Winter Park sued by homeowners claiming public notice about neighbor’s construction was misleading

Lisa Maria Garza, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read

A Winter Park couple is suing the city, alleging they were misled in a public notice about the scope of construction on their neighbor’s property that was approved under an exception to zoning rules.

Matthew and Sandra McKeever said in Orange County court documents that the city’s notice mentioned their neighbor’s intent to have their house designated a historic landmark and characterized the construction proposal of a one-story, 288 square foot shed as a “rebuild.”

The requests by Ernesto Brovelli and Celeste Wojtalewicz were unanimously approved by the city’s historic preservation board on January 13.

But the McKeever’s lawyers argue in the complaint that the city didn’t specify the size of the shed would increase by more than 40% and the roof would be about 50% larger, causing it to encroach near the McKeever’s property and possibly drain water on their side.

The structure’s use is also changing from a storage shed for yard equipment to a living space that includes windows facing the McKeever’s home, the complaint said.

The McKeevers said in court documents that they asked Brovelli and Wojtalewicz to stop construction, but the couple refused.

In a response filed in court, Brovelli and Wojtalewicz said they didn’t do anything wrong.

“We followed exactly what the City of Winter Park told us to do,” the response said, referencing their application.

The McKeevers are asking an Orange County judge to require the city to issue a stop-work order, send another notice about their neighbor’s construction request with more details and for the new building to either be removed or reduced to the same size as the old one.

Winter Park’s attorney Daniel Langley denied the allegation in a report to city commissioners on Wednesday and said the couple had opportunities to obtain more information about the plans.

“We don’t believe the [McKeevers] have standing because they failed to appear at the board meeting,” Langley said. “There was an agenda packet posted a week before the meeting with detailed drawings of the construction that they’re having issues with.”

In the agenda for the January 13 meeting, city staff recommended that the board approve the request for the historical designation and the construction variance.

“One goal of our historic preservation designations is the preservation of authentic architectural styles built in the past that portray the architectural heritage of the City. A second goal is to maintain the historic scale and character of our neighborhoods,” staff wrote in the agenda. “This application accomplishes both goals.”

The city has touted historic designations as a “win-win” for both parties with notable architecture preserved.

Owners benefit from the preservation and enhancement of their home with “reasonable” changes that don’t negatively affect the adjacent owners, the city has said.

But the McKeevers aren’t happy with the situation, according to court documents. They said the significant changes weren’t obvious until after the 15-day appeal period expired and construction began.