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Sun 'N Lake reviews strategic plan to promote, fix self

SEBRING — Sun ‘N Lake of Sebring has many strengths, according to the special improvement district’s newest strategic plan.

The district has a good golf course, affordable lots and assessments, and is centrally located to attractions in the county and around Florida. However, that same plan said District officials need to fix aging infrastructure and improve relationships between supervisors and District employees as well as between golf club members and visitors.

The plan, discussed briefly last week at the Sun ‘N Lake Board of Supervisors meeting, states that Sun ‘N Lake has stable and strong finances, excellent golf courses and a progressive community with regard to recreation and development. It’s location and nine-District healthcare providers make it attractive to retirees. It also boasts two well-respected schools, primary and secondary.

Weaknesses, however, include aging infrastructure, everything from the water and sewer plants, the lift stations and the pipes to roads, culverts, drainage and recreational facilities, considered too small to support community growth. Deferred maintenance on the infrastructure has only made the situation worse, giving people a perception of unprofessional or unknowledgeable staff and repetitive utility issues and malfunctions. The district needs a total water meter system replacement, and is in danger of exceeding its state water regulation allotment for water usage on the golf courses.

Sun ‘N Lake also has a public perception of being a difficult place for businesses to set up inside the district, whether on U.S. 27 or Sun ‘N Lake Boulevard. The plan notes that supervisors need a better working relationship with employees while golf club members and outside players often are at odds.

Some things the plan notes that could become problems in the future include operating and maintenance costs, environmental and liability issues and lack of planning. Replacing infrastructure and recreation facilities could endanger the financial health of the district, the plan states. Supervisors on Friday discussed whether or not to spend approximately $10,000 to see if they can qualify for $5 million or more through a Florida State Revolving Fund loan. It could fix infrastructure issues in short order, but would also obligate the district to years of payments.

Right now, the district doesn’t own any of the vacant lots currently up for sale or being sold to pay overdue assessments. Highlands County owns those. Some lots have bond financing from Phave V and/or Fifth Third Bank, making them unsellable, the plan said.

The way the golf course driving range is set up, people could get hurt and property could get damaged by wayward hits, the plan states. Its Deer Run course has a potential irrigation failure and aging water oak trees, and the irrigation loop on Turtle Run needs to be automated.

In addition, there is no clear plan of succession for those in office.

The long-term state financing is also seen as an opportunity to get infrastructure sorted out. State grants might help reduce the debt burden, and the district has a possibility of setting up a partnership for the fitness center. If the district incorporates recreation fees into assessments, all residents could then use the facility.

The district is also looking at ways to market the district and its amenities through a marketing agency.

Finally, Unit 12 is set to develop. Ramsidtor Properties Inc., of which Raymond Hornick is a principal, bought the majority of the 1,534 lots in the area between Tanglewood and Ortega Boulevard last year. If fully developed, it could bring in that many more families.

What's up with the former Wachovia building?

Representatives from the art and cultural community recently met outside the old Wachovia Bank building on Ridgewood in downtown Sebring to take a look inside and imagine possibilities for its future.

The futuristic looking curved building was built in 1973 and has been vacant about 10 years. It was purchased by the CRA in 2019.

Those who participated included parties from the Heartland Cultural Alliance (HCA), Highlands Art League (HAL), Highlands Lakeside Theatre (HLT) as well as some of our local artists.

“The building has been vacant for a long time,” said CRA Chairman David Leidel. “We’re trying to determine what its next use will be.

“The two most popular thoughts at this time are moving the City Hall here or making the site a green space park to enhance the downtown area.”

Those attending were looking at other options, including a possible art and cultural center, which would be a big part of a shared vision making Highlands County an art and culture destination for residents and tourists.

“All three floors inside are of similar size,” added Leidel. “The third floor is partially unfinished. The big issues are the restrooms, elevators, air conditioners and mold in the stairwells. The approximate cost to get it up to code would be $1-1.2 million.”

The inside of the building looked to be in better shape than expected. The attendees were only allowed on the first floor as the elevators are not working and the stairwells have mold.

There may be a Request for Solicitation which would open the door for proposals. If there is interest, and the party has the necessary funds, a selection would be made by the CRA. They want to determine if it is a good fit.

“If we know what the options are, we can put together a plan. We need to know how to move forward,” said Gloria Peters, HAL president.

A vision, that is an option, would be to make the Wachovia building into a destination where art and culture of all genres’ would be showcased. Art is not just painting and drawing but also includes music, writing, culinary arts, crafts, woodworking and much more.

“HCA, as the countywide local art agency, is the umbrella organization for all art and culture,” said Gaylin Thomas, HCA president. “The Peter Powell Roberts Museum will stay in its current location in Avon Park, but we want to help out in any way we can. We can be a resource.”

The issue at hand is where do the funds come from to make this happen?

Another building being discussed for changes is the Antique Mall building on the diamond-shaped lot at the corner of Ridgewood and Franklin. The building is also referred to as the BOA building or the old Barnett building, depending on how long someone has lived in Sebring.

The Waterfront meeting last week prompted some discussion such as possibly HAL, the Historical Society and the Hall of Fame Museum (Sebring International Raceway memorabilia) being on the first floor and the Civic Center moving to the second floor.

The Hall of Fame owns a building at the racetrack, but this would be a more accessible location to display all the racing memorabilia they have collected over the years. HAL still has a 10-year lease in their current location on the waterfront.

It was encouraging to see such a large group of interested parties involved in discussion surrounding the Wachovia building.

“We’d really like to have a decision on whether the building will be used or if it will become a green space park by the end of this year,” said Leidel. “If it becomes a park, maybe a band shell could be added for concerts.”

Sebring Council to consider street drainage project

SEBRING — The Sebring City Council will consider approving work to alleviate drainage issues on Lakeside Road and Highland Road, off Lakeview Drive in the area of Veterans Beach.

The agenda item for today’s 5:30 p.m. council meeting states on Lakeside Road and Highland Road staff has faced continual drainage issues related to the lack of an adequate drainage system.

Residents on Lakeside Road have expressed concerns about the amount of storm water that flows across their properties and, in some cases, remains create a mosquito nuisance. Additionally, staff has identified a collapsed pipe beneath one resident’s front swale.

Staff received a quote for installation of an improved drainage system from Excavation Point at a cost of $43,097.48.

Also, the City Council will consider a proposed ordinance requiring a boundary survey as a condition to obtaining a fence or wall permit.

The agenda notes that on June 24 the City Council held a workshop to discuss wetlands, floodplain and the conservation zoning map overlay of Lakeview Drive. At the meeting, Council instructed staff to draft an ordinance requiring a boundary survey as a condition to obtaining a fence or wall permit.

If the ordinance is passed on its first reading, the second and final reading would be on July 20.

The City Council will consider the second and final reading of an ordinance amending the metal building design and appearance standards.

The amendment provides different levels of treatment based on the location of the building within the city, the CRA and also the zoning districts especially C-1 outside of the CRA.

Within the core of the CRA metal buildings would have to be completely covered as currently required. Outside of the Core CRA, the outside of metal buildings have to be covered if they have frontage on main roads and pedestrian ways.

Also, five properties have been condemned for demolition: 4703 Fourth Street, 4707 First Street, 4711 Third Street, 1704 Wolf Drive and 2013 Orange Blossom Avenue.

Lawsuit filed to stop online sports betting in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The first lawsuit to challenge the legality of the sports betting provision in the 2021 Gaming Compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe was filed on Friday. The lawsuit was filed by West Flagler Associates (Magic City Casino) and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation (Bonita Springs Poker Room) in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.

The lawsuit names Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Julie Brown, as defendants. According to gaming law and sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach, Secretary of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will be added to the lawsuit if the compact is approved or the Bureau of Indian Affairs takes no action in the 45 days it has to disallow the compact, which essentially lets the compact pass.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the online betting provision, which would allow sports bettors anywhere in the state to place a wager, not just those on Tribal grounds. The 2021 Compact states it considers wagers placed through servers located on Tribal property as being made on Tribal property, which U.S. courts have disagreed with in the past.

“’Deeming’ the bet to have been placed on Indian lands because the servers are located there contradicts decades of well-established precedent interpreting applicable federal law,” the lawsuit reads. “Contrary to the legal fiction created by the 2021 Compact and Implementing Law, a bet is placed both where the bettor and the casino are each located.”

The lawsuit states the compact violates the Wire Act of 1961, the Unlawful Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006 and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, stating “the 2021 Compact is unauthorized under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because they purport to allow bettors to place bets on sporting events from outside the Tribe’s six (6) reservations, although the bettors are not on ‘Indian land’ as defined in the IGRA.”

The State of Florida has previously argued that a bet must be placed on Tribal lands for it to constitute as falling under the scope of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In an amicus brief filed in the 9th Circuit appeal in Couer d’Alene Tribe v. AT&T, the state wrote, “The ‘on Indian lands’ requirement of IGRA clearly mandates that any Indian gaming activity, including a consumer’s play or participation in the game, physically take place on tribal land. The existence of a phone bank and centralized computer system on the Couer d’Alene reservation does not change the uncontested fact that the person making the wager is located outside of Idaho, and clearly not on the Couer d’Alene reservation. As a consequence, because the wager is placed off the reservation, the gaming activity is not conducted ‘on Indian lands’ as plainly required by IGRA.”

One of the clauses in the 2021 Compact is a pledge from Gov. DeSantis to try and help the Seminole Tribe have the compact passed by the Department of the Interior and the lawsuit seeks to prevent him from “cooperating with the Tribe to secure approval of the 2021 Compact in its current form.”

Wallach said the filing of the lawsuit is just the first step, as it is not “self-executing,” and said plaintiffs may seek judicial intervention in the form of a restraining order or injunction as soon as this week.