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Casselberry Commissioner Aramendia Aims To Preserve City, While Helping It Grow

anthony aramendia, city of casselberry, casselberry florida, casselberry seminole county, seminole county news, news seminole county, seminole county post, michael casteel menendez,

With sights set on making Casselberry a benchmark community, Commissioner Anthony Aramendia gives insight on what makes his city the place to live.


By Michael Casteel Menendez


Recently, I was given the opportunity to talk to City of Casselberry Commissioner Aramendia at their City Hall, home to the second largest one in Seminole County, behind Sanford’s. Many younger families come to Casselberry, with many of the houses in Casselberry made out of concrete block, other areas in Seminole County usually built of wood frame.


Walking throughout City Hall, there are many paintings adorning the hallways, mainly because the city has a strong dedication towards the arts. Aramendia himself is part of some of these programs. “I also serve as a board member for the Seminole Cultural Arts Council, which is a non-for-profit organization of people that take dedicated money from the "state-of-the-art" vanity plate and allocate that towards granting them numerous cultural and performance arts venues throughout the county,” explained Aramendia.


“Having that relationship with The Seminole Cultural Arts Council allows us to be able to help with many different events in our parks, thanks to their grants.”


The first piece of art Aramendia showed me, lining the outside wall of City Hall, was imported from the Wachovia Bank that was torn down due to the 17-92 flyover. Because it was art related, they reached out to City of Casselberry and asked if they could salvage the artwork. Since it was a well-known artist, they decided to find a home for it. They were able to raise the funds by doing events to be able to pay a new artist to come and restore it.


“You’ll see much artwork within City Hall and throughout the park itself,” said Aramendia. Next, he showed me to the Public Works Building, which functioned previously as both City Hall and the City Police Dept. The location was decorated with both natural (including diseased trees that were turned into art) and manmade artwork, and is the focal point of the community in the downtown and Lake Concord Center.


The location is host to numerous events throughout the year, including their food truck events on the first Friday of each month. The City Center project is across 18 acres that is a private and public partnership that consists of 200 luxury apartments with three commercial restaurants with plans to add 7 additional acres of park.


Walking around the park, one can see diagrams that discuss how it was designed to be an environmentally friendly park, and how they went about handling certain aspects of how the park was designed, more specifically with storm runoff, detailing some of the baffle boxes implemented to gather water from the parking lots and streets and filter it before it is returned for usage to the park.


Throughout the years, City Hall has started hosting more and more events including numerous Jazz festivals, amazingly being able to fit all the people (at some points one concert with Arturo Sandoval had over 10,000 people) in the park due to their close relationship with business next door that allowed them to use their parking spaces. City Hall and its park look out onto Lake Concord, essentially the main lake around the area (coined the 17-92 corridor). Visually, the 17-92 road the runs through the western edge Casselberry and looks much better than what you will see in other communities due to the fact that it is a part of a CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency), meaning that tax money which is collected from properties in a defined district and must be reinvested within that district to upgrade it, according to Aramendia.


“The money continues to be re-invested,” he continues, “with a color palette that needs to be adhered to as well. There are restrictions: you cannot have any gas stations- although if you do see some they are grandfathered in- and the cities are able to structure the CRAs to benefit the business owners within that area.”


Right in front of Lake Concord stands the amphitheater where the city and vendors set up for events. Eventually, a sidewalk will be implemented into the neighborhood, allowing for people to walk through the commercial area with more sculptures throughout. Much of the artwork is loaned and some of it is bought thanks to donations from Friends of the Park, which Aramendia is Vice President of. Casselberry is in its eighth year of Tree City U.S.A., something Aramendia pushed for as a citizen because nobody in Seminole County had a strong commitment for trees.


Throughout the next ten years, the City of Casselberry will be planting oak trees throughout all the street right of ways, being in their fourth year. Within the same development is the Casselberry art house, which was started as a volunteer effort. Previously functioning as a home but needing help, through connecting with many artists, communities, and raising funds (with Home Depot being a major player) - it was turned into a public museum. The art house hosts many exhibits on a monthly basis depending on that month’s theme. Also, they hosts classes for kids and artists. Furthermore, the city has bought more houses in the hopes of expanding the park to continue their focus on the arts.


“I saw this city as a diamond in the rough, and it has to be polished,” said Aramendia. “There wasn’t a lot of attention to detail. The neighborhoods had a lot of potential because they have very well built homes, but they needed to be enhanced and to take advantage of the location that it has around a chain of lakes. We have the second busiest intersection in Central Florida, 17-92 and 436, where they are currently building the flyover, with it included an intense landscaping package."


City Hall and its park is actually located in the neighborhoods surrounding it, making it a walking distance from the residents. Hibbard Casselberry, the founder of the city, was heavily focused on agriculture, and at one time the Fern Capital of the World, something that has stuck through years later. He designed the community to be a little bit of everything to everyone, with all housing types. Many people have started buying homes and adding additions and remodeling them adding value to the properties, usually with far more land than size of homes on said land sizes. Driving through the neighborhoods I was shown Middle Lake Triplet, which is part of the five lake chain that runs through Casselberry.


Not many homes are located on the lakes, which allows them to remain in pristine condition. The city has worked to maintain the quality of the water. Even though they are not deep, they are a great place to go canoeing (which can be rented). Aramendia then took me to Secret Lake Park, special because it is located between three of the lakes (Secret Lake, Middle Lake Triplet, and North Triplet Lake). Most of Casselberry’s construction occurred during the late 60s, 70s, and 80s. Their water and utility system, which is paid for, is what makes the city strong. A common joke is that the utility company owns the city, because of the money that is made from not only providing services to the residents, but also to a large population outside the city limits.


Names of the streets throughout the city were thoughtfully planned out by Hibbard Casselberry, wanting to attract people nationwide. Therefore, a marketing firm was hired that suggested implementing “glitzy” names to many of the streets (given The Golden Age Era), such as Crystal Bowl and Queens Mirror. Recently, Casselberry purchased a golf course due to the fact that residents were upset to find out that the (now previous) owner of the golf course wanted to build houses on the land. Listening to their concerns,the City Commission came together to purchase the golf course and protect the residents from any type of construction. Renovations are planned for the course in the next few years. During a drive through the neighborhoods, highlighting the embodiment of what Casselberry incorporates into their community, we stopped by the Casselberry Mansion. What’s special about the mansion is that it was designed by James Gamble Rogers, a notable architect from Winter Park and a very good friend of Hibbard Casselberry.


Hibbard Casselberry wanted to build a southern plantation for his wife Martha, so he did in 1948. The house alone is seven thousand square feet with the land equating to ten acres. Aramendia would love to preserve the property and the city has had conversations with Hibbard’s son, John (who currently lives on the property), as a possible location for light events (such as weddings), but to no prevail. Both the middle/elementary school (South Seminole Middle High) and elementary school (Casselberry Elementary) share the same community and are located in the heart of the city, making it a very easy and safe walk from the campuses for residents. Casselberry also houses a very integrative trail system and is still expanding on it, cutting through many of the neighborhoods and connecting to the schools, commercial areas, and back to the residential areas. In one of the neighborhoods, there is artwork on the asphalt of an intersection in hopes of slowing down traffic.


While brick could have been laid down, City Commission thought it be better to have artwork laid out, something that people could stop and appreciate instead of speeding through the intersection. Also, it provides a much more affordable task then laying new brick down, only needing a paint touch up every so often. Casselberry is also home to Earth Fest, which is Seminole County’s largest Earth Day Event (which Aramendia is chairman for). Aramendia’s main focus is making sure that he has an area that families want to move into, with an importance to reinvest and be stockholders in their community. “Anyone can build a house, but I believe it is up to us to build a community,” he says.


“We are very connected to our citizens and we care about their concerns.”


Aramendia and the commission wants to make sure the communities have quality restaurants, with the architecture and tree canopy being a main focus (even the Wawa in the community has sculptures that resemble the ones located at City Hall and is located next to a lake). The Wal-Mart in the area was specifically surrounded with trees, almost making it look as though it wasn’t there (and that’s exactly what they want).


This is what separates the city and county, with city holding a much higher standard. Casselberry was actually one of the first cities to have a no panhandling ordinance for citizens safety. When talking with Anthony, there is definitely an insight that was not there previously, realizing the major differences in standards between the city and county, almost as if a line in the road had been drawn from what each faction expects. With more projects on their horizons, Casselberry has more big plans (including their local police station).


Michael Casteel Menednez is a journalism student at the University of Central Florida.