We don’t tolerate bullying in our schools, so we shouldn’t tolerate it in our city business either, said Councilwoman Bev Reponen at Monday’s Maitland City Council meeting.
“I look at this as a case of bullying … and a bully should not be condoned,” she said, referencing emails sent to the Council by Ravaudage developer Dan Bellows saying he was halting his development in the city following what he deemed “obstructionist” decisions by the city staff.
Bellows, not in attendance at the Feb. 11 meeting, sent an email to City Council and staff Feb. 7 announcing he would no longer be focusing on his Maitland developments, including the redevelopment of Gem Lake Apartments.
“Maitland is going to end up with a very large retention pond,” Bellows said in reference to the Gem Lake property in a post-meeting interview.
In the past year, Bellows said he’s hit road block after road block in dealing with the city – from trying to annex property into the city, to proposing selling impact fees for capital – each one never coming to fruition the way he envisioned.
“Now, to still be at ground zero, I said, ‘Why am I beating myself against the wall? I’ve got a lifetime of work in Winter Park,’” he said.
Mayor Howard Schieferdecker was quick to defend the city and its staff, coming to the defense of Maitland City Attorney Cliff Shepard, who Bellows blamed for most of his problems in getting anything through the city.
“I agree that we should be working with developers because we need developers, we need a tax base and we need development … but people like that that insult our staff, to me it’s just wrong,” he said.
Schieferdecker said he has every confidence in Shepard, pointing to his guidance over the legality of Bellows’ idea to commoditize impact fees having saved the city time and potential legal trouble if they would have pursued the idea further.
Bellows cited Shepard’s resignation from the city of Ponce Inlet in August of last year following the loss of a high-profile lawsuit as proof of his “obstructionist” ways, stating Maitland is to be headed for a similar path if they don’t seek new legal counsel.
The mayor said the city has had no reason to question Shepard, and that no one has publicly questioned his judgment in Maitland other than Bellows.
“It is not his position to be bad mouthing and wanting us to fire him just because he doesn’t agree with him,” Schieferdecker said.
This, he said, is another example of Bellows threatening to pull all his projects out of Maitland as he’s done in the past when decisions don’t go his way. Or, as Councilwoman Reponen said, a way to bully his way into getting what he wants.
“I think that there’s a way that people can act and a decorum that we can ask of people … When they choose the bully platform we shouldn’t allow them to be successful at doing so,” Reponen said. “We set an example for our entire city.”
Councilman Jeff Flowers, who spurred the discussion of Bellows’ email at the meeting as part of finally putting the impact fee argument to rest, disagreed, saying the city needs to consider Bellows’ position before they lose his business for good.
“You may not like the way he thinks, but I think you have to understand the guy on the other side of the table if you’re going to be successful in negotiating a good deal for Maitland,” Flowers said.
If Winter Park can work with Dan Bellows, then Maitland should be able to, too, he said.
City Manager Jim Williams, who’s worked with Bellows previously during his time as Winter Park’s city manager, said Maitland is doing what’s in its power to continue to encourage Bellows’ business, offering utility credits and sewage assistance.
“We’ll continue to work with Dan, we want to see him develop, we want to see him be successful … That’s our goal, to try to help him build a quality development, because he does do a quality development,” Williams said.
But for now, Bellows said he’s taking his business back across city lines to Winter Park.
“Maitland’s just not ready,” he said. “… I don’t think they’re sophisticated enough to figure out how to renovate a downtown.”