Maitland sent a message to Ravaudage’s developer on Sept. 26: Pay your bill and then you’ll get what you want.
City Council tabled a vote on a land-use amendment after it was revealed that the landowner, Benjamin Partners developer Dan Bellows, owes the city $50,000 in utility charges.
Council favored the comprehensive development plan amendment that would allow a mix of residential-scale retail within the high-density residential district along the rail line and adjacent to downtown Maitland. But members were concerned about Gem Lake Apartments’ unpaid bill and the precedent they would set if they approved the amendment.
“That entity is indebted to the city for a significant amount of utility bills,” Councilman Phil Bonus said. Paying the tab, he said, might be an “excellent condition for the approval (of the land-use change), if that’s even legal.”
City Attorney Cliff Shepard said tabling the item “would definitely send a message.”
The charges stem from water bills and the use of dumpsters at Gem Lake Apartments between February and August of this year, according to the city’s finance department.
“The last bill was just south of $50,000 and that did not include late fees,” Shepard said. The late fees would bring the total to about $80,000, Bonus said.
Gem Lake has one water meter per building so if the property owner doesn’t pay the bill, everyone’s water could theoretically be shut off. The city has stopped short of doing that.
Bonus said Tuesday that “the city is cautious about not wanting to victimize the innocent homeowner.”
“For a guy who’s presenting a $100 million project, what’s a $50,000 water bill? Come on, what’s the deal?” he said.
Shepard said that Benjamin Partners recently asked the city to remove some unused dumpsters but that the developer has yet to respond to inquiries from staff to settle the bill.
“This is a big deal to us but it’s not such a big deal for him,” Shepard said.
The city has until December to adopt the land-use amendment before it has to start the Department of Community Affairs review process over.
Not approving the amendment wouldn’t stop Ravaudage from moving forward, but it would change its appearance.
“Does he need it to develop? No,” Community Development Director Dick Wells said. “Does he need it to do what he wants to do? Yes.
The City Council voted unanimously to table the vote on the amendment and have city staff work with the developer to resolve the utility charges.
“I think if any Maitland citizen did this to us, we would figure out a way to collect our money. … I support holding up on this and waiting for the check,” Councilwoman Bev Reponen said.
Ravaudage developers have slowly purchased land over a 14-year period in more than a dozen city blocks bordered at the south end by Lee Road and spanning from U.S. Highway 17-92 at the east to Bennett Road at the west, and bordered at the north by Lake Avenue.
The project is moving forward in Winter Park, as the City Commission irons out details in order to annex 54 acres of Orange County land into the city for the project. Winter Park’s city attorney is scheduled to give an update on the annexation at the Oct. 10 Commission meeting.
Maitland was originally slated to have 17 acres of the project in its city limits but Bellows stepped back from that plan in August, saying it would be easier to have the entire project within one municipality. Winter Park and Maitland officials have both urged Bellows to keep Maitland a part of the original deal.
“The Ravaudage project is in flux for me,” Bonus said on Sept. 26. “I don’t think we’re sure what the project will look like in Maitland, if at all.”
Wells agreed that the project is changing but that Bellows’ objective remains the same.
“I would say the focus of what Mr. Bellows wants to do has come closer and closer to the objective he wants to achieve — to establish a CDD (Community Development District) on the entire property that he owns and annex 17 acres into Maitland after it’s all said and done,” Wells said.
A Community Development District collects property and utility taxes to support its own infrastructure. Bellows also plans to charge the project’s businesses a 1 percent user tax.
“I’m generally supportive of what I think is Ravaudage,” Bonus said, adding that he hopes to see more of the project’s retail development in Maitland.
“A lot of the concentration of high ad valorem revenue development seems to be concentrated in the southern sector, which would leave the Maitland sector for support-role project components such as parks, roads, ponds….”
He said he supports revenue sharing across the whole project instead of by the parcel.
“It’s like a dining car on a train,” he said. “It wouldn’t be much good without the locomotive or the baggage car.”