Council Watch 

Billy Manes paying attention to local government so you don't have to

There would be dragons – or,rather, talk of an upcoming dragon-boat race in support of breast cancer research that brought with it a slew of T-shirts asking you to “empower your inner dragon” – but most of this week’s dais dalliance was considerably more human. In what is becoming a startling trend, the police department was wheeled out again to talk about how great it is in the face of adversity, honoring a local dad who helped the cops apprehend a serial burglar in late August. He saw “shadowy figures,” apparently.

More poignant, though, was Commissioner Patty Sheehan’s Pride-timed plea for an end to bullying. She recounted the story of a local child who hung himself recently at a park with his day-glo jump-rope after being pushed around at school. It’s happening here, too, and it isn’t necessarily getting better.

Item: The city accepts the Redistricting Advisory Board’s final report and recommended plan for redistricting.

Translation: After a long, hot summer of close-quartered grumble consortiums in which, as they do every 10 years, neighbors and neighborhood associations sweated and stammered over just the right manner in which to say “not in my backyard” without actually sounding unpleasant, the city’s appointed (or, puppeteered) redistricting board has hammered out what it thinks Orlando’s districts ought to look like now. The end result of the board’s work, as expected, sees Commissioner (and 2012 mayoral hopeful) Phil Diamond losing significant surface area from the northeast corner of his District 1, dropping the population of the booming Lake Nona/airport district from 52,531 to a more reasonable 38,325. The rest is a comparably boring study in “Jell-O effects,” with minor border adjustments to even out district populations to about 40,000 while upholding the moneyed desires of interested parties – meaning the Mall at Millenia will stay in Commissioner Sheehan’s District 4 with all of the other nice things. (Commissioner Sam Ings did raise concerns about District 5 losing its black majority). While the county continues to grapple with more pressing issues of race and representation – and Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon vows to throw millions at overturning the Fair Districts legal ruling, the one the public voted for – these minor shifts come off as small municipal potatoes. Except, of course, if you’re Commissioner Diamond. Should this new map be approved in the next month, he won’t even be living in his district anymore. That’s OK. It won’t matter when he’s mayor, right?

Item: The city approves an ordinance amending the planned development zoning for certain real property generally located west of North Rosalind Avenue, east of North Magnolia Avenue, south of East Washington Street and north of Wall Street.

Translation: If you were in need of an example of the city’s big development eyes being decreased to meet the size of its dwindling wallet, look no further than this great deflation of the mixed-use premise. In June 2007, the city approved zoning for this downtown parcel to become a 31-story condo called the Rosalind with retail and office space. Just three months and a shave later, the deal was amended to take it down to 26 floors, with 260 hotel rooms, 67 “dwelling units” and a restaurant, all collectively known as the Cristal. But by the following year, the Cristal lost some of its glimmer, knocking five floors and most of the “dwelling units” away, but, dammit, we’re still going to have a restaurant. Now that nobody is dwelling or eating anymore, the city is signing off on yet another zoning agreement, this one for a meager seven-story hotel with 155 rooms. The Cambria Suites, as it will now be called, will have parking available for 57 cars, “dining space” and a trash room.

Item: The city approves the Dade Avenue agreement with Florida Hospital.

Translation: Further uptown Craig Ustler is being slightly more strategic with his erections. Making a deal with the opposite of the devil (allegedly), the Adventists lording over Florida Hospital, Ustler hopes to develop workforce housing for the expanding hospital’s growing employee base – so, dorms, basically – which is a far cry from his other marquee project-in-waiting, Portlando™ (née the Creative Village). The city is only involved because Ustler, who is totally the city’s boyfriend, has promised to wave the magical wand he shares with Florida Hospital over Dade Avenue to create new sidewalks and landscaping. All the city has to do is turn over a bit of right-of-way it wasn’t even using to aid in the construction project. How romantic!

Item: The city approves a stipulated final judgment between the city and Johnson’s Wrecker Service.

Translation: Not so romantic is the push-and-pull that’s been going on between a certain tow-truck company and the city. In order to move forward with its laboriously long improvement project for Narcoossee Road near the Beachline, the city “acquired” a right-of-way and a utility easement belonging to Johnson’s in 2007. Spotting an opportunity, Johnson’s soured on the deal, forcing it into mediation. Johnson’s estimates its losses at around $1.5 million. Ever the spendthrift (cough), the city appraised the parcels at about a quarter of that, $417,525. With the argument now settled, the city will pay $835,000 for the parcels, $175,196 in attorneys’ fees and $125,000 in experts’ fees. The city already tucked away $214,215 for the deal, so now it just needs to kite a check for $920,981.30 to clean up this wreck and sober up.

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