Mount Dora’s Pineapple Point – Past and Present (Part 2)

Aerial Photo of Pineapple Point and surrounding area from Lake County Property Appraiser's Office

Pineapple Point is the last single opportunity for a defining waterfront development in Mount Dora’s downtown.

The unrealized potential of the 4.4 acres that make up Pineapple Point has been a tantalizing proposition for many investors, going back to the 1860s.  But, the only real activity related to the property seems to have occurred in the courthouse with the recording of the deeds as the property was sold, divided and resold. That seems to be about to change.

The first recorded ownership of the land was by pioneering homesteaders, many of whom were attracted to the area because of the promise of cheap, plentiful land that the federal government was selling off.  Central Florida of the time was an opportunity for a new start for settlers, many of whom were displaced from their lifestyles of privilege, in the wake of the Civil War following the abolition of slavery.

Others were attracted to the opportunities and financial windfalls they anticipated in a newly created marketplace resulting from the migration.  Homes, stores, farms and hotels sprang up in Mount Dora as settlers staked their claims and speculators bought and sold land.

The Lakeside Inn site was right in the middle of all of that Mount Dora activity. Pineapple Point was part of that parcel, once owned by Mount Dora’s most prolific early land speculator and community planner, John A. MacDonald.  Mount Dora’s first mayor, J.P. Donnelly also speculated and then sold the property.  Charles Edgerton and his son, Dick Edgerton – who is regularly credited with rallying the local government to protest and stop the intrusion of the planned highway 441 through the center of Mount Dora have owned the property.

Portion of one of the earliest recorded transfers of interest in the property where the Lakeside Inn sits, between the MacDonalds and J.P. and Annie Donnelly and the Alexanders as parties of the first part to Emma Boone, party of the second part ("on which is situated a building known as the 'Lake House.'")
Portion of one of the earliest recorded transfers of interest in the property where the Lakeside Inn sits, between the MacDonalds, J.P. and Annie Donnelly, the Alexanders as parties of the first part to Emma Boone, party of the second part (“on which is situated a building known as the ‘Lake House.’)

Eventually, owners of the Lakeside Inn decided to divide off and sell the undeveloped portion of their property.  It sits on Edgerton Court, behind the Lakeside Inn. Historical references to the Lakeside Inn refer to a cabin that Charles Edgerton built and lived in near the inn.  That cabin may have been on Pineapple Point, but if it was, no remnants of it remain. There was once a boathouse and dock off the point, but they are also gone; though there may still be support pilings under the surface of Lake Dora.

This old image from a postcard may have been the Edgerton cabin that may once have been on Pineapple Point
Copy of an old postcard depicting the Edgerton cabin that sat on on or near what is now Pineapple Point. Since the Pineapple Point was once part of the Lakeside Inn parcel, it is difficult to tell upon exactly which section the cabin was constructed

Through various ownerships of individuals, trusts, partnerships and corporations Pineapple Point has sat empty.  Felled trees, garbage left by trespassers, and some half-buried precast concrete forms of unknown origin litter the ground. Aside from some oaks, a few cypress and palm trees, the property is quietly vacant.  It is impossible, from Edgerton Court, to look across the fence and peer through the vegetation to see the water on the western shores of the lake.

It is not possible to see much beyond the fence and the vegetation at the edge of the property
It is not possible to see much beyond the fence, trees and vegetation at the edge of the property

Undeveloped and inaccessible for years, fenced off from adjacent properties and partially surrounded by Lake Dora, there is little recorded history available on the property, separate from publications on the Lakeside Inn.  The most noteworthy thing to have happened there since the turn of the century occurred in November of 2005, when police arrested a suspect for attempted murder and aggravated assault there.  The suspect, Carey Boyd, was zeroed in on by officers who were searching for him when they traipsed through the overgrowth of Pineapple Point.

Vagrants have camped on the property in the past, and the Mount Dora police arrested an attempted murder suspect who was living on the site in 2005
Vagrants have camped on the property in the past, and the Mount Dora police arrested an attempted murder suspect who was living on the site in 2005

On Sunday, November 27, 2005 police responded to the scene of a car accident on Old Highway 441 that had culminated in a shooting.  A tip from a witness led them to the Lakeside Inn parking lot. There, they found the car involved in the accident, then went about tracking down the shooting suspect.  Boyd was found and arrested after police searched the vicinity of Pineapple Point and followed the sound of his snoring to a tent where he was encamped.  Boyd was taken from the scene in handcuffs, professing that his memory of the entire incident was hazy, and disavowing the shooting.  Hazy perhaps, but after Boyd was pulled from his tent and interviewed by police, he acknowledged he had been drinking ‘cheap whiskey’ and had taken Xanax and that, given the evidence, he “…must have shot someone.”

Ownership of the property has been in the hands of Great American Life Insurance, c/o of the Brothers Property Corporation in Coral Gables, since they purchased it in 1998.  They were ready to let it go after several years – for a steep price.  The Mount Dora City Council declined to buy the land, when it was offered for sale in 2013 at 4.6 million dollars.  Current mayor, then council member Nick Girone, said at that time, that he didn’t believe the property should come off of city tax rolls, believing the city shouldn’t be involved in the real-estate business.  Gerard Guenther of Mount Dora purchased the property last month for 2.8 million.

So what may happen to the property?  Pineapple Point is currently zoned MU2.  It’s an odd zoning category, established specifically to address mixed uses in the downtown district, with protections for Mount Dora’s famous charm and character specifically addressed.

According to the Mount Dora Land Development Code 3.4.16.:

1) The intent of the MU-1 and MU-2 districts is to develop with a minimum of two land uses within a single building or within a single project in separate buildings.  These districts encourage a mix of medium/high density residential development with on-site commercial, office, and civic uses…The purpose of these districts is as follows:

a. Encourage, protect and enhance the pedestrian environment

b. Encourage additional street level activity

c. Reduce automobile activity

d. Create a “sense of place” through architecture and site features

e. Provide for the efficient use of land and services

f. Allow for a mix of land uses which strengthens opportunities for economic viability and supports diversity of housing opportunities.

h. Establish a distinct storefront character associated with the district

i. Provide transitions to adjacent neighborhoods and commercial areas, as appropriate

j. Maintain and enhance the area’s character through design guidelines

k. Provide public open space public gathering places and plazas.

l. Encourage lakefront development and access with appropriate building scale and uses.

m. Lake views are maintained by transitioning building heights appropriately, by district.

There are additional restrictions based on the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which is calculated by dividing the the total floor area of any proposed building by the gross area of the parcel.  There are also height restrictions that limit any buildings constructed within 100 feet of the water to 25 feet and construction further from the water to a maximum of 35 feet.

The opportunities that will come to Mount Dora with Guenther’s acquisition of the property have yet to be defined.  Any development of the property will be a test of the city council’s desire to be “business friendly” – a goal they have repeatedly stated – and their ability to balance that against the ambivalence of residents fearful of any changes that could affect the city’s downtown character and charm. It was, after all, less than a year ago that the felling of laurel oaks for infrastructure improvements downtown set off a frenzy of activity that resulted in a changed city administration and council.

One of the concepts presented during the public visioning process was of a conference center and hotel, complete with boardwalk
One of the concepts presented during the public visioning process was of a conference center and hotel, complete with boardwalk

Mount Dora’s citywide visioning process specifically noted the development of Pineapple Point, and it was, “continually listed as a top potential catalyst project in focus groups and community meetings and website questionnaires.” The development of the property as a mixed use destination – the central focal point of the lakefront.  A waterfront boardwalk, parking, and better visual cues to connect the waterfront to the downtown core were all part of the discussions.

New owner, Gerard Guenther of G3 Development, is acutely aware of the scrutiny he will be under as he moves forward with the development of Pineapple Point.  “It is a very special piece of property.  That’s one of the reasons I felt it was important for it to be in local hands,” he says. He also says he is not yet ready to commit to a specific plan, but he is gathering information and considering appropriate options. “The goal is to build on what Mount Dora already offers, while finally capitalizing on our beautiful lakefront, which is an underutilized asset in our community. I definitely intend to honor the aesthetic of the downtown and also set a standard of quality that will resonate with residents and visitors and attract quality new businesses.  Executing a successful development starts with cautious planning, extensive review and a lot of homework before any construction begins.”

Read Mount Dora’s Pineapple Point – Past and Present (Part 1) here.

Melissa DeMarco, Editor (editor@mountdoracitizen.com)