How dare you cast the debate over the Sanford Lofts into an issue of “class, race and age discrimination.” If you want to know the real reasons why people are against this project, then put your pre-judgment of us aside, and listen to what we are saying. More importantly, stop calling people like me “elitists” and “racists” while proclaiming that our views are nothing more than a “litany of classist attacks.” These statements show that you, yourself are the racist; not us. I’d like to point out the reality behind why people are against this project, none of which has to do with race or discrimination.
Let’s get some facts out before we continue. The Lofts will be tax-exempt on a prime piece of real estate that would normally generate much-needed tax revenue for the City of Sanford. The developer, Florida SPECS, declares that their retail outlets on the bottom floor will generate sales tax. Sadly, none of that money goes to the city though.
According to the Florida SPECS website, Bob Horian and Sanford’s former mayor, Brady Lessard, are listed as “Partners” under “Developers.” What kind of “Partner” would take a tiny piece of property he purchased during the booming market at only $210,000 and sell it to a nonprofit organization at the near bottom of the low market for $350,000?
There seems to be quite a history between former Mayor Lessard and Mr. Horian. Two major projects, one approved, the other not, were initiated by Mr. Horian under Brady’s watch. Mr. Horian has a stellar history in the City of Sanford. Let’s take his “Riverwalk Condos” for starters, which remained nearly empty for four years and still has no retail business in the ground floor. It wasn’t the economy that killed that project. It was 90 percent sold out right out of the gate under Horian’s ownership. What killed it was poor marketing, his decision to double the price of the condos after people actually placed orders, and the quality of the interior of these condos. The economy spiraled downward AFTER that.
Let’s talk about the other Horian project that nearly laid siege to our Marina Isle. That would be the twin tower “luxury” condos he wanted to build on the location that currently hosts the only hotel in town, Efes Turkish Cuisine Restaurant, the boat launching docks, a doctor’s office and The Rivership Romance. These locations would have been destroyed and taken over by yet another cluster of empty, overpriced buildings. Furthermore, Horian built a few separate buildings on RiverWalk, many of which are still empty.
The government-subsidized condos are intended for low-income senior citizens and slated to have additional retail storefronts on the first floor. Has anyone done a head count on how many existing retail outlets are empty in Sanford; some in older buildings, some in Horian-related buildings? Can someone tell me why this would be any different? Aside from being tax-exempt, perhaps.
Going further, the taxpayers of Sanford have invested interest in city-owned properties close to The Lofts. This includes the parking lot in front of The Lofts’ proposed location and what used to serve as the post office. How will the property values of these taxpayer-owned “investment” properties be affected when the nearest “comps” would include a government-subsidized housing project that isn’t paying taxes or bringing revenue to the City of Sanford?
With the exception perhaps of The Willow Tree Cafe, the downtown stores, bars and restaurants are struggling to keep their doors open while starving for more patrons. We need a plan to bring more people downtown who will spend money at these locations and we need to provide places for them to park. What we don’t need are senior citizens living right downtown who will likely be calling the police because the music is too loud at one of the bars on a weekend or during Alive After 5! I guarantee this will happen on a near-weekly basis.
What fumes me even more about this is that Florida SPECS was offered by the city other locations with larger lots to place their illustrious “Lofts.” They refused! Is the Florida SPECS business model so flawed that the only location for its “success” is in the heart of the Historic District’s business center? I continue to love how people who do not live in District 1, or own a business here, believe they know what’s best for the people who actually do.
Location sole issue with Lofts
“… if some in the City of Sanford and Seminole County have their way, the dream for our elders will die.”
This bit of melodramatic writing came at the end of an opinion piece in Wednesday’s Sanford Herald. The dream talked about was the controversial Sanford Lofts project proposed for downtown Sanford. The issue came up at last Monday’s commission meeting, which was reported in an article, also in Wednesday’s paper.
What happened Monday night, as reported by the paper, is a group of Sanford citizens expecting to discuss the Sanford Lofts project and, apparently, voice their support for it during the citizen participation segment but were denied the opportunity to do so. The city attorney, Lonnie Groot, advised the commissioners not to permit any discussion of the pending project because it is just that—pending.
The Sanford Lofts is a land-use issue and, as such, is presented like a trial. To hear opinions from one side or another before it is officially on the docket would violate legal protocol.
The supporters were stunned, and as expressed by one of their leaders, Robert L. Hillery, they “decried a situation where people are unable to express their opinions on an issue of great community importance.” Cries of foul play and conspiracy arose. I know exactly how Mr. Hillery feels, and I already know all about the legal protocol because, even though I’m one of those opposed to the Sanford Lofts project’s location, the Sanford Historic Preservation Board, of which I am a member, ran into the exact same problem several weeks ago.
We had invited an elected official to a neighborhood association meeting to discuss the Sanford Lofts with him and to voice, in our case, both pro and con opinions (mostly con, to be honest). He accepted, and then Mr. Groot advised him not to meet with us. Well, we too were angry and also thought the powers that be were working against us.
We were particularly incensed because on April 26, 2011, he and two other elected officials from the commission attended a meeting held by the Sanford Lofts developer, Mr. R.T. Hillery. They sat there and listened to his presentation, two of them even spoke. To this day I still have a hard time understanding, with the “legal protocol” in question, why commissioners were not specifically warned against attending the developer’s meeting, like they were warned against attending ours.
Now I’d like to address some of the points raised by the letter writer. She seems to think because Florida SPECS is a minority-controlled company that any opposition to their project must be racially motivated. Well, let me say this: Raising that old canard does more to hurt your credibility among fair-minded people than anything else, plus you’re wrong about that.
I can’t speak for everyone opposed to the project, but my motivation has nothing to do with race. I like to think of myself as having been raised right by my parents. My family knows something about prejudice… on the receiving end. It pales in comparison to what black families have endured, but when my grandfather ran for mayor of Maple Shade, N.J., in the 1930s the KKK came one night, burned a cross on his lawn, shot at his house, and shot and killed his dogs. They so scared my grandmother that they moved; effectively they were run out of town. You see, the KKK didn’t care for Catholics either. I think we’re a close third on their hate list with Jews coming in second.
It’s ironic that the only hint of racist talk has come from some of the supporters of the project at that April 26 developer’s meeting. And it’s doubly ironic that the person singled out was Lou Jobin, a good friend of mine, who happens to be one of the nicest and fairest persons you’ll ever meet. Lou, also, happens to be a card-carrying member of the NAACP since 1955. He doesn’t have a bigoted bone in his body.
About that white former government official who purportedly said “problems were due to skin color,” I have a darn good idea of who he is. Let me say, be careful who you count as a friend. (Ha, I bet he’d like to take over the project.)
The previous letter also expressed that Florida SPECS is somehow being stonewalled, stalled, hindered, and impeded by “the powers that be” (and who have always been). Somehow, looking at the bare facts, this doesn’t ring true at all.
Florida SPECS seems to have a regular who’s who group of “Professional Service Partners,” the likes of Bob Horian, president of Suncor Properties; CPH Engineers; Wells Fargo and, of course, don’t forget Seminole County initially gave them the green light. These people and companies have some clout in Sanford. Having unloaded a small parcel of land for an inflated price during this real estate bust, Mr. Horian is particularly enthusiastic. I don’t understand why Florida SPECS would spend $350,000 for such a small piece of land when they could have bought a much larger piece for less money.
“They have requested to be placed on the commission meeting agenda for months,” another statement that is not entirely true. Because the city Planning & Zoning meeting ended in a deadlock (2-2 tie), it was treated as a denial. It was automatically referred to the commission to be put on their agenda as soon as possible. But Florida SPECS was not ready to present their case on such short notice.
Why weren’t they ready, even though they have been working on this for the past three years, according to the letter’s author? They weren’t ready because they hadn’t done their homework on a few important details, like securing the proper water credits from the St. Johns River Water Management District. Also, because the planned development order was changed so much the project was no longer in compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan or land development regulations. They needed time to get those in compliance, but their planned development order was set to expire in early July. Even though the city was under no legal obligation to do so, they helped Florida SPECS, giving them a six-month extension to get their project in compliance with the rules. That’s called cooperation.
In my last letter to the editor, I made a suggestion that the city should offer a land swap with Florida SPECS. I’ve been told that the city actually did offer a swap, a couple of them. Florida SPECS rejected all of them.
One location was the old police station property, a much bigger piece right on French Avenue. Their objection was it wouldn’t be suitable for their ground-floor retail. I hate to tell them, there’s more retail happening on French Avenue right now than downtown Sanford. Another location was property near the Federal Trust Bank building on 1st Street. Again, not suitable for retail. They rejected each suggestion out of hand. It seems the only suitable location in all of Sanford, in fact in all of Seminole, is that little tiny piece of property across from the library in downtown Sanford.
That has been my and many others’ objection to this project, the LOCATION. This is a totally inappropriate location for Sanford Lofts. It does not fit into the heart of our town’s entertainment, cultural and commercial district. I’ve always said the project is great, and I wish the developers all the success they can grab while they’re helping our seniors realize their dream, but please tell me why that dream can’t be a mere four blocks away? This stubbornness not to strike a compromise seems very suspect as to what their real motives are in building the Sanford Lofts.
One last comment I’d like to make about the Sanford Herald. I think it would be a little more informative and less disingenuous when reporting about stories like these as to the background of the main players. For example, Robert L. Hillery is not just any Sanford resident, he is also related to RT Hillery, the executive director of Florida SPECS. Incidentally, Robert L. Hillery has served as president of Florida SPECS in 2009 and is still directly involved.
In addition, the writer of last week’s letter is also more than a mere Sanford resident, she is related to Andrae Williams, who is president of a company she owns and is currently the secretary of Florida SPECS.
Consequently, the rallies at City Hall meetings and the letter to the editor are not organized or written by just Sanford citizens, but by people heavily invested in the company promoting the Sanford Lofts. I’ve got nothing against them rallying their troops to promote their project; I just think the public should be aware of all their motivations.