Seminole officials agree to meet behind closed doors
Seminole commissioners agreed Tuesday to meet behind closed doors later this month to discuss whether to reject a proposal by developer Chris Dorworth to swap a popular county-owned wilderness area for the larger River Cross property as a way of settling his federal lawsuit against the county.
Commissioner Lee Constantine said he wanted to hold the closed-door meeting after the county received thousands of emails from irate residents from around the state blasting the board for agreeing in January to consider trading away the county’s 240-acre Econ River Wilderness Area for the 669-acre Hi-Oaks Ranch property.
Commissioners, at the time, said they wanted to at least look at any development plans Dorworth had in mind for the county land, and then decide whether it was worth moving forward with the trade to settle his lawsuit.
“Three months ago, we made a decision to look at the possibility of the swap, and since that time we received more than 6,000 emails in opposition,” said Constantine, who proposed the meeting. “It was always our understanding that we have the right to get out of this [proposed trade] at any time, for any reason.”
Dorworth filed his lawsuit against the county in late 2018 after commissioners unanimously turned his River Cross development project that called for hundreds of homes, townhomes and apartments on the Hi-Oaks Ranch property that sits east of the Econlockhatchee River and within Seminole’s protected rural boundary.
Dorworth then made the offer for a swap as a way of settling the federal lawsuit.
According to his proposal, he’d submit plans for a development on the county property, east of Old Lockwood Road and north McCulloch Road. If the plans were approved, the county receives the larger property and Dorworth gets the smaller land for his development.
In March, Dorworth submitted to the county a master development plan for the wilderness area as part of a rezoning and land use change request.
Those plans show a community filled with up to 328 single-family homes, 287 townhouses, 955 apartments, 945 university dormitories for the University of Central Florida campus, and a hotel. It also includes up to 620,000 square feet of office and commercial space.
The county’s planning and zoning commission is scheduled to issue a recommendation in June, and county commissioners are scheduled to vote on the project in July.
Dorworth called it a good deal for the county because Seminole would walk away with nearly three times more land along the environmentally sensitive river. Seminole could then turn the larger Hi-Oaks Ranch property into a public wilderness area.
He said his proposed development just west of the river would be a vibrant community near a fast-growing area anchored by the university.
Commissioner Brenda Carey said she would agree to a closed-door meeting now scheduled for April 28, but asked why commissioners won’t wait until they vote on the project in the coming months.
“We’ll have an opportunity to vote it up or down at that point,” she said.
Commissioners are allowed under Florida law to hold closed-door meetings when the discussion involves pending litigation, such as a federal lawsuit. However, any decisions would have to be made at a public meeting.
Therefore, if commissioners decide in the closed-door meeting to no longer consider the proposed land trade, they will have to take a vote at a public hearing.