There’s a little bit of all Mount Dora in the Third
Two Mount Dora council seats are open for the November 8 municipal election: the Third District, contested by Jim Murray and John Tucker; and the at-large seat, contested by Cathy Hoescht and Susan Nemec.
In our continuing series on Mount Dora communities, this article will focus on the unique character of the Third District and the challenges in successfully meeting the needs of its many constituencies. At a later date, we’ll look at what’s involved in representing the city in the at-large seat.
Also in an upcoming edition, Mount Dora Citizen editor Mel DeMarco will ask each of the candidates to address city-wide issues such as economic development and financial accountability.
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While most people think of the Third District, downtown immediately comes to mind—a bursting menu of restaurants and boutiques and specialty stores from from Fifth to Third Avenues and Baker to Alexander.
But the Third is much bigger than that.
East of downtown next to Lake Dora is Shadow Harbor, the Fourth Avenue Docks, Mount Dora Yacht Club and Boat House Row. South from there is the Lakeside Inn and Elizabeth Evans Park, Mount Dora Boating Center, Lake Dora Villas and Simpson Cove. Drive up First and there’s Gilbert Park, High Point, Park South condos; head further south on Clayton toward the southern limit of Crane Avenue you a lot of fine housing, including Chautauqua Overlooking Mount Dora and the brand new Lake Parc gated community.
Just north of downtown are the iconic landmarks Donnelly House, City Hall and Donnelly Park, site of the annual Light Up Mount Dora. Donnelly Street is a main gateway into the city and where the annual Fourth of July and Christmas parades are conducted.
The oldest parts of the district are also north of downtown, with houses on the west side of Donnelly dating back to the 1880s. There are residential neighborhoods on both sides of Donnelly up to the district’s northern boundary along Limit Avenue and the eastern boundary along Tremain. Along with historic houses there are also snowbird apartments and condos, including the Villa Dora with its commanding view of Lake Dora. There’s the public library, the First Presbyterian Church, Pines View Cemetery and the Glick Synagogue.
East of Lake Gertrude there is the Pincrest Subdivision which includes Overlook, Normandy, Crestview and Hilltop Drives. (On the other side of Lake Gertrude is Sylvan Shores, an area which would be within the Third, but for decades the community has sat in unincorporated Lake County having fought annexation into Mount Dora.)
And there’s more. Drive west on old 441 out of downtown and there is some magnificent housing facing the lake. Head further west and there’s the Triangle Shopping Center with Fat Cats Billiards and Triangle Bingo; next to it is Southern Technical College. Across old 441, there’s the Mount Dora Shopping Center with Olympia Banquets, Mount Dora Pizza & Subs, and Family Dollar. Both shopping centers struggle at the western gateway into the city.
There’s a nook on Lakeshore Drive—just a wee corner—but that world is also in the Third’s portfolio.
The Third continues up old 441 until it forks at CR-19A and heads towards Lake Center Drive. In that area there are upscale apartments at Hammock Oaks and government housing at The Ridge of Mount Dora. Turn down Eudora Road and soon you come to Triangle Elementary, surrounded by modest apartments and housing.
That’s a lot of communities rolled into one district!
For this story, we asked a number of past, present and potential occupants of the Third District chair on city council what is unique about the district and which issues there are important.
Ed Rowlett is the current Third District representative, and though he has the two most recent terms of service for the district, he would not comment for this story.
Jim Yatsuk served from 2010-2012 (He also served a term as at-large and mayor for four terms).
“The District 3 representative needs to support the continued excellent public safety we have come to expect,” he responded in an email. “We also need a well-reasoned fair tree policy that protects the existing good trees we have while encouraging a comprehensive look to the future to produce a diverse well thought out urban forest plan. That plan need to have incentives, not penalties, for citizen buy-in.”
“Downtown vitality is important,” he also wrote, “because District Three wraps around the downtown core. … The improvement of our old infrastructure of roads and sidewalks is high on the list as well as the maintenance of our parks and waterfront. ”
A set of questions were offered to the two candidates currently contending for the seat.
John Tucker declined, writing in an email, “I deeply appreciate the invitation from the Mount Dora Citizen to address and comment on the issues facing our wonder city and the 3rd District. At this early point of the campaign, I am focusing and enjoying the one-on-one contact with the voters of the 3rd District and the merchants. This does not preclude revisiting a similar request from the Mount Dora Citizen at a later date in the campaign.”
Jim Murray did respond at length via email, and those comments follow. Some of them were edited for length.
Jim Murray and his wife Bert have been residents of Mount Dora since 2011. He is an Army veteran and retired from the Miami-Dade police department after 30 years of service.
Asked how he saw the Third District as compared to other districts in Mount Dora, Murray replied, “We have 2,206 registered voters; add in the additional unregistered voters and the District 3 Councilman will be tasked with representing approximately 3,400 residents with salaries ranging from multi-millionaires to the homeless.”
“The other districts have similar issues and also issues specific to their needs and concerns,” he continues, “but this is the only district that has all of the issues combined into one district. We have P.U.D.’s (planned unit developments), gated communities, historical sections, low income areas, high income areas, schools, business districts, light Industry, heavy Industry, tourists: You name it, District 3 has it all.”
Mr. Murray named a number of issues in the downtown shopping district he thought were of vital concern.
“First, we should finish the streetscape project,” he wrote. “I do not like abandoning a project that is almost complete. The citizens have expressed their desire to finish this project with some modifications. It is the responsibility of their representative to address these modifications and/or concerns. When we completed the last phases of the project, parking and trees were in the forefront of those concerns. We (The Council) need to listen to the voice of the citizens and consider everything in the final phases.”
“Second,” he wrote, “we need to address parking. This has been perceived/considered an issue for the past 10 to 15 years—maybe even since the first horseless carriage arrived in Mount Dora. We can’t continue to make light of the issue and keep passing it from council to council!”
“The Renaissance Planning Group just completed the most recent parking study,” he continues, “and on August 3 it was presented to the CRA Advisory Committee. The study offered short, mid and long term solutions. The funny thing is, most of the solutions presented also had been addressed by that committee back in 2012—the angle parking, one way streets, parking garages, better lighting and signage. Yet here we are once again. We must work on solutions. We need less talk and more action.”
“Let’s begin with inexpensive, short-term parking solutions,” he says. “One-way traffic on Baker with no change to current parking; one-way traffic on Third Ave. running westbound changing to angle parking along both sides of the street; and one-way traffic on Alexander northbound to Fifth. Let’s change to angle parking were applicable and make simple modifications such as signage and roadway repainting.”
Murray advocates limiting the length of time people can park downtown. “I suggest a one-year pilot parking program where there is a 3-hour maximum on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Donnelly from 5th to Charles St. and on Fifth from Baker to McDonald. This will open up the area for tourists instead of business owners and employees using these prime locations.”
He also suggests making parking enforcement a part of code enforcement. “The first violation can be a curtesy warning and graduated fines for repeat violators.” The city could hire an additional full time code enforcement officer and split their duties between “Parking Ambassador”‘ (Meter Person) and Code Enforcement. “This would address two needs with one employee.”
Another parking solution he suggested was having the city partner with businesses which are typically closed on the weekends and open their lots up to common parking. “Lake Cardiology could be a prime example of that type of partnership,” he says. “There should be signage stating that parking is available on weekends and after office hours. This may also work with Suntrust Bank, First National Bank CFL management group, Main Street Leasing and Simpson Lots.”
Murray also said parking signage needs to improve. “We have multiple kinds of signs addressing the same issue—blue ‘P’ public parking signs, brown ‘P’ parking signs, and in a variety of shapes. This confuses tourists when the first arrive looking for parking areas. Uniform signs will clarify parking locations.” He also said there needs to be directional signage to public parking locations, such as the Baker Street Lots, the Downtown Garage, and the Alexander Street Lots.
Signage should also be clear about the city’s intentions for parking enforcement. “We should modify signage and towing language on all signs with in Mount Dora both public and private parking lots. This will simplify and clarify enforcement in these locations.”
Trees, building height, empty stores
Murray weighed in on the much-discussed and controversial issue of trees which began with the city’s decision last year to replace a number of dying laurel oaks with palm trees as part of its streetscape project. ” We need a comprehensive, enforceable tree ordinance addressing the ‘tree issue,'” he wrote.
“Let’s start with a complete inventory and inspection of the trees on public land. We need a responsible trimming and or removal process to ensure the safety of our citizens and the health of our trees. If and when trees need to be removed, then a responsible and realistic replacement program needs outline that process. The inventory and inspection needs to begin now rather than later. The microburst storm on July 13th demonstrated the immediate need for this trimming to begin. The money has been allocated and in the current budget, so let’s get moving on this before the election.”
Another controversial downtown issue is building height, and Murray takes a moderate approach. “I think building height restrictions should remain as written,” he wrote.”Chapter 3 of the Land Development Code is specific and needs to be adhered to. If the Planning and Zoning Board is presented with a variance request, it must conform to height restrictions, give or take 5 feet or so. If a responsible plan comes in asking for 37 feet instead of 35 feet, that may be reasonable. But NEVER more than three stories tall without a voter’s referendum on the ballot.”
Addressing the issue of empty real estate downtown, Murray called for a partnership with property owners to assist in filling and updating vacant store fronts. “Mom and Pop businesses may need a little assistance in the beginning,” he wrote. “Solid business plans, coupled with a little rent assistance, may prove beneficial to all concerned.” He pointed out similarities with this idea to what was outlined and discussed at the Grandview Market Study open house in early August. “I think parts of the Grandview Study can be implemented in the Downtown Business and Triangle areas as well,” he says.
What about the waterfront areas south of downtown? There still isn’t a great connect to them for downtown visitors, and the 4-1/2 acre lakefront Pineapple Point property, recently purchased by Gerry Guenther, is now looking at what may be its development opportunity in decades.
“Gerry Guenther is a District 3 resident with a house that enjoys a Lake Gertrude waterfront view,” Murray wrote. “He has been a resident for a very long time, raised his children here and is very committed to maintaining and selectively improving aspects of Mount Dora. I believe he will present have a wonderful, carefully thought-out design for Pineapple Point. Whatever he presents during the design phase, it must fit into Mount Dora, be an asset to Mount Dora and keep the charm of our special place. We will just have to wait and see but again he lives here so I expect great things from this project.”
“I personally would love to see a restaurant with a lake front view and outdoor seating. It could be accessible by boat by car or by foot along a boardwalk stretching from the Fourth Avenue Dock to Evans Park. It may need to be a raised boardwalk due to possible gator issues. In addition to a lakefront restaurant, we could have small shops or offices at the Pineapple Point location. The Lakeside Inn could also extend its pool area concession/bar to the general public. And since Mount Dora owns the land under the shores of Lake Dora (on the eastern side of Lake Dora), It may be possible to put the boardwalk on pilings and not interfere with property rights of those along this shoreline.”
“Pineapple Point is another example how we as a city have fallen asleep at the wheel. Mount Dora could have purchased that property had we been a little more aggressive in negotiations. Then we would be the one handling how Downtown Mount Dora will develop. Instead people are speculating whether he (Gerry) has his own or Mount Dora’s best interest at heart in the development of Pineapple Point.”
“Let me emphatically state that I believe Mr. Guenther will submit a wonderful proposal beneficial to all when the proper time comes. The hard part is what follows. The city needs to work with Mr. Guenther in making the development process a little easier and still conform to the rules. Planning and Development, Planning and Zoning and many other agencies will have the largest impact on this development. Again, let’s work with him to ensure a mutual success.”
Lake County and the city recently came to an agreement to pave Fifth Avenue from Alexander to Tremain. A more complete streetscaping of that street lies somewhere ahead, though council has given mixed signals as to when that project should be undertaken. We asked Murray how and when he’d like to see it accomplished.
“The streetscaping additional phases should be completed as soon as is practical,” he replied. “We had opted to put it on hold for one year to give a break for the downtown merchants. It now has been tabled once again to an unnamed future date. We need to finish what we started, and live up to our commitments to Mount Dora, the CRA and Downtown.”
“Therefore, we need to put this on the agenda during the first quarter of 2017, looking into previously established funding sources such as joint partnerships with Lake County (who owns the roadway), grants and or the issuance of a bond to get this accomplished.”
Property crime has been slowly increasing in Mount Dora. We asked Murray how much of it is an issue in the Third District, and how thought Mount Dora police needs to address it.
“Having spent my entire adult life in Law Enforcement, serving first as a Military Police Officer and then serving 30 years in Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), I understand crime statistics,” Murray wrote. “I even supervised the Criminal Analysis Unit (CAU) at Miami-Dade Intracoastal District, and retired as a Detective Sergeant assigned to Investigation Bureau. So I understand Criminal Statistics and the role they play in combatting crime at a local neighborhood level.”
“How we are perceived will effect tourism, so we need to ensure that statistical data is accurate and specific,” he says. “When we are discussing ‘property crimes’ here in Mount Dora, people need to understand that property crimes are the lowest category of crimes next to traffic offenses.” (Above it are categories like domestic assault, narcotics, assault, robbery, rape and murder.)
“Here in Mount Dora, property crimes as they are reported appear to be on the rise,” he wrote. “But let me give you an example of how those statistics can be misinterpreted. Let’s say you have a couple of 12-year-old kids opening unlocked car doors and taking loose change. Each car is entered as a separate vehicle burglary. So if they opened ten cars along Normandy Drive, you would report ten vehicle burglaries.”
“Now, let’s say a group of thieves breaks into ten separate residences on Normandy Drive. Kicking in your front door or shattering your patio door, they ransacked homes, taking jewelry, TV’s, artwork, stealing thousands of dollars of personal property and creating thousands more dollars in property damage within those houses.”
“But either way, it’s ten burglaries. So you see the problem in reading statistical data? We need a better breakdown of crime reporting so we understand better what’s at stake.”
“Now, to address the original question. As our population grows and our community develops, crime will also grow. The only real way to combat this rise in crime is to increase awareness. There should be increased police presence, both in patrol and investigations. Pawn shop reporting and inspections have also shown to decrease property crimes within the surrounding areas.”
“But most importantly, we as residents need to be more proactive. Watching your neighborhoods for suspicious people is a must. If you see something, say something. Every police department will take anonymous reports and investigate suspected crime activity or suspicious person calls. Our Police Department (MDPD) is doing a great job in balancing everything we ask them to do on a daily basis, so we need to do our part to lock our cars and homes. And when we’re out of town, we need to notify the police department that we’re going to be away for an extended time. Make sure someone, your neighbor, friend or even the police have emergency contact number for you while you are away.
Golden Triangle rejuvenation
The Golden Triangle shopping district on old 441 have languished for years. We asked Murray if he had any ideas for rejuvenation.
“Short term, cosmetically the area needs landscaping and more involved code enforcement,” he wrote. “Let’s capitalize on the ‘broken window theory’ in which property owners are required to clean up, fix and maintain their buildings according to the existing property codes. Let’s eliminate signage that is not code compliant. Let’s clean up graffiti, repair vandalism and enforce loitering and open container laws. Seeing an individual sitting curbside next to a corner store drinking a beer is not good for anyone. Cleaning up and enforcing these issues will create a more inviting safe atmosphere bringing in more customers.”
“Long term,” he continues, “the majority of the property within the Triangle is owned by Moore Properties Corporation and Seton Mt Dora LLC; in order to getting anything accomplished there, you will have to get those two landowners on board with revitalization efforts.”
Murray added, “Southern Technical College is there, and that teaching / education platform may where we should take the next step. We need to train and teach individuals in the trade industry.” Murray said he’d like to see another trade school develop teaching culinary and restaurant services. ” A trade-based Education Center located on the west side of Mount Dora, coupled with academic schools like Lake Sumter, Keiser or the like, could help reduce unemployment and provide an alternative to the more traditional higher education. “In fact, it could be expanded to all the trades (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc.) This is where we could use our Lobbyist to help develop this area looking for funding and grants.”
That area is also the western gateway into the city, and Murray had a few suggestions how it could be improved. “Rebuilding the Intersection of Eudora Rd, Old Highway S.R. 441 and S.R. 19A is in the planning stage with Lake County,” he wrote. “One idea is to turn this intersection into a roundabout. This would decrease accidents and provide a perfect spot for the Gateway to Mount Dora to be built. We should maintain the current theme as we do at the city gateways at the Highland and Donnelly entrances. Landscaping along the road way from the roundabout and partnerships with the two main property owners on the north and south sides of Old S.R. 441 is a must.”
Other Third District neighborhoods
Running along the east side of the district is the Tremain Greenway Trail, a project funded by the Florida Department of Transportation and intended eventually to link up with the 27-mile Wekiva Parkway Trail that will terminate at the Tremain Avenue railroad trestle. Completed in 2014, Murray had a few ideas for improvements. “This bike path / trail needs improved signage and low-level lighting in order to illuminate the bike path from dusk to 11 pm. Keeping the bike path free of debris is also an issue for bike riders. Better and/or new signage needs to be added.”
There’s an added benefit to improvements to the Tremain Greenway Trail. “These enhancements will also provide a better linkage to the NECRA District as it works to improve growth in that area of town. Restaurants like Ivory’s and Sugar Boo’s could be highlights on the signs, and a lunch destination for a shorter bike ride. This was also discussed at the recent Grandview Study. Mount Dora hired a consultant to do a Neighborhood Commercial Market Study on the Grandview Street area.”
Murray praised the new Serenity Park effort which will serve users of the Tremain Greenway Trail and being led by a number of Third District neighbors.
Concerning the Donnelly Street gateway into the city, Murray said, “The drainage issue seems to have been fixed, a permanent, programmable signboard could be installed to take the place of the orange roadway construction sign we currently use. The placement of the sign would aesthetically improve the first impression as you drive into towards the downtown area.”
The heartbeat of Mount Dora
Finally, we asked Mr. Murray if there was anything else he wanted to say about the Third District. “The Third District has been and will always be the heartbeat of Mount Dora,” he wrote. “It is the quaintness that one sees as they first arrive as a tourist, and what they cherish when they move to Mount Dora and become a permanent resident. It is the rolling hills, tree-lined streets, lakes and parks that we see every day. How many times have you seen on social media pictures of our sunsets on Lake Dora, or diners at our restaurants, or of our downtown streets or steam train?”
“Our family is prime example of how most people have come to stay and make Mount Dora their home,” he concluded. “We came for a weekend stay at Heron Cay and by the end of the week we had extended our stay a few more days to look for our final retirement location. We arrived on Friday for a short weekend get-away, never even thinking about moving here. But we left on Tuesday with a contract in hand for our house at 1224 Normandy Drive.
“Second best choice I ever made,” he said, the first, we assume, when he proposed to Bert.
For more information about the two candidates running for the Third District seat, visit their campaign websites:
David Cohea, Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)