AVON PARK – After hearing about 45 minutes of “not-in-my-backyard” pleas by a series of area residents, there won’t be an apartment complex going up in southeast Avon Park.
At the Avon Park City Council regular meeting Monday night, the council voted 4-1, with Mayor Sharon Schuler abstaining, to pull the support beams out from under a proposed multi-family apartment complex in a currently single-home residential neighborhood.
Sebring’s Martin M. Wall, Inc. wanted to build 10, two-story buildings - a total of 80 dwellings - on approximately 8.3 acres. A proposed ordinance would have amended 38 parcels of land from low- to medium-density residential, generally located on vacant land at the southeast corner of the intersection of west Cornell Street and south Florida Avenue.
The residential units were to be built by Marmer Construction Inc. of Sebring, but some of the speakers from a chamber audience of about 40 spoke out against the proposed future land use map amendment ordinance and the impact an apartment complex would have in their single-home community, namely child safety, aesthetics and possibly future blight.
“We’re being asked to put a commercial establishment right down in the middle of a single-family neighborhood,” said Mike Roberts of Tulane Circle. “Is it needed? Kids are going to be kids. Their safety is an issue and they don’t look when they cross the street. I’m not sure this facility - Lake Tulane Apartments - is needed in that residential neighborhood.”
Marty Wohl, president of Marmer Construction Inc., said he acquired the property through foreclosure and decided to build apartments because it wasn’t “feasible economics” to build homes. He said his staff took into consideration surrounding homes during the design phase of the project, was open to compromise and there was “no demand for single homes for the price I’d have to sell them for” in the area. He said there would be pedestrian gates on both sides of the development and safety was of utmost concern.
“I’m trying to give up the flexibility I have, to build a nice project in the area or it can stay a vacant field and the city can take in $10 in ad valorem. I’m willing to talk. I can’t do a home-ownership project,” he said.
Another area resident, Mairen Venezuela, who lives at 508 W. L. Kirkland St., said she bought her home for $62,000 in Jan. 2013 and was under the impression just homes would go up on the lot when it was developed. She was worried about the condition of the apartments in the future if owners changed and how that might affect home and property values.
Wohl said his company outsourced a management company to retain ownership for 15 years and that compliance rules would be in effect for 50 years, even if he sold his interest.
“Everything around it is just homes. To me. it just doesn’t make any sense as an individual. It will be around many houses. It’s a peaceful neighborhood; I don’t agree with this,” said Venezuela.
Following comments from about five other area residents, council members discussed the proposed land-use amendment, primarily focusing on the original land-use designation and the impact on those already living there. A report from the Avon Park Planning Department states although some of the existing surrounding areas appear to have multi-family units and “although the zoning and FLU (Future Land Use) does not match, the proposed zoning change matches existing surrounding use.”
The council could vote to approve or reject the future land use map amendment, pass it with amendments or table it to allow city administration to go back to the builder and see what he was willing to concede.
Councilman Parke Sutherland said although he thought the concept and plan was viable, it was the people who in the end should have what they wanted.
“There was an overwhelming voice from citizens in that area. I didn’t have one person to voice support for the project,” he said Tuesday. “I felt constrained by the democratic process, but that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
In other action Monday, the council unanimously approved the contract of a transfer station with Waste Management Inc. The publicly traded company offered the city a 44 percent savings on tipping fees, going from a current $45 to $25 per ton for rubbish disposal.
Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon said the contract has a 90-day out clause but was “willing to try it, as the savings to the city’s rate payers is worth it.”
The goal of the contract is to continue to reduce garbage disposal rates for the third consecutive year in the only Highlands County municipality with curbside recycling.
Deleon said due to best management practices, despite growth, the tonnage hauled to the landfill has steadily decreased from $440,000 in 2008 to its current level of $280,000 per year.
We offer free cardboard dumpsters, we recycle, we keep the water weight out of the landfill. We continue to look for innovative, original thoughts that are good for the environment and the ratepayers of the city. The long-term objective is a transfer station to minimize our trucking and labor costs,” he said, following the meeting.