Ravaudage's developer will pay Maitland the $50,000 in overdue utility charges by the end of the month, but he said the city is jeopardizing its piece of the $500 million mixed-use project by delaying a land-use vote in order to get the bill paid.
The charges stem from water, sewer and trash use at the Lakes at Maitland Condominiums (formally Gem Lake Apartments) since January, according to city records. On Sept. 26, Maitland City Council voted to table a vote on a land use change on the property until the developer works with the city to pay the bill.
The developer, Benjamin Partners’ Dan Bellows, did not return requests for comment, but in an email to Sharon Anselmo, Maitland’s management services director, dated Sunday, Oct. 9, he said he didn’t understand how a land use change for his project had anything to do with the Lakes at Maitland Condominium Association’s overdue utility bills. It said the city’s action “interferes with private property rights.”
“Stalling one process thinking it will speed up another is simply untrue,” Bellows wrote. “The water bills will be paid … and holding up or stalling the land use process only jeopardizes the city losing an opportunity that will most likely modify the ability for the city to gain any real benefit in the future from this site, if in fact the city has not already done something that can’t be unwound.”
The condominium property is scheduled to be one of many properties demolished to make way for the more than 50-acre Ravaudage project, planned to cover a dozen city blocks, bordered at the south end by Lee Road and spanning from Highway 17-92 at the east to Bennett Road at the west, and bordered at the north by Lake Avenue.
City Council said Monday that while it wants to collect the $50,000 tab, it doesn’t want to put the project, which would bring new tax revenue into the city, at risk.
“We don’t want to poke the developer in eye, but we can’t sweep the issue under the rug either,” said Councilman Phil Bonus, who spearheaded the decision to postpone the land-use vote on Sept. 26. But he said Monday that the city can’t legally delay the vote until the bill is paid.
Council voted Monday to have the city attorney draft a letter that warns of a possible water shut off to Bellows, copying the 150 or so residents of the complex so that they are aware of what is going on. That will come back for approval on Oct. 24. Council also voted to have city staff attempt to set up a meeting with Bellows and the other two members of the Lakes at Maitland Condominium Association in the hope of reaching a compromise.
Millions in repairs
The condo complex’s bills run $10,000 a month, Anselmo said. About 100 of the 246 units in the complex are vacant, Bonus said.
The city has made several attempts to work with Bellows, who owns a majority of the units, to negotiate credits for spikes in sewer usage related to leaks on the property and to turn off lines to units that are vacant. But the Winter Park developer has not provided the documentation, such as repair bills, necessary to do that, Anselmo said.
“If you let water leak out of the system, the city can’t credit you,” Anselmo said.
In September, Bellows did send a break down of the sewer charges and photos of water bubbling up from the asphalt parking lot. Those didn’t help Anselmo.
Bellows said in the email to Anselmo that it will cost $4 million to $6 million to repair multiple leaks in the pipelines in and outside of the buildings. Because there is only one master water meter on the property, the city issues one bill instead of billing individual units or buildings.
Although the city has stopped short of actually shutting off the complex’s water, Councilman Ivan Valdes said Bellows wouldn’t see it as a bad thing.
“If we shut off the water, it will force people to move, which is exactly what he wants to get the land. … We would accommodate him by shutting the water off.”
The condominium association, of which Bellows is listed as deputy president with the Florida Division of Corporations, has been entangled in a lawsuit with the former property owner for the last two years and the utility costs are part of the claim, Bellows wrote. The trial is next week and there should be a resolution within two weeks.
The utility and repair costs are “all part of the legally required cash reserves not being set aside upon the sale of the condominium,” Bellows wrote. “The city will get its money; they are in the driver’s seat. They should be paid in full by the end of the month.”
The Lakes at Maitland Condominium Association was not listed as a plaintiff in any cases on the Orange County Clerk of Courts website as of Oct. 11.
Maitland resident Glen Jaffee, who said he is a close friend of Bellows’, said Maitland is not sending a positive message by tripping up Ravaudage to get paid. He said the mixed-use project coming to the city is a huge opportunity and Bellows has a record of good projects in the area.
City Manager Jim Williams, who is Winter Park’s former manager, “knows how this guy (Bellows) rolls and knows he can get things done for our city like we witnessed him do for our cousins in Winter Park,” Jaffee said during the public period.
But Councilwoman Bev Reponen said the city has to wisely spend taxpayer dollars. “Our job isn’t to just sit here and say, well we can’t do anything.”
Councilwoman Linda Frosch said she’d like to know more about the lawsuit with the condo complex’s former property owner.
“… We don’t want to kill the golden goose,” she said of Ravaudage in Maitland. “We could get 25 acres added to our city — It’s a great opportunity. We have to tread very carefully so we don’t send this message to developers. We have to handle this in an educated, professional manner.”
Bonus said he is conflicted on what to do.
“It’s sad that we have a problem that we have to address with a stick while we want to embrace the guy with a business transaction,” Bonus said. “The problem presents itself in a complex political environment with this guy. I wish we had a carrot of some sort.”