City Approves New Comp Plan

Where Is Investment Strategy?

City Approves New Comp Plan

Citizens and Commissioners gathered once again Monday night to hammer out the few remaining bones of contention in the Comp Plan. The long and often tedious evening culminated in the adoption of a Comprehensive Growth Management Plan for the City of Winter Park. Citizens who spoke gave the Commissioners and Staff high marks for their hard work and dedication to the process. They also expressed appreciation that they felt they’d been heard.

Citizens Spoke, Commissioners Listened

Commissioners considered a long list of amendments, most of them brought forward by Commissioner Carolyn Cooper.

Six of the proposed amendments were approved by the Commission, and there was a verbal commitment to bring back for discussion two that were voted down. The revised Comp Plan, in its entirety, will be posted on the City’s website within the next few days.

Highlights of Monday’s Meeting

– The City will create a Medical Arts District in the area surrounding Winter Park Hospital. The Commission deleted language that included workforce housing within that district. (Policy 1-2.4.12)

– The term “Village Character” was reinstated and now reads: “The City shall preserve and enhance the village character of the Central Business District.” (Policy 1-G-23)

– Public/Quasi-Public (PQP) zoning may only be used in Institutional land use. PQP includes such things as public governmental buildings, schools, churches, museums, etc. (Policy 1-2.4.2)

– The motion to prohibit ‘big box’ stores over 65,000 square feet within the City limits failed, but Mayor Leary supported the ban on single-tenant retail over 65,000 square feet and agreed to have City staff come back at a future date with suggestions on how best to include this language.

– Language was added to the policy regarding lot splits: “The City Commission in consideration of lot split requests may limit the floor area ratio as a condition of approval in order to preserve neighborhood scale and character.” (Policy 1-5.2.8)

– The motion to include language about the City’s intent to purchase the Post Office property also failed. The Commissioners all said they supported the City buying the property, but did not agree the language belonged in the Comp Plan.

Recognition for Hannibal Square

Winter Park resident Forest Michael proposed two policies, both of which were incorporated into the new Comp Plan. Michael’s policies are specific to the Hannibal Square neighborhood and are as follows.

– “Encourage the preservation and conservation of historic Hannibal Square Community’s cultural buildings and churches, homes and places along Welbourne Avenue.”

– “Encourage educational and interpretive walking and bicycling tours throughout the Hannibal Square Community for residents’ health.”

Comprehensive Capital Investment Plan

While current Comp Plan provisions deal thoroughly with land use, particularly regarding what developers may and may not do in a given location, little attention is given to policies addressing how the City will invest in land and build infrastructure for the City’s future.

Lip Service

Winter Park resident Bob Bendick, who is Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Program, spoke about what he called “shortfalls in the investment part of the plan.” The message seemed to be that while the City is willing to pay lip service to greenspace and conservation, there is little actual funding to back it up.

“There are statements of policy in the Comp Plan that don’t have real meaning unless there’s money to implement them.”

Greenspace Investment

While the Comp Plan encourages greenspace in general, said Bendick, there is insufficient commitment to investing adequate City funds to restoring Mead Garden, acquiring remaining open space at the Genius estate and, more broadly, in creating a connected framework of greenspace and waterways for the City’s future.

Bikes and Peds

The Comp Plan encourages pedestrian and bicycle activity, but fails to allocate sufficient funds to construct the facilities necessary to make walking and cycling safe and enjoyable in our City.

MLK Park

“We believe the location of the largest civic investment in the City’s future – the new library/events center – is at a place seemingly at odds with . . .the proposed plan,” said Bendick.

Alternative Energy

“There is a failure in Policy 5-1.19 of the Conservation Element of the plan to propose investment in alternative energy generation,” said Bendick, “which would be an economic and environmental benefit to the City over the long run.”

Investment Strategy

Bendick suggests a re-examination of the City’s investment strategy in the public spaces and facilities that are critical to maintaining Winter Park’s quality and character in the years to come.

Does the Comp Plan Reflect Your Vision of Winter Park?

Fat Lady Sings on Monday

Does the Comp Plan Reflect Your Vision of Winter Park?

After months of visioning, advisory board meetings, focus groups, public input meetings, commission meetings, hundreds of thousands of words written on thousands of reams of paper — the Commission will take a final vote on the City’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan (Comp Plan).

Monday’s vote will be the culmination of a months-long effort to gaze into the crystal ball of Winter Park’s future.

“History,” “Heritage,” “Village Ambience”

The process began by defining a Vision. When Winter Parkers were asked what was most important to them, two dominant themes emerged. People said they cherished the “History and Heritage” of their City, and they wanted to preserve our “Village Ambience and Small Town Feel.”

Vision — Framework for Comp Plan

The June 2016 Visioning Report issued by the City states: “Our Vision Plan is . . . long-term, aspirational, and flexible, serving as a framework into which other plans can fit, including the Comprehensive Plan.”

As the Visioning process wound down last summer, City staff and elected officials turned their attention to putting the Vision into concrete terms. Months of hard work have produced a lengthy and complicated document. The number of people able to wrap their heads around the whole thing probably can be tabulated on your fingers alone – no need for toes.

Comp Plan Belongs to All of Us

Is it a perfect document? No, but this is Earth – where things aren’t perfect. The level of engagement of City staff, elected officials and citizens has been nothing short of extraordinary. Few documents rise to this level of effort and dedication.

Is it Over? Should You Remain Engaged?

Our Comp Plan is a living document. While it is legally enforceable, it is not written on stone tablets – and, as with everything that happens in this City, there is always room for discussion. So, yes, continuing engagement should be a consideration for all of us.

What’s Missing?

Two features have been eliminated from the revised Comp Plan that may still warrant discussion, even at this late date. One is more abstract, the other quite concrete.

Village Ambiance

The more abstract element that was taken out of this revision is the commitment to maintaining our “village character.” The wording has been changed to “maintaining our traditional scale.”

Semantics? Yes. However, try this.

Close your eyes and try to conjure an image of “traditional scale.”

Now, do the same thing – but this time, evoke in your mind’s eye the image of “village character.” There is a difference.

Big Box Stores

Also missing is the concrete prohibition on single-tenant retail stores of over 65,000 square feet – so-called big box stores – within City limits. To put that in perspective, the Publix at Winter Park Village is 55,922 square feet. For a community the size of Winter Park, that is a large store by any measure, yet it is nearly 10,000 square feet smaller than the ‘big box’ formerly banished from within City limits.

Why eliminate this proscription? Does Winter Park need the equivalent of one Winter Park Village Publix plus a really big McMansion worth of retail space under one roof?

What’s New? Medical Arts District

The biggest reveal is the use of a previously untried planning tool known as the “Mixed Use Overlay” to create a Medical Arts District near the Winter Park Hospital campus. The area will include medical, wellness and associated businesses, as well as residential facilities for assisted living, memory care and dedicated workforce housing for medical service employees.
Click here and scroll down to Line 40 for a description of the planned Medical Arts District.

Mixed Use Overlay – New Planning Tool

The mixed use overlay is a planning tool that has been used by other cities, but has never found its way into Winter Park’s tool kit. According to the Comp Plan revision, “Within one year from the adoption . . . the City will create a mixed use overlay for commercially designated parcels . . . .”
Exactly what this overlay might entail for us would be the end-product of a year-long process of creating Winter Park’s version of the tool. Which is to say, plenty of discussion is likely to occur before this becomes a reality. So stay tuned.

Click here and go to Line 46 for a more thorough explanation of the Mixed Use Overlay.

Should You Attend Monday’s Commission Meeting?

Many have argued that the key to Winter Park’s value as a community is the quality of citizen engagement. Monday’s agenda is a full one. The Agenda Packet is more than 700 pages long. There will be things you won’t want to miss.

Winter Park Sings the Parking Blues

Fuzzy Parking Math Doesn’t Add Up

Winter Park Sings the Parking Blues

The March 27 Commission meeting shows what can happen when a city like Winter Park tries to solve a systemic parking problem one project at a time. Things don’t work out the way everyone thinks they’re going to.

Marathon Meeting

The 133,830 square feet of commercial development sent forth March 7 by the Planning & Zoning Board arrived at the City Commission March 27. The meeting, which began at 3:30 pm, lasted until nearly midnight. By 10:30 or so, many of the people who were still hanging in there were scratching their heads. The remarks in these video clips, which occurred toward the end of the meeting, tell the tale.

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, “We Can’t Kick This Can Down the Road Much Longer.”

Rick Frazee, “Nothing’s changed.”

Joe Terranova, “You can’t fit a size 10 foot into a size 6 shoe.”

Pat MacDonald, “This has been a very different evening than we all expected.”

Three Projects All Too Big for Their Parking Lots

Three large commercial construction projects – Orchard Supply Hardware at 2540 Aloma Avenue, Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center at 1298 Howell Branch Road, and the BFC Holdings project at 158 E. New England Avenue – shared the agenda with a presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). All three construction applicants sought variances because of insufficient parking.

Orchard Strikes Out

First up was Lowe’s subsidiary Orchard Hardware Supply, to be built on the current location of the Aloma Bowl. Orchard needed a total of 135 parking spaces. They had 87 spaces on site and could lease 24 additional spaces from neighboring Panera Bread, leaving them 24 spaces short.

Strong opposition came from the bowlers, represented by Winter Park High School bowling team captain Danielle Allison. Ms. Allison and her volunteers had gathered nearly 3,000 signatures of citizens seeking to keep the facility open as a bowling alley. The sale of Aloma Bowl to Orchard was contingent on Commission approval.

Despite the Commissioners’ understanding and their admiration for Ms. Allison’s tenacity, at the end of the day, Orchard’s fortunes rose and fell on parking. After discussion and citizen commentary, the Commission voted to deny the application, pointing out that if the applicant would consider a smaller building, their parking dilemma would go away.

The following day, Ms. Allison told the Voice that she hoped Aloma Bowl would remain open for the community, but she said she did not know the owner’s plans for the building. The owner of Aloma Bowl could not be reached for comment.

Villa Tuscany – Too Big Not to Fail

Next up was the Villa Tuscany Memory Care Center at 1298 Howell Branch Road. This was to be a 41,000-square-foot memory care and assisted living project that would be built on land zoned R-3, high density residential, that sits adjacent to a single-family residential neighborhood. The neighbors had well-organized opposition, not to the proposed use of the facility, but to the size and scale, which they said was incompatible with the surroundings.

Even though residents of the facility would not have cars, plans for the facility did not provide adequate parking on site for staff and visitors. The applicant would be able to lease the missing parking spaces, but those were on the other side of Howell Branch Road.

Commissioner Peter Weldon broached the possibility of tabling the project and allowing the applicant to come back at a later date with revised plans for a smaller project. Weldon failed to receive a second for his motion, however, and the Commission voted 5 – 0 to deny the application, pointing out once again that a smaller project would obviate the need for extra parking.

BFC Holdings New England Ups the Ante

By the time attorney Mickey Grindstaff approached the podium on behalf of the Battaglia family’s 52,000-spare-foot project at 158 E. New England Avenue, tension in the chamber was palpable. While the BFC Holdings project had City staff support, P&Z had sent the project forward with no recommendation.

Staff recommended reducing the parking requirement from the four spaces per 1,000 square feet of office/ retail, called for by City Code, to three per thousand. Planning Director Dori Stone explained that staff was comfortable allowing fewer parking spaces. “In a downtown setting,” she said, “Class A Office, which is a different breed of office than we have in a lot of other places in Winter Park . . . can support three spaces per thousand, because the way they operate is different, the way their customer base is different, the way they function, look and feel is different than a typical office.”

Ms. Stone did not elaborate on what those differences might be. Planning Manager Jeff Briggs acknowledged that no other building in Winter Park enjoyed this reduction in parking requirement.

Winter Park Needs Another Parking Study

Stone recognized the need for further study of how parking functions in downtown Winter Park. “No matter how you count the spaces,” she said, “downtown Winter Park has parking issues.” Staff will embark on the fourth parking study in seven years – which those in the know believe will result in a recommendation for some sort of parking structure in the Central Business District.

Don’t Tie Parking Regulations to a Specific Project

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper admonished staff that if the City’s parking code needs to be reviewed, the discussion should take place outside the context of a specific project to avoid placing both the applicant and the Commissioners in a difficult position. “If staff truly supports a change in code,” she said, “they should bring us an ordinance, supported by data, so that we have the opportunity to evaluate a change in the parking code.”

‘How Much Longer ‘til Everyone Goes to the Mall?’

Grindstaff noted that BFC Holdings is being asked unfairly to shoulder a city-wide problem. But it is not just the BFC project that is suffering. Alan Deaver, a merchant and property owner in downtown Winter Park, collected signatures from 45 Park Avenue merchants who are being squeezed by the parking deficit and who will be severely impacted by the BFC Holdings project. “How much longer until everyone goes to the mall?” he wanted to know.

Not Ready for Prime Time

Using the new math, BFC New England would need 133 spaces for office and retail, and an additional 95 spaces for the two restaurants planned for the ground floor of the new building. The developer plans to put 57 spaces on site and to use 90 spaces in the Bank of America parking garage across the street, which they also own. The 90 B-of-A spaces would be available only by valet, as the garage is closed to the public.

Using the newly contrived formula, BFC is short 81 parking spaces. Compare this with the 24 spaces Orchard was short and the four spaces Villa Tuscany was short. It’s worth pointing out that by existing code, to which the other projects were held, the BFC project is short 121 spaces.

Mayor Steve Leary finally showed mercy on those assembled by moving to table the BFC Holdings application. His motion passed on a 5 – 0 vote. The BFC New England project will now make its way back through City Planning staff. There is no scheduled date for its return to the Commission.

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