Winter Park commissioners unanimously denied on Monday night a developer's plans for a new memory care/assisted living facility on Lake Temple, rejecting staff's approval recommendation and a mediated settlement agreement that had been reached with the developer in recent months.
Dubbed "Villa Tuscany," the Mediterranean-style facility would be located on 3.77 acres (2.09 acres developable) at 1298 Howell Branch Road, between the intersections with Temple Trail and Temple Drive just east of the Howell Branch Preserve Park.
After two years of negotiations with the city, and after spending the last few months working through a mediation process that followed a commission denial in March, Monday's vote took local investor Ervin Hechavarria by surprise.
"We weren't anticipating this," he told GrowthSpotter on Monday night. "I view this as a political vote. They weren't voting anymore according to their Comp Plan or code."
Hechavarria is developing the project with Washington, D.C.-based luxury residential developer Brook Rose and New York-based hedge fund manager Gabriel de Jesus.
The group's affiliate Villa Tuscany Holdings LLC paid $650,000 for the property in November 2016, despite not having approvals from the city for their intended use. Rose previously developed the 20-bed assisted living facility Alabama Oaks of Winter Park.
Twenty-eight letters from residents opposing the project were sent to city officials leading up to the hearing. Many attended Monday to speak out against the project, and its perceived high-density impact on the neighborhood.
To the site's north and east are commercial properties, and to the south and west are single-family residential.
"Something will be built there, we just need to decide on what path to take," Hechavarria said. "It can be anything now. The zoning is R-3 so it could be multifamily. On the low end you could do a trailer park, to the high end an apartment building up to (35 feet)."
Hechavarria said Monday night that potential litigation against the city will be discussed by his development team in the coming days.
But the mediated settlement agreement states that it was a good faith attempt to resolve the dispute, and that if not approved later by the city commission cannot be used as evidence in any judicial hearing, and is not reviewable or appealable.
Commissioners had denied the development team's previous plans for a three-story building back in late March, for what they claimed were inconsistencies with part of the Comprehensive Plan involving building size, floor area ratio, and parking noncompliance with the lakefront setback.
But the developers argued that commissioners denied their request despite approval recommendations by city staff and the Planning and Zoning Board. They also disagreed with how a certain height restriction in the Comp Plan policy was cited as grounds for denial.
So they exercised their right, by Florida statute, to force a mediation process with the city in April, with the help of local attorneys at Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A.
The settlement agreement required the applicant to reduce the overall building size, and by extension the visual impact on nearby homes. The building's proposed height was brought down to 31 feet, instead of 35 feet as originally proposed.