Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot

Orange Avenue on Track to Become Hot Spot

December 5, 2019 / by Geri Throne

A 40,000-square-foot lakefront home proposed for Palmer Avenue—the biggest home ever in the city—is garnering the most attention outside Winter Park. But residents who crowded a city planning and zoning board meeting Tuesday had an even bigger issue on their minds: a rezoning plan to convert North Orange Avenue into the city’s next intensely developed hot spot.

After a long line of residents spoke for and against the rezoning proposal, members of the advisory board all voiced their enthusiastic support. They agreed that benefits would outweigh any negatives and voted unanimously to recommend the proposal to the city commission.

City commissioners will consider the rezoning plan at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Planning jargon aside…

Despite use of planning jargon such as “overlay district” and “placemaking” at Tuesday’s hearing, the issues surrounding the proposed Orange Avenue district boil down to familiar zoning concerns: Is growth “inevitable” in Winter Park, and if it is, how much development should be packed into an area? How high should buildings be allowed? How much extra traffic should be created?  How well would new construction mesh with existing structures?

City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson said a flexible mixed-use overlay is the best way to deal with the avenue’s future growth. He defended the months-long process the city went through to arrive at the proposal, noting that residents were involved early on. An 11-member appointed steering committee, made up of people with broad ranges of opinion about development, participated in the recommendations.

“Despite what has been reported [in social media], the small-scale character of Orange Avenue has been promoted and protected throughout the process to the highest extent possible,” Stephenson said.

Residents concerned about the new zoning district, however, were not convinced. They asked the planning board for more time to digest the thick packet explaining the proposal. They noted the potential for congestion, more traffic and buildings as tall as five and seven stories within the district.

Although the number of residential units in the district would stay the same, total development in the proposed district would become more intense. Under current zoning, almost 1.9 million square feet of development is possible in the district. With the new district zoning, the total square footage possible would climb to more than 2.6 million.

The debate…

The benefit, Stephenson said, would be a mixed-use plan that would improve the area visually, attract more visitors, and cure what the city sees as “economic stagnation” on Orange Avenue from Fairbanks Avenue to US 17-92. Some other pluses he cited: wider, safer sidewalks; more open space; connection with nearby Mead Botanical Gardens, and parking garages set back behind buildings. Design standards would ensure that new structures would be attractive and compatible with neighboring buildings.

Existing zoning also would allow more development, he said, and perhaps not what residents might desire. Without new and creative zoning, he warned, a Wal-Mart-sized structure could be built with a huge paved parking lot.

Some residents, however, worried that the plan didn’t do enough to honor the city’s stated commitment to cherish “its traditional scale and charm.” Resident Bart Johnson said that exceptions to that goal in most of the proposed district were big enough for a developer to “drive a truck through.”

“Citizens need more time to fully understand the implications” of the lengthy new ordinance, pleaded resident Pat McDonald, a concern echoed by other residents.

Frank Hamner, an attorney representing the Holler family, a major property owner in the area, criticized calls for further delay as having “a different purpose” than stated. Residents had ample time to attend the numerous public meetings about the proposal, he said. Their calls for more time were “a distraction” to “delay for delay’s purposes.” Hamner also accused unidentified people of posting online anonymously and knocking on doors “spreading lies” about the plan.  Those people should “come up out of the sewer,” and make their case face to face, he said.

Traffic worries

Stephenson downplayed traffic worries. The planning director stressed that the overlay is a “framework” or starting point, which must be approved before a traffic study can be done. He also cited a state study that found few drivers stopped on Orange Avenue as a destination. He described it as a “cut through” road.

That four-lane stretch of North Orange Avenue is no shortcut, however. It serves as an arterial road in Winter Park, connecting Winter Park commuters to State Road 527 and US 17-92 and helping them get from one side of the city to the other. Traffic accidents on that stretch are frequent, city statistics show. Until a traffic study is conducted, it remains unknown how traffic safety, street parking and traffic flow will be juggled under the proposed design.

Left unknown…

Undecided in the proposed ordinance is the fate of Progress Point, an odd-shaped, city-owned parcel at the intersections of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive. The steering committee could not agree how the lot should be used or whether the city should sell it. Sheila Deciccio, a member of that steering committee, urged that the city keep the land, which might help solve area stormwater and parking problems. The site is “one of the jewels we have left,” she said.

Also unknown, but probably not in doubt, is an unrelated agenda item—the fate of the massive 40,093-square-foot home that real-estate developer Marc Hagle wants to build on Lake Osceola. The planning and zoning board tabled its vote until next month after some board members and two neighbors raised questions about a proposed setback.

Charter, TDT Grant, City Manager Performance

Doesn’t Sound Lively – But It Was

Charter, TDT Grant, City Manager Performance

The November 25 Commission meeting managed to pack a few surprises into what initially appeared to be a light (if not boring) pre-holiday agenda.

Seidel Will Not Run in 2020

First, Commissioner Greg Seidel announced he will not seek re-election in 2020, citing work and family issues. That leaves Seats 1 and 2 up for grabs. Candidate qualifying begins December 3, 2019.

Commission Votes to Approve Contract for $6 Million TDT Grant

The motion to approve the contract for the Orange County Tourist Development Tax (TDT) grant was problematic in the absence of a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) for the Canopy project, which will come to the Commission in January 2020.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper voiced her concern that signing the contract before knowing the GMP would tie the City’s hands. According to City Attorney Kurt Ardaman, the grant application specifies the location of both the library and the events center and prevents the City from making “substantial changes,” even though such changes may be necessary to make the project affordable if the GMP comes in higher than expected.

Commissioner Todd Weaver moved to table the motion until after the Commission has discussed the GMP in January. Cooper seconded the motion, but the motion to table failed on a 3-2 vote. And even though there was no deadline requiring the contract be signed before the GMP comes in, the Commission voted 3-2 to approve the contract for the TDT grant, again with Weaver and Cooper dissenting.

City Manager Performance Review

The Commission then engaged in the annual ritual of City Manager Randy Knight’s performance review. The Commission voted 4-1 to award a 2 percent bonus in lieu of a salary increase. The dissenting vote was cast by Commissioner Cooper. She states her reasons in this video: click this link to view.

With regard to the mistaken information in the TDT grant application cited by Cooper, Communications Director Clarissa Howard stated that when the mistake on the application was discovered, the period for online submission of TDT/ARC grant applications had closed. “The only opportunity to correct the mistake was during the verbal presentation before the TDT/ARC Board,” said Howard, “and the Board cut Mayor Leary’s presentation short, so he had no opportunity to correct the mistake.”

Voters Will Decide Charter Amendments

The Commission then took up the matter of the Charter amendments that will be put to the voters on the March 17, 2020, ballot. On 3-2 votes, with Sprinkel and Leary dissenting, three of the more controversial issues will appear on the ballot for the voters to decide.

Annual Salaries for Mayor & Commissioners

Voters will have the opportunity to raise annual salaries for the first time in many years to $12,600 for Commissioners and $15,000 for the Mayor. The hope is that this will provide the opportunity for a more diverse pool of qualified candidates to run for elected office. 

Board Appointments Would No Longer Be Made Only by the Mayor

Appointments to City advisory boards and ad hoc committees will be distributed among the Mayor and Commissioners. The amendment states in part, “. . . each board and ad hoc committee shall have seven members . . . . Three of the seven members of the board or committee shall be appointed by the Mayor and such members shall serve at the Mayor’s pleasure. Each of the four City Commissioners shall appoint one of the seven members of the board or committee and such members shall serve at the pleasure of the City Commissioner holding the Commission seat that appointed the member.”

Video Conferencing Would Be Provided for Absent Commissioners to Vote

This amendment states in part, “Voting on ordinances and resolutions shall be by roll call vote of the Commissioners and the Mayor. . . . The affirmative vote of three members of the City Commission who are physically present at the meeting, either in person or through the use of video-conferencing, shall be necessary to adopt any ordinance or resolution. The use of video-conferencing by an individual member of the City Commission shall be limited to not more than three times per calendar year and shall be subject to approval pursuant to and governed by rules and procedures adopted by the City Commission.”

Commissioners have had difficulty teleconferencing in to meetings. Adoption of this amendment will require the City to acquire video conferencing equipment, which it does not currently have.

Stronger Language for Non-Partisan City Elections

The amendment states in part, “Upon qualifying for office through the election, a candidate for the office of city commissioner or mayor shall not: (1) Campaign and/or publicly represent or advertise herself or himself as a member of any political party; or (2) Accept campaign contributions from any political party.

(b) A candidate for commissioner or mayor who violates a provision of this section shall be liable for a civil fine of up to $1,000 per violation. The City Commission shall adopt an ordinance describing the procedure to determine violations, provide due process, and set fines.”

The issue of donations from partisan Political Action Committees (PACs) came up, but no prohibition could be included in the Charter because it would conflict with federal law.

The full text of these and other amendments can be found here: https://winterpark.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=1498&MeetingID=195

Scroll to the bottom of the Cover Sheet and click on the tiny blue line that says “Revised Ordinance.”

These and other amendments to the City Charter will appear on the ballot for voter decision in the March 17, 2020, election.

 

What's Wrong With the Orange Avenue Overlay As Written?

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

What’s Wrong With the Orange Avenue Overlay As Written?

 

by Beth Hall Guest Columnist

The list is long.

To begin with…the idea of the OAO did not originate with you or your neighbors. Not at all.
The Voice has one thing right. It is true that “mixed use” is already allowed all along the Orange corridor as well as throughout Winter Park. Has been for a long time.
Here’s what the Voice and the city staffers are not telling you. Only low intensity/ low density mixed use was allowed.
Here’s another thing they are not telling you:
High density residential apartments/condos (R-4) are BACK!!
Large scale multi-family residential buildings will again be permitted in Winter Park. Yes, that’s right. High density residential apartments (or condos) like the Paseo will now be allowed- again.
This means that when the city commission voted UNANIMOUSLY on April 24, 2017, to eliminate high density residential apartments from our futures (except where grandfathered), they apparently meant “only for a little while.” (The backlash from the Paseo was the driving force. No more Paseos we were told.)
Pete Weldon even RAN on it in the last commission race. “I removed R-4 (high density apartment zoning)”, he crowed! I preserved Winter Park’s residential character! Leary endorsed Weldon praising very specifically the move by Weldon to get rid of the bane of high density residential (R-4) from all of our lives. No more Paseo’s.
Did either Leary or Weldon mean it? We will soon find out.
And, did Seidel, Sprinkel and Cooper all mean it when they voted unanimously on 4-24-17 to eliminate developers’ future ability to seek high density (25 units per acre) residential housing under our comp plan and zoning codes? We will soon know.
Just how serious and how genuine were those votes? The “issues” on Orange were all well known at the time of the vote and well before the vote to remove R-4 on 4-17-17.
If they vote to adopt the overlay as written at the meeting on January 13, 2020, then Paseo-like high density residential will be back with a vengeance.
In fact, the buildings with all the units will be even bigger. This is because It won’t just be the apartments or condos, it will be the giant parking garages that go with them.
IF the overlay passes as it is, a new high-density complex of over 200 units can now be built by Holler on the vacant RV parcel at Denning and Fairbanks; and, Demetree will be entitled to build over 200 housing units on the site of the original Lombardi’s building.
These mega complexes will be allowed to reach 5 stories and 7 stories in height, respectively. And the big parking garages they need will be excluded from FAR calculations which previously acted to limit total massing. Poof! Not anymore.
Winter Park residents cherish the traditional scale and character of Winter Park. They value the low-density residential character of the city. They have said so over and over and over again.
The votes cast by commissioners on January 13, 2020, will tell us whether they intend to honor the commitment they made to us on April 24, 2017.
Mixed use zoning or an overlay does not HAVE to mean the return of high-density residential housing (R-4). But if THIS overlay is approved as written that is exactly what we will be getting. They’ll just call it something different.

 

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