On Thursday, June 25, an unknown number of Winter Park residents received an email criticizing the status of the controversial Orange Avenue Overlay project. The message, which contained the City of Winter Park seal and lacked any identifying information of the true sender, initially appeared to come from the City. However, it was soon revealed that the message, titled “Winter Park. Winter Garden. A Tale of Two Winters” was not composed or approved by the City.
Demetree Global, a real estate firm that stands to benefit significantly from development of the Orange Avenue corridor, is the email’s originator. The message did not contain the company’s name or physical address, but it did feature a post office box and referred to ‘Orange Avenue Overlay’ as the entity name. A search of Florida corporate records on Sunbiz.org shows no record of an entity with that name. The originating domain name of the sender’s message, orangeavenueoverlay.com, is a private registration, a feature commonly purchased when a domain name owner does not wish to reveal its identity.
The City of Winter Park’s director of communications, Clarissa Howard, provided email correspondence from Michelle Heatherly, director of operations for Demetree Global, stating, “It appears it was an honest mistake from a lower level employee. Our senior leadership team did not see it, nor approve.” Michelle Heatherly did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The company sent a follow up email to the recipient list on Tuesday, June 30 after adding a disclaimer that the City had not authorized the original message and removing the City’s seal after City attorney, Kurt Ardaman, requested they do so.
The email criticized the repeal of the overlay, referencing an upcoming ordinance to place a moratorium on development of the area for the time being. The company cited Winter Garden, an Orange County city similar in size and history to Winter Park, as a comparable example.
The message characterized one of Winter Garden’s major corridors, Dillard Street, as becoming an unsafe road and an eyesore that was preventing its’ popular downtown district, Plant Street, similar to Winter Park’s Park Avenue, from becoming even more successful. The City of Winter Garden began the Dillard Street Reconstruction Project in January 2020 and is expecting to complete it one year from the start date and result in “an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in private development over the course of the next two decades.” The project “will cost $19 million in taxpayer money” according to Demetree Global’s email.
Demetree Global stated that the overlay project in Winter Park differs from Winter Garden’s in that developers are offering to provide community improvements with private funding as opposed to taxpayer dollars, yet “are being rejected.” The firm blamed the recently elected city commission for the plan’s failure after three years of discussion and forethought surrounding the project.
With the Orange Avenue Overlay development moratorium on the agenda for the upcoming July 7 City of Winter Park Planning & Zoning Board meeting and the July 8 City Commission meeting, the real estate company urged Winter Park residents to email the city’s mayor and commissioners and/or attend the public meeting on July 7.