The Clermont City Council nixed a request by the developer of the Clermont Yacht Club to proceed with Phase 3 of the project, saying 108 condominiums on the property is too dense for the surrounding community. Masthead LLC had requested reinstatement of a conditional use permit issued more than 20 years ago.
A master development plan for the entire yacht club received approval in 1998 with allowances for 266 townhomes or condos. The developer constructed 158 townhomes and added infrastructure for Phase 3, the condo section. But as the Great Recession took hold in 2008, construction plans came to a halt and the developer requested a refund on $500,000 worth of impact fees, which he received. Lawyers argued before the city council July 12 that the refund was not an indication the project would not move forward, only that it would be delayed.
But the city council disagreed, saying because the developer did not move forward with Phase 3 within a year, there are no rights to develop it under the conditional use permit. The council voted unanimously to deny the developer’s request to proceed with construction of the 108 additional units.
The city staff determined that the original entitlements for the project are no longer valid. “Staff is required to review the current application as a separate stand-alone application. Upon further review, it is staff’s view that the number of units and density of the proposed project will be detrimental to the general welfare of persons residing in the vicinity.
Phase 3 of the yacht club lies in the center of the community that overlooks Lake Minneola and is 3.9 acres. The developer proposed placing four buildings on the site. Each would be three stories tall, matching the height of the tallest townhomes in the community.
“As far as options, staff did recommend the developer return to City Council with a ‘less-dense’ design,” said Clermont Public Information Officer Laurie Windham. “We have not heard back.”
Land-Use Attorney Cecelia Bonifay, representing Masthead, argued during the meeting that the developer has vested rights, but the city attorney disagreed.
“We don’t necessarily agree this project has vested rights, because there was no continuous construction,” City Attorney Daniel Mantzaris said. “Construction was halted. In our view, looking at it, we don’t agree it is clear they have vested rights. This is not a land-use change or zoning. Under the city’s code, a conditional use permit is not a right. We believe the vested right is different” such as if it were a zoning change.
Residents of the community applauded the decision, after filing in one after another to speak against the project, saying it is too dense, lacks adequate parking, has inadequate water retention and does not provide amenities for new residents, such as a separate pool and clubhouse.
The developer, Masthead LLC, out of Winter Springs, planned to provide 17 on-street parking spaces on Masthead Boulevard and construct interconnected parking garages under the buildings — each with 54 units — for a total of 233 parking spaces. The site plan showed no plans for adding amenities.
A traffic study completed by Wey Engineering showed no negative impact to traffic as a result of the project, despite objections from residents who disagree.
Bonifay adamantly disagreed with the city staff’s position, that the developer does not have vested rights to build Phase 3.
“It is a pretty clear-cut case of vested rights for this project and also noted in the staff report that originally the staff was in favor of this, then reversed course and found everything had expired,” Bonifay said. “There was one piece of paper (Development Director Curt) Henschel put up that said the project was canceled.” The paper was neither dated nor signed, she said.
“It was 2008,” Bonifay went on. “We all can remember the recession… on through 2012, so it is not a surprise someone would have delayed construction. In no way does the return of impact fees equate to a project no longer going forward.” In fact, she said, the developer, when the initial units were constructed, put in all the necessary infrastructure for Phase 3, including roads, drainage and a stormwater system.
Rick McCoy, of McCoy and Associates, who has been the engineer for Clermont Yacht Club’s development for years, said the plan to move forward with Phase 3 never wavered. “The economy crashed and that was half a million and to my memory, the city was happy to give that money back” because the impact fees were then doubled. The halt in 2008 was simply a delay, he said.
Bonifay did not follow up with a request for comment on how Masthead plans to proceed.