Howell Branch Chain Saw Massacre
by Anne Mooney / June 5, 2021
Once again, 1298 Howell Branch Road is in the news. There is no memory care facility this time, just four lots for single family homes. Sound simple? We’ve been here before.
Developer changes course in 2017
After the Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center failed in 2017 to receive approval, the developer, Villa Tuscany Holdings, LLC, revised its request and received City approval to divide the property into four single-family lots under the current R-3 zoning. The 3.77-acre property, of which only 2.09 acres is buildable because that is the portion above the Ordinary High Water elevation of approximately 66 feet, is located between two bodies of water. The larger to the south is Lake Temple; to the northeast is an unnamed sinkhole.
Four lake-front lots planned
Since all four are lakefront lots, new home construction must be reviewed and approved by the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) Board. The P&Z review focuses on tree preservation, storm water management, making sure plans are compatible with the grade of the lot and maintaining lake views. Each individual plan involves a negotiation with Urban Forestry Department, especially if a specimen tree is involved.
Developer begins work in May 2021
When the developer obtained a permit to begin work on the property in May, a 54-inch oak tree was to be preserved. In addition, a silt fence was erected to prevent clearing along a 50-foot margin from the lakefront to protect neighbors from noise and light pollution from Howell Branch Road.
54-inch oak takes the fall
On May 14, according to Parks and Recreation Director Jason Seeley, who oversees the City’s Urban Forestry Department, a subcontractor arrived with heavy equipment to clear the land. As the clearing began, the crews, unsupervised by the developer, proceeded to take down the silt fence, clear all the way to the lake front and cut down the large specimen oak.
Even after a Stop-Work order and a Code Violation were issued, City staff observed the contractors continuing to clear the land. The City contacted the developer directly, the Stop-Work order is still in place and work on the premises has halted.
Draft tree preservation ordinance planned
A draft Tree Preservation Ordinance has been approved by the Tree Preservation Board and is awaiting review by P&Z in July or August. Changes contemplated include a matrix that uses a range of species, conditions and sizes to generate a mitigation number. Mitigation is strengthened in some areas. For instance, the ordinance proposes separating residential from commercial and increases mitigation requirements for trees on residential property.
Most trees lost to residential development
We lose more trees to residential development than we do to commercial,” said Jason Seeley. “The biggest impact on trees over time is with residential development and building codes. When a small house is torn down to build a McMansion, we lose about 60 percent of available space for plantings on those residential lots. You just can’t plant your way out of that problem.”
Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio pointed out how important it is for alert residents to keep the City informed. “We have a very small Urban Forestry staff,” she said, “and they can’t be everywhere at once. In the case of the Howell Branch property, City staff was responding to neighbors who reported unpermitted activity on the site.”
In an email blast sent June 1, DeCiccio wrote about the proposed tree preservation ordinance. “This revision has several more steps to go through before it reaches a final form to be voted on by the City Commission,” she wrote. “The ultimate aim is to codify an easy-to-understand mitigation / compensation scheme reflective of the value that the citizens of Winter Park place on their trees.
“The tree canopy is an integral part of what makes Winter Park so special. The more we know, the better we can protect this precious resource.”
Arrogant developers who think they are above the ław.
If laws are made and are not backed by enforcement we are witnessing consequences. Our famous canopy of trees is a signature of Winter Park. Preserve the Park .
This is truly a case of total disregard for ethical behavior on the part of the developer resulting in an assault on the environment. The developer needs to be held financially accountable for their actions and also held responsible for replanting of all trees removed by the clearing of the land.
For the record, the large oak was the only tree slated for salvation. The developer had a permit to take down the rest.
Nonetheless, the entire development permit should be rescinded. Otherwise developers will continue with the “better to seek forgiveness than permission” mentality.
You are right, Lee! I have spoken to a few developers who have said exactly that, “it is easier to apologize than get permission” and cheaper too!
Agree with Lee VV.
Great article, I never knew that residential development was responsible for most tree removal and shame on the guy for allowing this to happen.
It was NO mistake!
The title – “Chain Saw Massacre” is luscious, just like a tree!
Anne Mooney: Can you clarify? What about the removal of the silt fence? Was there clearing beyond it? A 50 foot buffer area apparently had been to remain, including whatever trees may have been in that buffer. Were any trees removed in that area that were not to be removed? Or, was the silt fence only to protect the single 54 inch tree? Thanks.
The removal of the silt fence was a violation, but according to City Staff no protected trees were within that perimeter. The only victim was the 54″ oak — and, of course, there is inconvenience to the residents on the other side of the lake. The vegetation within the 50-foot perimeter was to be replaced with something that would provide a similar barrier to noise/light, but vegetation was removed before replacement was possible.
For a tree that was “slated for salvation”, it did not do so well. Clearly, there was no supervision of this land-clearing job. Had there been such supervision by the developer’s team, the large oak tree would still be living. I would love to see a photo of the property before and after the land-clearing mistakes.
My understanding is that the developer has been fined, but what about the business that cut the tree down in the first place and removed the silt fencing. Until the city also fines these businesses and/or rescinds their licenses to do business in the city of Winter Park this problem will never end.
This comment seems exactly on point to me. I’d be interested in a follow-up from Anne Mooney as to: (1) the amount of the fine levied on the developer, and (2) whether the City of Winter Park intends to rescind the subcontractor’s license in Winter Park.
The developer was fined $11,880. To my knowledge, the City does not contemplate revoking the contractor’s license.
The vacant lot wasn’t going to stay vacant forever. If we all loved the lot as a wooded park we should have bought it and gifted it to the city. The previous plan for senior housing would have had more green space and saved more trees. The down side would have been the old people that would have lived the last few quiet years there on a tranquil pond in a beautiful setting. The fight against a good project led to another set of homes crammed on a site that should have been approved as previously proposed. Be careful what you ask for.
This argument is fallacious. The owners of the property may have contracted with the same land clearing entity back then. Same result. That former development plan, a memory care center, failed because of the overreach by Villa Tuscany. Surrounding neighbors mobilized, united, and objected to a use so intense in their midst. A parking insufficiency and a finding of incompatibility by what was a very development friendly commission sunk it. The idea that to save a 54 inch tree from wrong doing we must allow incompatible uses in our backyards is not sound. Please place the blame where it belongs. On the wrongdoers, not on residents entitled to the private enjoyment of their homes.
Nothing incompatible about seniors in a neighborhood. Alabama Oaks is a great example. The finding of the development friendly commission is simply the developer wasn’t a friend of the commission.
“Intensity” refers to the relative size and scale of a proposed usage. Intensity means things like building mass, extent of lot/site coverage, and level of open space provided. Alabama Oaks is in converted single family dwelling(s). The Oaks is nothing like what the Villa Tuscany developers had proposed to build at the site. Intensity does not have a correlation to the age of the proposed inhabitants of the memory care center. It’s sort of like asking yourself if you would prefer for your own home to be next to a “cottage” or a “hospital”. The applicants were asked to shrink the size, but didn’t do so in any meaningful way.
The size of the senior housing proposed project was significantly smaller than the home under construction on Palmer. It was nothing like a hospital. It was a two story Mediterranean style facility. Similar in scale to a large residential home. A great “transitional land use” for the area it was proposed.
Ask yourself: Is usage as a single family home for a family of 5 versus usage as a commercial congregate/assisted living facility for dozens of residents and employees the same ? Or do they differ? If so how? Are parking requirements the same for a SF home as for an assisted living facility or do they differ? What is the land area of each parcel: Palmer vs Howell Branch? How much of each parcel do the proposed structures consume? What is the floor area ratio of each? What are the height restrictions/setback restrictions/ view shed restrictions/impacts on neighbors? Are the natural site conditions on each property the same or do they differ? Did the property owners need a conditional use approval to build what they wished to build? If so, did they have the support of the neighboring property owners or did neighbors or other residents object? Why? Does it matter that the nursing home could not meet its own parking demand and would need to secure parking across Howell Branch to meet code while the Palmer home will not need same? If one were to drive by the proposed memory facility and parking lot, would it appear to be a single family home? Does the Palmer home vary in any way from what city codes permits? If so , how? Did the memory care facility? If so how? Details are important. Are lakefront estate lots mentioned in our codes? What do the codes say about development of lakefront estate lots? Were the uses surrounding the proposed structures on each road similar to that use which was proposed by the property owner in each case?
To say that Mayor Anderson plans a “park” at Progress Point, is a lot like saying that Walt Disney World is a “park.”
Anderson has learned a flurry of Winter Park buzz words that he knows will turn the residents into docile zombies as he goes about his agenda of transforming Winter Park into an international tourism Mecca.
One of said words is “park.”
A simple, four letter word, that everyone knows the meaning of.
But when Mayor Anderson says it, watch out.
Progress Point is designated as a major tourist attraction that will one day have its own SunRail station.
“Park” in the language of Anderson and every Winter Park mayor before him in recent memory, means “land designated for future development.”
Anderson may have in mind something like this for Progress Point.
This is what is known as a “Food Park.”
There really is no park, per se, in a Food Park.
The park is an outdoor dining area with tables set up for tourists where they eat their food that they purchase in the adjoining overpriced restaurants that don’t have to have tables inside for the tourists because all the tables sit outside on what they call “the park.”
At night these restaurants can morph in to bars, and the kids and the rock bands come and play, and generally drive the neighbors crazy so that they move out of town, and so that the developers can come in and knock down what were their homes and build new ones in their place.
I would completely be in favor of such a concept! We need jobs businesses tax base and cultural recreation where we can meet !! There’s lots of subdivisions filled with silence and boredom a d nothingness outside the central business district!!! We want new homes and businesses that meet the ways we want to live in the future not the past !!!!!