Smogor's retirement in Orange spurs messages of gratitude, respect

Bill Zimmerman
GrowthSpotter

Orange County Development Review Committee Chair and Planning Administrator John Smogor has capped 36 years of service with his last day on the job Friday -- and continues to garner praise from numerous members of the Metro Orlando business community.

Often, Smogor could be spotted wearing a creative necktie reflecting some of the things he loved, such as Cleveland sports or presidential history.

He will, however, be missed more than anything else for long-standing relationships, many built on his ability to collaborate on solutions, key Orlando-area business figures told GrowthSpotter on Monday.

Miranda Fitzgerald of law firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed said she started her land-use practice about the same time Smogor began with the county.

“I feel like he and I have grown up together, and in many ways we have. The land use codes, laws and processes have changed dramatically during that time,” she said. “John and I worked on a countless number of development projects together. Although we did not always agree at the outset, we both had the goal in mind of trying to create win-win outcomes and the best project possible given the many competing interests and viewpoints involved.”

His sense of giving back was known to benefit a key foster group home in Orlando, said Vivien Monaco, of law firm Burr & Forman.
“He probably raised more money for Great Oaks Village than anyone else in Orange County,” she said, “and I witnessed many acts of kindness, small and large, that most people probably don’t know about.”

Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Smogor, who had chaired the DRC since 2011, will always be a part of the Orange County family.

“So many people have relied upon him for so many things. For me, John has been such a steady source of good guidance and technical information at our Board of County Commissioner meetings,” she said. “And he’s been remarkably good humored, despite his best attempts to convince people otherwise!

“John is also treasured by his co-workers and professional peers – his knowledge of Orange County’s planning processes and our codes is truly astonishing – as is his memory! He’s a walking-talking encyclopedia of history and information. Even more important, John is a good man, and a good friend.”

Items collected during his tenure are being given to the Orange County Regional History Center. 

Smogor, who declined through county staff to talk for this story, was the most misunderstood person in the county despite his unique style, said Jim Hall of Hall Development Services.

“Many didn’t realize he was keeping projects moving, alerting applicants to potential issues, balancing all the different DRC departments - keeping billions of dollars of development moving forward at the County within a political arena full of pit falls from residents, applicants and commissioners,” Hall said. “... And I was always the applicant [since 1992] looking to move through the process as best as one could but typically had the tough projects -- yet John always gave me fair and honest counsel, good or bad to my pursuit.”

Smogor’s “willingness to answer questions, making sure he always presented a peculiar perspective of historical value,” enabled him to make such a difference, county planning manager Alberto Vargas said.

“His personality is priceless and impossible to replace or imitate,” Vargas said. “Somehow, he made what seemed complicated into something straight forward with long-lasting results.”

Despite appearing to be gruff at times, said Monaco, the key to Smogor was his receptiveness.

“I could always count on Smogor -- that’s what almost everyone calls him -- to listen, even after he had made an initial decision about something,” she said. “He was willing to consider facts he may not have been aware of, was willing to listen to my position, and was willing to change his mind if that new information called for it.

“I knew I could always trust his integrity.”

Eric Raasch is Jacobs' appointee as DRC Chair. The chief planner in the county’s planning division, Raasch has served as main staff liaison with the Local Planning Agency/Planning and Zoning Commission and chaired the county’s Technical Review Group, according to a memo from the mayor. Raasch joined Orange County in 2012 and is a graduate of University of Central Florida with a master’s from University of Maryland.

“Given Mr. Raasch’s extensive background andknoledge of the current county land development process, he is well suited to the role of DRC Chairperson,” the mayor’s memo read.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bzimmerman@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5427 or @zmediaworks. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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