A development that could transform a 54-acre area between Winter Park and Maitland may be annexed entirely into Winter Park and could break ground on a new restaurant in weeks, if developer Dan Bellows can get the city to agree to it.
The Benjamin Partners developer spoke with Winter Park city officials Monday at a meeting to decide which city will house the land he’ll develop into a mixed-use district that would include commercial, retail and residential units. Ravaudage would all be built on land spanning north and west from the intersection of U.S. 17-92 and Lee Road.
The project has been in the works for 14 years, Bellows said, while Benjamin Partners slowly bought properties in the area bordered at the south end by Lee Road and spanning from 17-92 at the east to Bennett Road at the west, and bordered at the north by Lake Avenue.
But his announcement that he wanted to build the entirety of the project in Winter Park caught officials by surprise. It was slated for land in Orange County and Maitland, plus land recently ceded by Winter Park.
“I think it’s going to be best if all 54 acres go into Winter Park,” Bellows said. “I could leave it in Orange County, I could put it all in Maitland, but … this is where we’d like to end up.”
That idea took Maitland Mayor Howard Schieferdecker by surprise, as he’s been in group talks with Winter Park officials and Bellows about a deal that would include both cities.
“We had an agreement that we would share it,” Schieferdecker said. “Winter Park and Maitland have had a very close relationship for many years. We share lakes, we share schools, we share transportation issues. We are like almost one. We’re joined at the hip.”
Ale House coming
Bellows said he was trying to move the project forward more quickly to start construction, which would likely start with building an Ale House restaurant at the development’s southeast corner, on U.S. 17-92 and Lee Road.
“We’re looking to break ground at the end of the month,” he said. “We have a fully executed contract with Ale House.”
In order to do that, he said, he needs Winter Park to agree to the annexation deal. And that deal would include a new element, naming the project a Community Development District and funneling money from property taxes, utility taxes and even adding a 1 percent user tax to the businesses that would be built there.
Bellows proposed that idea at Monday’s meeting, which caught some commissioners off guard.
“Can you let us breathe after that?” Mayor Ken Bradley asked. “There’s an awful lot to take in.”
Property taxes, utility taxes and other taxes and fees would be split with the city to help pay off bond debt used to finance the project, Bellows said. Once the debt was paid, the tax splits would end.
City Manager Randy Knight said that usually CDD agreements are made well ahead of developing, but with a contract for a restaurant nearly complete, the process was handled more expeditiously.
“The intention was always to come up with the CDD documents up front,” Knight said. “With this rush with the Ale House portion of the deal, some of the pieces are out of order here. [Bellows] has instructed us to try to get infrastructure out…to get the Ale House put in there. The worst thing is that we get the infrastructure out there and the Ale House deal falls through, but there’s still good infrastructure out there.”
But the sudden push to get an agreement between the developer and Winter Park irked some officials, who said that the city needed more time.
“It’s been 14 years of work, and he suddenly gives us two weeks to get this done; that’s not how this is going to work,” Bradley said. “There’s obviously something going on that I’m not aware of.”
Commissioner Tom McMacken said that he didn’t want the city to make a quick decision on the CDD designation or the deal with Benjamin Partners.
“I’m not comfortable with that without special counsel involved,” McMacken said. “I’m not prepared to act in that quick a timeframe on this scale of a project. That’s my mindset at the moment. We’re talking about doing something in three weeks which impacts a major development within the city and commits us.”
Bellows said that he wanted to get the deal approved so that the city could begin building infrastructure that would allow the Ale House to open. At that point, money would begin flowing into the project and make it look more promising to investors.
Winter Park Development Director Jeff Briggs agreed, citing that the one percent additional user tax, which would bump sales tax up to 7.5 percent on every sale, would help add revenue quickly.
“You can see where that would really generate some money, because again with that restaurant, now 1 percent of every sale, every beer, every hot dog, that’s going to generate much more significant money,” Briggs said.
The project is expected to come up again at the next Commission meeting, Sept. 12, in a public hearing.