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Anne Mooney / October 10, 2014 / Read & Input Comments

With pluck, persistence and, sometimes, sheer perversity, Hannibal Square residents have preserved the single-family-detached home zoning protection promised to their neighborhood in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

It’s been a long slog since that April evening when developer Dan Bellows asked the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) to approve sweeping changes to the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use codes that would enable him to build a high-priced, high-density project of attached townhouses in an area of the Hannibal Square neighborhood bordered by Canton and Capen Avenues.

The System Worked

The time spanning April 8 until October 7 saw a series of arduous and often acrimonious meetings and negotiations amidst public outcry against rapidly increasing density.

The process was noisy, awkward, and frequently very unpleasant. But in the end, it worked. In a demonstration that, against all odds, the system can work for those who are committed to work within it, Bellows and the community arrived at a compromise.

On October 7, in his fourth attempt, Dan Bellows arrived with a proposal to build 12 detached, single-family homes. And on October 7, Mr. Bellows’ request was approved by P&Z.

Westside community leaders were on hand to thank city staff, the P&Z Board and the developer for bringing the situation to a resolution.

Cambric reported that a meeting had taken place on September 19 at which citizens were able to provide feedback both to the city and to the developer. “We’d like to commend you for hearing what the residents had to say . . . . With your vote at the last meeting, you maintained the concept that single family residential with R-1 zoning is compatible,” said Cambric, “and also commend the applicant for changing your proposal and recognizing that as well.”

Hannibal Square neighborhood resident, Mary Daniels, told the P&Z board and the developer that “We appreciate you all listening to the residents . . . and we also commend the applicant for coming back and retaining the R-1A.”

A Perfect Solution?

Is the solution a perfect one? No. Mr. Bellows will not build the expensive, high-density development he had originally planned, and as a result he will probably not realize the high-end profits he had originally envisioned. The community will now have in its midst a development of 12 homes of at least 2,000 square feet each, which are larger than homes typically found in that neighborhood. But the homes are zoned R-1A – single family, detached -- and in that respect they are in keeping with the surroundings.

Early Days – Agreement Seemed Impossible

When the discussions first began on April 8, the possibility of a meeting of the minds seemed as remote as Pluto. Residents turned out in force that night to speak against the scope of the proposed development, which they felt would erode character of their neighborhood.

First Try Tabled

At the end of the day, P&Z tabled the developer’s proposal and directed the interested parties to meet to work through their issues.

P&Z board member Tom Sacha urged the residents to suggest an alternative to Bellows’ plan so that the property in question would not remain vacant for an indefinite period of time. Mr. Bellows promised to bring illustrations and elevations showing the townhomes he wanted to build. 

Citizens Gather at Community Center: No Bellows

A meeting between Bellows and the Hannibal Square community was scheduled for April 24. Once again, community members turned out in force.

Bellows, however, sent his attorney and the builder, Kevin Kramer from David Weekly Homes.

Bellows himself chose not to attend. The attorney seemed ill-prepared to deal with the frustrated crowd, who were upset by Bellows’ failure to appear.

  Community Center Video 

Second Try Doesn’t Fly

At a subsequent P&Z Board work session on April 29, City Planning Director Dori Stone reported that Bellows had submitted a new set of plans. She made it clear, however, that in light of the community’s strong opposition to any departure from R-1 zoning, she doubted that Mr. Bellows’ new plan would mitigate Westsiders' fear of the impact on their neighborhood.

Standing Room Only Crowd Opposes Sortie #3

In early September, Bellows came before P&Z a third time to seek relief from the R-1A zoning of the Canton/Capen property. This time he requested an upgrade to R-2 zoning, which would allow him to build multi-family dwellings.

That night, a standing-room-only crowd of citizens from every part of Winter Park packed the commission chambers.  In what the Orlando Sentinel termed "the inescapable calculus that gives citizens clout over public policy," citizens rose, one after another, to speak against the creeping encroachment of density and traffic in Winter Park neighborhoods, especially those on the west side of the city. They pointed out that the Comprehensive Plan clearly set forth protections for the single-family, low-density residential character of the Hannibal Square neighborhood.

The P&Z Board members once again heard the citizens’ voices and denied Bellows’ request for re-zoning. 

It was shortly after this meeting, on September 19, that the developer and the community came together and got serious about working out their differences. Fortunately for everyone involved, they succeeded in doing just that.

What about affordable work force housing?

Affordable housing and additional green space were not a part of this discussion. During months of debate over this development and others in the area, citizens have expressed their concern that the city seems to support affordable housing primarily in the form of over-built, rack-‘em-stack-‘em apartment complexes that choke the city with unwanted and inappropriate density of development -- development that is not well supported by the city’s roads and other infrastructure.

Perhaps the Visioning process will provide insight into possible remedies for these growing pains.


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