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A 100-acre parcel in Eatonville that several developers have been attempting to buy.
A 100-acre parcel in Eatonville that several developers have been attempting to buy. (Teresa Burney)

Time is running out for the Town of Eatonville to have a say in whom and how, or even whether a 100-acre former school site at I-4 is developed.

At a Tuesday night town meeting council members said they had 57 days left in a five-year window to choose a developer for the site that is owned by the Orange County School Board.  Already the town received a one-year extension after its original four-year time allotment was up.

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Mayor Anthony Grant made a speech advocating transparency in the selection process for a developer of the site, suggesting it should be put out for bid. He said he wants to assemble a task force of experts to advise him on developer selection.  He also advocated charrettes, meetings with architects, other experts and townspeople to brainstorm what should be developed on the high-profile piece of property.

Other council members suggested there would not be enough time to make that happen.

"I don't want to go down in history that we delayed this," said council member Eddie Cole. "There are people waiting for us to mess this up."

Council member Theo Washington concurred. "This has been on the market for five years, another year? I think we can get this thing done in less than a year."

However, the mayor persevered and a motion was passed to assemble the task force.

Coincidentally, at the end of the meeting, during time reserved for public comment, a developer associated with Bella Collina and Ryan Homes offered to pay cash to buy the land at close to its $10 million appraised value. To show good faith, DCS Capital Investments LLC's partner Randall Greene offered a $1 million cash deposit by the end of the week and a letter of intent to close on the property in as few as 30 days.

While some council members seemed interested in the offer, Mayor Grant became agitated.

"I can't get my arms around this. This is not a process," he said. I am trying to get a process to get the most we can get to benefit the taxpayer," Grant said.  Twice he said that no developer would come to Ocoee or Winter Park with such an offer.

"I guarantee you in Ocoee it wouldn't even happen. In Winter Park they would shut it out," Grant said.

"This would not happen anywhere else," he continued. "I am going to shut that down. The public hearing is over."

And it was.

On Wednesday, DCS Capital Investments met with officials from the Orange County School Board about the site.

"They were very nice," Greene said. "We went through talking about what the issues are. They just want to do what's right by the town."

tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420 6261

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