When nonstop dump-truck traffic overwhelmed her tranquil community, Maritza Saint-Hilaire didn't get mad. She organized her neighbors to get the trucks off the road.
You hear them long before you see them: the dump trucks rumbling down Marsh Road, a two-lane residential thruway dotted with roundabouts that serves three new communities before Marsh crosses Avalon Road and becomes Stoneybrook Parkway.
The dump trucks start rolling at 4 A.M., say residents who live in these communities — Waterside, Twin Waters, Sanctuary at Twin Waters — and they go all day, both directions, sometimes long convoys of them, till about 5 P.M. (When I was out on a recent chilly Friday at 6:30 in the morning, I counted 40 trucks within 45 minutes.) The only days there are no trucks on the road are Sundays and rainy days.
Never have so many wished for lousy weather.
“This is horrible. I’m miserable. I can’t sleep. I wake up every morning at 4 A.M. I can’t be productive at work.”
That’s Emma Paquin,* 28. She works remotely in financial services for NerdWallet. She and her fiancé came down from New York City to stay with her parents in Windermere in March, back when everyone thought quarantining would only last three weeks. They’d planned to get married last summer and then move to Florida. As with so many things, Covid-19 upended that schedule. Emma and her fiancé pushed their wedding to next summer and instead built a house in Sanctuary at Twin Waters.
“I remember waking up the first day and telling my fiancé, ‘You hear the trucks a lot.’ It felt annoying, but I thought Oh, it’s just this week. You don’t know it’s going to be every day for the rest of your life,” she says.
For now everything house-related is on hold. They haven’t bought furniture — they’re not even sleeping in the master suite with its lake view. Too many windows where noise comes in. Plans to put in a pool are paused. “I don’t know if I want to invest in this house,” says Paquin. “A lot of people are considering selling because of the dump trucks. And then on Sundays, you witness the beauty of this neighborhood when everything is quiet, and you’re like this is what it should be. It’s normal that there should be traffic. But my walls shouldn’t be vibrating.”
The dump trucks are hauling for Titan America, a company with offices all over the East Coast, that specializes in concrete and its components. The trucks barreling down western Marsh Road, shaking Paquin’s house to its foundation and tearing up the street, are coming from Center Sand, Titan America’s sand mine about eight miles up the road over the county line in Clermont. The sand mine has been there since there was nothing out there but orange groves, and Marsh Road was a straight shot from the mine to construction points east.
Only now Marsh Road is clogged with roundabouts, designed to slow down traffic. And instead of rows upon rows of citrus trees, there are neighborhoods filled with families, empty-nesters, young couples with Labradors. These folks have paid exorbitant amounts of money for four-, five- and six-bedroom homes, with lakefront views, balcony lanais, invisible edge pools. And they are not happy. Especially not since word on the shredded asphalt is that Titan America just signed a 50-year lease.
Denise and her husband, moved into their home, which backed up to the first roundabout in Waterside, in August. Within six months, they’d sold their house and moved. (Denise doesn’t want to use her last name because the dump trucks potential to impact home values has become a sensitive issue within the community. )
“We weren’t even there full-time and it was horrible. The house literally shook. We couldn’t even sit on our back porch,” says the 68-year-old retiree. “Not only could we hear and feel the trucks, but we could see them going by because they’re so tall. I don’t want to see dump trucks going by every minute. I felt like I lived in Queens. It was ridiculous. And it’s worse at a roundabout because the trucks have to brake and then they have to speed up again, and that’s more noise.”
It was her husband who convinced her they had to relocate. He has stage-4 cancer. “He said, ‘I don’t want my final years or whatever I have left to be like this. I said, ‘We’re going to move then.’ And that’s what we did.”
They didn’t move far. Just across Marsh Road in Sanctuary at Twin Waters. But this time, savvier about the road noise, they bought a home deep within the community. On occasion, though, they can still hear the trucks. “But it’s nothing like on Marsh Road,’ Denise says.
Complaints about reckless, lead-footed truck drivers are not new. People have been venting their ire in Winter Garden Facebook groups since at least 2016:
January 20, 2016: Rant: The amount of dump trucks running red lights in Winter Garden! the other day two ran a red light from different directions — thankfully car in front of me did not go! Saw it again today! Be careful at lights!
October 9, 2018: Is there anyone to contact about the horrible driving of the dump trucks on Stoneybrook Pkwy/Marsh Rd? There was a dump truck going 60 mph down that road today where the speed limit is 35 mph (near WOE [Whispering Oaks Elementary) with two other dump trucks not far behind him (so probably doing 50ish. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen them excessively speeding.
September 5, 2019: Winter Garden police needs to be on Stoneybrook west pkwy from the school to Avalon. Dump trucks hauling a$$ and cutting people off to get back in the straight lan to go on Hartwood Marsh. Very dangerous. 4 of them in a row. One cut us off and then he let the other 3 in front. Something needs to be done.
January 9, 2020: CONSTRUCTION DUMP TRUCKS DRIVING AGGRESSIVELY: I’ve noticed that Marsh Road and Stoneybrook West Parkway seem to have a lot of construction dump trucks driving recklessly (e.g. speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating). Has anyone else noticed this? And yes, I will call the Winter Garden Police Department non-emergency line.
Things came to a head on one day around Christmas 2020 when the Sanctuary Twin Waters Facebook group just blew up with resident rants.
“I woke up like WHAT THE HELL?!” Paquin remembers. “The noise was way worse than it had ever been. And it turned out, it wasn’t just me. So many people in our Facebook group were like ‘We need to find a solution to this. This is absolutely insane.’”
Enter Maritza Saint-Hilaire.
Blonde, magnetic and full of energy, Saint-Hilarie moved from Ocoee to build her home in Sanctuary at Twin Waters in August.
“It’s been a crazy six months. I have just been obsessing over this,” the 44-year-old realtor says when I reach her on the phone one evening.
She has the same story as so many of her neighbors: While her home was under construction, she checked on its progress in the evenings and on the weekends when the neighborhood was quiet; builder m/i Homes never mentioned the heavy truck traffic on Marsh Road; and she got gobsmacked by the incessant truck noise.
“It was one after the other after other after other. I was like Where are they coming from? That’s where my digging started.”
Her first call was to Titan America’s Center Sand mine where Saint-Hilarie says she spoke with the plant manager. ‘He told me that a lot of the traffic was going for the I-4 expansion. I tried to tell him it was a huge disturbance, that I back up to Marsh and that the noise is terrible. Basically he was like, I feel ya, but it is what it is.”
Titan America did not respond to multiple calls and emails for comment.
"Traffic is normal. But my walls shouldn't be vibrating." – Emma Paquin on the dump truck traffic in front of her home in Sanctuary at Twin Waters
Saint-Hilaire posted about her experience on Sanctuary’s Facebook group, and then she started hearing from other neighbors who were just as frustrated and angry as she was. She connected with Denise, who’d sold her house after six months. And Emma. And an another neighbor who’d been researching noise insulation — very expensive.
Meanwhile Saint-Hilarie was pitching an argument about noise ordinance violations to officials in Orange County and the city of Winter Garden. Paquin had set up video monitoring on her front porch, recording passing dump trucks registering 80 to 100 decibels, the equivalent of a jet engine. The maximum level permitted by Winter Garden's noise ordinance is 75 decibels.
Orange County had no jurisdiction because Marsh Road is city-owned. And the word from Winter Garden was that nothing could be done. “They said they can’t keep the trucks off the road and the noise ordinance doesn’t apply to the trucks," Saint-Hilaire says. "I was like HOW? It’s so unfair to us residents. There has to be a solution. I felt like I just kept getting the door closed.”
But Saint-Hilaire doesn't know how to quit. She's indefatigable. It’s the same quality that drove her to sell $8.95 million in real estate after the economy cratered. “The only way was to make more noise," she says. "I needed other communities and more involvement. There’s strength in numbers.”
She learned there was to be a city commission meeting on January 14. “I thought, This is our time!”
Saint-Hilaire made flyers on canary yellow paper, titled "Protect Your Home Values," urging residents to show up to the city commission meeting en masse and tell the mayor, the commissioners and the city manager exactly how the dump trucks were disrupting life in their communities on Marsh Road. She stuck dump-truck stickers on them, then walked the neighborhoods of Waterside, Twin Waters and Sanctuary at Twin Waters, tucking a flyer into every mailbox of every home that backed up to Marsh Road. “Some people were home, and I was able to speak with them. They all felt the same way and they just never knew what to do.”
The night of the city commission meeting, about 20 residents representing all three communities fill the City Hall Chambers. During the public comments portion when any member of the public may share a concern with the commission, resident after resident comes up to the mic. Even more call in from home to share their experiences.
“I didn’t know who was going to show up,” says Saint-Hilaire, who ended up dialing in from home because she was quarantining with Covid-19. “When Commissioner Colin Sharman said he got 35-plus emails and that everyone who was at the meeting was there for the dump truck issue, I literally cried. I was excited that one person after another was addressing the commission. I was like Yes! This is what we needed! Now they know it’s not just one person who was unhappy or being obnoxious or complaining.”
Fast forward to January 27. I’m back in City Hall Chambers at another commission meeting. It’s two weeks after Saint-Hilaire’s meeting action, and residents are anxiously awaiting word on whether a resolution for the dump truck issue will be announced.
The City Manager’s Report comes at the end of the meeting. It’s not an overstatement to say that for some, the decision about whether to stay in the communities or sell their homes hinges on what the city does tonight. So there is much relief when city manager Mike Bollhoefer explains that while the city is not quite ready to put it into action, there is a plan to ban the dump trucks from Marsh Road.
Saint-Hilaire’s organizing had paid off. In the intervening weeks, Bollhoefer had done some preliminary strip testing, laying sensitive tape across the roadway to capture vehicle class, weight and speed. On a single day from 7:45 A.M to 4 P.M., he told the commission, his office had clocked 733 trucks. Not only that but their research revealed that 210 were going 40 mph in a 35 mph zone and 78 were going faster than 45 mph. “That data alone is enough to let us know we have a serious issue," says Bollhoefer.
The Truck Ban Plan is elegant in its simplicity: Ban all dump trucks from the Lake County Line to Williams Road. To do that, Winter Garden is relying on Florida Statute 316.555, which allows cities to regulate traffic within their jurisdictions. The goal is to shunt the traffic off of Marsh Road and onto Highway 50. Officers will issue warnings for the first week or two to give drivers time to readjust and find an alternate route; then the ticket books will come out.
“That still allows local trucks into the subdivisions and still allows us to build houses, but it will stop all that sand truck traffic,” says Bollhoefer. “The truth of the matter is they have to move sand somehow. I think it’s more appropriate that they’re on a highway than a local road with roundabouts. It’s really shifting them to a road that’s more appropriate for that traffic.”
The city is still collecting evidence to ensure the truck ban will hold up should it be challenged in court. Even so, city attorney Kurt Ardaman anticipates that the plan will be in place within the next 30 to 60 days.
Still, Saint-Hilaire is already making flyers to rally her people to show up again to the next city commission meeting on February 11 to hold the city accountable.
“This is still an issue. Don’t forget us,” she cautions. “We’re going in the right direction, but I don’t want that momentum to stop.”
* Name has been changed.