Westgate Lakes standoff to result in greater agent authorization scrutiny by county

Orange County's Planning Division will more closely scrutinize property ownership records and agent authorizations in the future for development plans that involve existing condominium plats or timeshares, staff told GrowthSpotter on Friday.

The internal review comes as the county has been roped in to a potential legal battle between Orlando-based Westgate Resorts and condo owner Julieta Corredor, who remain deadlocked in negotiations over how to compensate for her damaged townhome that stands on an active construction site at Westgate Lakes Resort, where two new timeshare buildings are planned

Orange County's Development Review Committee took no action on Wednesday for the Westgate Lakes Resort Phase 5B amended Development Plan, that involves new buildings 60 and 70 (totaling 160 new units) for the resort on Turkey Lake Road. 

But a revised plan should come back before DRC on July 13 that properly identifies Corredor's unit on the DP, which could be approved and allow Westgate to proceed with building around the battered townhome. 

"We have to do a better job of inspecting ownership records in timeshare situations," said John Smogor, planning administrator and head of DRC, following the hearing. 

Applicants are responsible for providing truthful information in rezoning or site plan submissions, where property ownership has to be confirmed. Agent authorization has to be provided for each property owner within the impacted tract. 

The county's Planning Division staff are responsible for confirming those ownership records. They do so primarily by cross-referencing the parcel ID number with what they see on the Orange County Property Appraiser's website. They also rely on that expectation of truthfulness to an extent, because of their daily workload, and the legal ramifications that an applicant could face for a fraudulent agent authorization form. 

In this particular Development Plan application for Westgate Lakes Resort Phase 5B, the five parcel ID numbers listed all showed a "macro" view on the appraiser's map, and don't clearly identify the individual condo properties that lie within. 

Condo plats like this make the confirmation process more time consuming for planning staff, as they have to dig beneath the surface layers of parcel ownership.

Timeshares are typically owned by an association or master property owner, with separate agreements that regulate use of the building. 

County planners don't track those, as their agent authorization process isn't intended to be a full title search, said Eric Raasch, assistant planning administrator. In these cases, they ensure the association has authorized the application.

Condo plats are another challenging form of ownership to confirm, as they're processed through the state and not Orange County. They aren't subdivisions under Chapter 34 of the county's code, and units typically don't have fee simple access to a right-of-way. So when viewing the parcel on the appraiser's map online, it typically references the underlying HOA property, which has common ownership. 

"We have discussed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) shape files to more efficiently select all of the parcels within a specific area to analyze ownership," Raasch said. "That said, applications for redevelopment that involve existing condo plats are a very small percentage of our workload, as most of our applications are fee-simple single-family subdivisions, single-owner multi-family or commercial." 

Looking forward, Orange County's planning division met Thursday, after the latest Westgate Lakes DRC hearing on Wednesday, to decide how to more closely scrutinize agent authorizations in the future. 

The process will now involve additional review, Raasch said, as staff will need to determine what portions of a condo or timeshare property are being impacted by proposed improvements. 

"In many cases, applicants are proposing improvements in locations owned by the association, which are in areas that are separated from individual units," Raasch said. "Regardless, we can always request additional information or clarification after the application is submitted and it will be up to the applicant to satisfy any concerns raised by Planning and Legal staff." 

First reported by GrowthSpotter last October, Westgate plans an estimated $53 million investment in the two new timeshare buildings totaling 160 units. 

The building permit for horizontal site work has not been rescinded by Orange County for Westgate buildings 60 and 70, so that infrastructure work remains active, said Jim Hall of VHB, Inc., planner for Westgate on the project.

All of the townhomes on that site dating back to the early 1980s have been torn down to make way for the new buildings, except for Corredor's remaining unit. Westgate began buying up the units in 2007, all of which were deemed uninhabitable at the time by engineering consultant TerraCon, including Corredor's. 

Vertical construction of building 70 could start by Fall of this year, with completion expected by Summer 2017, a Westgate official previously told GrowthSpotter. Site work and a pad will be laid for eventual construction of building 60, with its timeline undetermined.

The new units will be two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom fully furnished luxury timeshare condos, with an average of $331,250 to be spent per unit through buildout. 

Westgate has offered to the Corredors to repair the existing damaged townhome and customize the interior as the owner desires. If accepted, the company's architect would have to file an exterior alteration permit to fix the damaged walls, then get a new permit from the county's Building Division after construction to affirm it is habitable. 

Westgate has also offered to tear down the damaged unit and rebuild a new townhome in its place, and offered Corredor another existing timeshare unit on the property, Hall said.

"Westgate will find a way to make it right for (Corredor)," he said. 

The company has offered to pay Corredor $150,000 for the property, down from her original purchase price of $154,000 in 1985, but up from recent appraisals of roughly half that price for nearby condos. 

Smogor encouraged the company to offer a fourth option: an equivalent sized lakefront condo unit in the new building, and for Westgate representatives to travel to South Florida and meet with Corredor on her terms. 

William Corredor, who represented his mother Julieta at Wednesday's DRC hearing, wanted the county to halt Westgate's site work until the dispute is settled. Smogor said DRC doesn't have grounds to do so, encouraged Corredor to settle privately with Westgate, and explained the company could have its revised DP approved on July 13 and proceed with construction.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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