A project to extend the Woodlawn Cemetery was rebuffed by residents at an official community meeting hosted by Orange County Government and District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson Wednesday, August 31 at Gotha College.
The request by the applicant Juan Rodriguez to SCI Funeral Servicesis a special exception amendment in Zoning District A-1, Citrus Rural, to permit the construction of a new 19,236 square foot funeral home to replace the existing 14,000 square foot funeral home.
The property spans 103 acres and is located at 544 Woodlawn Cemetery Road in Gotha – on the west side of Woodlawn Cemetery Road, south of Old Winter Garden Road, west of South Apopka-Vineland Road and north of Florida’s Turnpike.
Kasey A. Feltner, of Shutts & Bowen LLP representing the plaintiff, said that while the plaintiff did not wish to comment on the matter before press time, Rodriguez is “pleased to be working with the community to provide essential, high quality services to the community.”
Case planner Laekin O’Hara explained that the proposed development is to be done in two phases.
Phase 1 will include demolition of the barn and construction of the new funeral home with associated parking and access.
O’Hara said the existing funeral home will continue to operate until the certificate of occupancy for the new funeral home is issued, and then will be demolished.
Phase 2 will include the demolition of the existing funeral home and associated parking lot and the construction of an additional parking area and west access, connected to internal roads.
O’Hara said the current funeral home site will be converted back to a grassed area and is intended for use as an expanded cemetery area in the future.
The net increase in building area will be 5,236 square feet.
Vehicle access will be provided from Woodlawn Cemetery Road with the addition of two new access points.
The landscaping plan includes a buffer zone with trees and canopy shrubs along the perimeter as per the meeting code. Existing trees are proposed to be removed, subject to Orange County Code Chapter 15, and existing buffers to the north and west are intended to remain.
The Orange County Environmental Protection Division has no objection to the request.
Regarding parking requirements, the total number of parking spaces required for the funeral home is 80, which includes one parking space for each commercial vehicle (18) and one parking space for four spaces with 245 in the chapel (62). There will be 187 parking spaces provided with 127 paved parking spaces in Phase 1 and an additional 60 spaces in Phase 2.
Gotha resident Rick Arnold, who lives on the Spence Pointe subdivision just across from Woodlawn Cemetery, said many residents don’t necessarily oppose the concept of Woodlawn building a new building, but rather have concerns that don’t have not been resolved.
“Orange County continues to erode the meaning of property zoning,” Arnold said. “Every little endorsement continues to set a precedent for many more that have happened or are happening now in Gotha.”
Other concerns include increased services at the cemetery; neighborhood safety due to inappropriate behavior in the cemetery after hours; lack of explanation for moving the barn; and the potential loss of one of Gotha’s main attractions – dark skies and calm.
Arnold said one of the biggest concerns is the continued lack of traffic enforcement.
“Orange County has continued to ignore traffic issues on Woodlawn,” he said. “There is no law enforcement, and not only are there a lot of younger children (who) live along the road, yes, three of which are mine, but there are a ton of them. others who travel as a back entrance to Gotha Middle School. ”
Additionally, Arnold said sidewalks in the area are being destroyed by use and Woodlawn has a rating with the Florida Department of Transportation that is exceeded every day by semi-trucks that are hijacked, lost or delivered to the cemetery, all of which exceed the limits by more than double.
“As a community, we repeatedly asked for traffic calming and traffic calming, and they put up two flashing signs that became nothing more than a challenge for drivers to see how fast they can go,” Arnold said. “We want a reasonable and lasting solution to traffic and speeding — expanding the cemetery does not help and only contributes to it. I believe a roundabout or even two on Woodlawn would go a long way to solving this particular problem.
Gotha resident A. Kurt Ardaman, partner at Fishback Dominick and Winter Garden City Attorney, said he had a conversation with Feltner in which the two discussed lighting, outdoor speakers, amplifiers and sound systems, as well as security.
“I defer to the engineering on the lighting and sound system, but I would like to address security,” Feltner said. “We are more than welcome to work with the community regarding security issues, but that is not something we can do as a condition of approving this special exception under A-1.”
Ardaman said the cemetery used to close the gates half an hour after sunset and reopen them at sunrise. He said there is ongoing illegal activity that residents say is happening on the property. Additionally, he said SCI had a security guard patrolling the property each night.
“They removed the security guard and they are not closing the doors,” Ardaman said. “It allows business to continue, traffic through it, car racing, likely drug sales, sexual activity – it becomes a problem. So from a practical point of view, I think SCI would want to take measures to at least close the doors, especially because you offer two new entrances.
Wilson said she was not invited or told about the unofficial community meeting held by Feltner and the plaintiff on Thursday, August 25.
“I want to thank the plaintiff for being involved and concerned enough to organize a community meeting independently of the county, but it makes us … we feel a little on our backs here, not knowing that some of these things have arisen. at a community meeting that we didn’t attend,” she said. “The plaintiff did not contact us to talk about it in advance, and one of the things I probably would have said was that I disagree with the extortion in closing a door as a condition . We have examples around the county of these types of conditions and we could include that if it’s something that would help the process.
However, despite residents’ concern, the Orange County Zoning Board Adjustment approved the request to take the next step on Thursday, September 1 – less than 12 hours after the community meeting.
Hannah Gutner, Wilson’s political aide, said their BZA representative, Thomas Moses, was able to receive the commissioner’s notes from the community meeting the night before and develop updated terms of approval ahead of the BZA meeting. .
In addition to the five standard approval conditions, four additional conditions have been added and approved.
Conditions include: specifications for the lighting installation must be limited to downlighting, current capabilities of the existing public address system must remain, security entrance doors must be locked from 9:00 p.m. 5:00 a.m., and the new entrance areas will be equipped with CCTV cameras. and a signal indicating that a recording is in progress.
The request will go to the county commission for a hearing at the end of September.
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