear they want the first hotel to be on airport property. A number of private property owners are also exploring hotel development.

Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte told GrowthSpotter he placed the resolution on the agenda at the request of Sanford Airport Authority President and CEO Diane Crews. And although city commissioners have never discussed a moratorium near the airport prior to the Monday's meeting, City Attorney Lonnie Groot wrote a resolution calling for one.

When Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett called to order the afternoon work session, it was clear something was amiss.

Seminole County Manager Nicole Guillet was in attendance. So was County Commission Chairman John Horan.

Soon after the meeting started, Horan’s colleague, County Commissioner Brenda Carey, charged into City Hall and said to Crews, "I need to talk with you."

It's a rare sight to see a single high-level Seminole County official in attendance at a city work session, much less three of them at the same time.

Also attending the meeting was Richard Anderson, a long-time city administrator to former Apopka mayor John Land and now a real estate developer. Property he hopes to develop as a hotel would have been included in the moratorium.

Each opposed a resolution that Bonaparte described in a memo to commissioners as "declaring zoning in progress relative to lands immediately surrounding the Orlando Sanford international Airport (OSIA) and lands proximate thereto … ."

Bonaparte's memo explained that the reason for the zoning in progress was so the county, city and airport authority could come up with a planning document and appropriate zoning for future development. It appeared a reasonable measure, given that the airport authority recently spent $250,000 to determine the highest and best use for the nearly 500 acres it controls. 

However, the practical effect would be to freeze all development around the airport.

Zoning-in-progress policies are often used by city and county governments to update or address unique issues that aren't outlined in plannning ordinances. For example, Florida cities faced challenges crafting zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries because leaders in Tallahassee had yet to establish state guidelines.

To prevent dispensaries from opening without any zoning laws, many cities adopted zoning-in-progress policies that put a moratorium on dispensaries until local ordinances were enacted.

Zoning-in-progress resolutions typically establish an end date, generally for short periods of time, say six months. The resolution drafted by Groot included no end date.

Furthermore, the map included with the resolution showed that all airport-owned property was excluded from the moratorium, while every acre of privately-owned property surrounding the airport was immediately subject to the development freeze.

That freeze also included county-owned land next to the 100-acre Seminole County Sports Complex, a reason for the presence of Guillet, Horan and Carey.

Crews' request for the resolution was confusing, for three reasons. First, it's never been the airport authority's role to create planning policies for property not controlled by the airport. Those responsibilities belong to the city and county.

Second, at no time in the last three years has the airport authority board directed Crews to ask Sanford City Commission to adopt a moratorium, nor have members indicated they want to enter into a tri-party building moratorium with the city and the county.

Just the opposite, board members repeatedly talk about how the airport is a major economic development engine for Seminole County. 

Third, there have been no prior talks between the city, county and airport about developing a comprehensive plan, a point Carey made. 

"This public document (Bonaparte's memo) that's floating around out there that the mayor and city manager have been meeting with the county and the airport is absolutely not correct," Carey said. "We have had one meeting, back in June, to talk about design standards, not to talk about planning around the airport."

Crews said she requested the resolution because she is concerned about development around the airport.

"I didn't see there was a comprehensive plan joining the city, the county and the airport," Crews said.

Crews said the airport will back off its request and take a more deliberative approach.

"We've worked long and hard to maintain a good relationship with all property owners around the airport," Crews said. "We're now looking at taking our time, working with the city to see how we can include all the property owners in this process."

Triplett said he was "shocked" to see the moratorium request, and made clear he would not entertain a similar request by the airport in the future.

"We want to see quality development out by the airport, and I think a study is warranted. However, I would never support this type of moratorium," Triplett said.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at gnip@me.com. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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