WP Still Divided Over Civic Center/Library in the Park

Is the MLK Park Location a Done Deal?

WP Still Divided Over Civic Center/Library in the Park

Once again, Winter Park residents filled the hall at the Community Center to discuss the library, raising still-unanswered questions. Chief among them was the location: Is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park location a “done deal?”

The April 21 meeting was sponsored by the Citizens for Managed Growth PAC. City Manager Randy Knight, Library Board of Trustees President Marina Nice and head of the Save Our Library PAC Michael Poole formed the panel to address citizens’ questions.

City Plans – Moving Forward

Randy Knight began the evening’s agenda with a discussion of the timeline and the process by which the City intends to move forward. The date of the April 21 meeting coincided with the submission due date for architects’ proposals. Knight reported that 14 architectural firms have submitted proposals. A selection committee will identify four or five finalists who will make oral presentations to the City Commission.

Serving on the seven-member selection committee are City Manager Randy Knight, Public Works Director Troy Attaway, Assistant Parks & Recreation Director Brenda Moody, Building & Sustainability Manager Kris Stenger, WPPL Executive Director Shawn Shaffer, Library Board of Trustees VP Daniel McIntosh and Commissioner Peter Weldon.

The City Commission will announce the selection of the architect at the May 23, 2016 meeting.

Info/Feedback Sessions in May

Leading up to the second Commission meeting in May, the Library will hold three open-house-style public information and feedback sessions in the Library Community Room.
Thursday, May 5 – 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 7 – 9:30 a.m. to Noon
Friday, May 13 – Noon to 2:30 p.m.

Design Phase to Run Through 2015

Randy Knight explained that the design phase for the new library/civic center will extend from June through November of 2016. As this phase nears completion, probably in early fall, the City will project the final cost of the project and will issue the City bonds in that amount.

Wrecking Ball to Hit Civic Center January 2017

Once the Commission approves the design, the City will bid out the construction components of the project – probably in November or December 2016. The last booking at the current Civic Center is December 20, 2016, and the Civic Center is scheduled for demolition in January 2017.

Residents Ask, What’s the Rush?

Despite the even tenor of the panelists’ presentations, Winter Park residents remained divided on the issue of the new library cum civic center. Former Winter Park Mayor Joe Terranova articulated some of the concerns when he said he thought the project was moving too quickly.

Cynthia Mackinnon, mayoral candidate in 2015, said she thought much of the push-back the City is getting stems from citizens’ perceptions that there was less than full disclosure about the scope of the project. She described being approached six weeks before the March 15 referendum vote by a fundraising consultant for the library. She stated that it was in the meeting with the fundraiser that she and her husband first learned of the full scope of the project.

In a memo to the panelists and Commissioners sent April 22, Mackinnon summed up her misgivings. “In summary, first, I continue to hope the idea of a different location is not completely off the table. As the location was not part of the ballot language, I don’t see why it has to be.”

She continued, “Second, I also agree with Joe Terranova’s comment that this project seems to be proceeding with surprising haste. Why, when the vote was close and you have organized push back?”

Michael Poole: ‘It’s Not Too Late’

In an April 22 interview with the Voice, Save Our Library PAC President Michael Poole expressed sentiments similar to Mackinnon’s. Asked whether he thought the MLK Park location was a ‘done deal,’ Poole responded, “I don’t know. It could be changed if enough residents raise their voices to reconsider the location – to the Commission and to the Library Board of Trustees.”

No Business Plan

Poole said he had reservations about the decision, made by the Commission after they accepted the Library Task Force report, to combine the Library and the Civic Center. “When they put the two together,” he said, “there was no discussion about the synergies and how this would work programmatically. No one knows what the operating costs will be. They are going ahead. . .without a good business plan in hand.”

Moving City Hall Could Change Things

But, said Poole, “Now that the City is looking at using the [current] library facility for City Hall, there could be a whole new dynamic.”

As for his plans for Save Our Library, Poole stated, “I am going to continue to use the PAC to educate the public on issues and how they can voice their opinions.”

At the end of the day, said Poole, it’s the Library Trustees who are guiding the process. “If they said ‘Stop,’ the Commission would have to listen.”

To view the entire panel discussion click here.

City Hall to Move Next?

City Hall to Move Next?

Now that Winter Park voters are on board to pay for a brand new library, the city is cautiously considering moving city hall into the current library building.

After city staff recommended exploring the idea Monday, city commissioners called for more information about the site’s strengths and weaknesses. A staff report said the building was in “good” condition with a “fairly new” heat and air-conditioning system and energy-efficient lighting. City Manager Randy Knight also said some current city-hall functions could be moved to another site if they didn’t need to be in a prime location.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the idea, however. Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel noted the city already knows about the existing library from the research done by the Library Facility Task Force. The task force nixed renovating the building after concluding it has too many challenges, including poor wi-fi connections and limited space and parking.

Commissioners Pete Weldon and Carolyn Cooper both stressed the importance of hearing from the public before making any decision about city hall or any other high-profile city properties valuable to residents. Cooper said it was “fiscally responsible to explore reuse of that [library] building,” but she would not support selling the property.

One staff option for city hall never made it into the discussion. Staff raised the possibility of another bond-issue to build a new city hall on the Park Avenue site, but Mayor Steve Leary said any discussion of that idea was “premature.”

Meanwhile, Winter Park’s new library seems destined to be built in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The issue was never raised Monday except for a plea from former mayor Joe Terranova during the public-comment portion of the meeting. “You’re going to have to reconsider this,” he said, noting the close vote on the library bond issue. “You have a split community now.”

Preservation Rule: Friendly or Divisive?

Preservation Rule: Friendly or Divisive?

A new alliance of Winter Park commissioners is ready to thumb its nose at a historic preservation rule and return to the good old days of four months ago.

Mayor Steve Leary, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel and newly elected Pete Weldon want to resurrect a rule that 67 percent of a neighborhood must agree to form a historic district.

Last December, when a former commission majority reduced that threshold to 50 percent plus one, Sprinkel and Leary opposed it. Now Weldon is in their camp and leading the charge as part of a new majority. He won his seat by defeating incumbent Tom McMacken, an avid preservationist.

City residents don’t want to be forced into historic districts, Weldon insisted, likening them to homeowners associations. Requiring a 67 percent vote would create “a more friendly attitude among the neighbors.”

Sprinkel and Leary blamed the 50-percent-plus-one vote for making things “divisive” in the city.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper saw it another way. Weldon won by less than 51 percent and the library bond issue by only 51 percent, she said. “Fifty percent plus one is democracy.”

Commissioner Greg Seidel argued he has seen no negative effects from the lower threshold and, besides, no neighborhoods have sought to form a historic district since December. Raising the threshold back to 67 percent, he said, would surely be divisive and would keep the commission from addressing more important matters, such as traffic and underground power lines. “This will just distract us,” he said. He bluntly challenged the board. “If you guys really don’t like it [the historic ordinance] that much, why don’t you just vote it out? You’re going to have the same uproar.”

Later, Seidel questioned what the commission was doing to address residents’ biggest concern. “When I ran for election, the big campaign issue was, What was I going to do to save the character of the city?” he said. “What I see the vote doing today is going in the opposite direction.”

The mayor disagreed. Leary listed three projects – the current golf course refurbishing, the Rollins College Alfond Inn and the new civic center/library – as evidence of recent actions that save the city’s character. When Seidel noted that residents might see some of those as problems, Leary shrugged. “There you go. You’re going to have an argument on everything.”

Despite the meeting’s strongly worded exchanges, commissioners reached significant compromises on historic preservation. They rejected an “opt-out” clause that would have let homeowners off the hook if they didn’t like their historic district’s rules. Leary and Sprinkel said they were satisfied reinstituting the 67 percent requirement. Commissioners also agreed to include “voluntary preservation” as a way to achieve the ordinance’s objectives, and to develop a  more detailed process for deciding a structure’s historic value.

Most commissioners also agreed the Historic Preservation Board should keep its power to grant variances to historic structures. Weldon had wanted to give that power to the Board of Adjustment, which is tougher on allowing exceptions to the building code. He said some people list their houses as historic to “game the system” and more easily receive variances..

Several residents at the meeting objected to returning to the 67 percent rule.”Let the ink dry on the paper before we change it,” said Drew Krecicki. “Let’s chill out and give it a year.”

Frank Hamner, who assisted the task force that last year revised the preservation ordinance, said the only other times the city demands a 67 percent vote is when a neighborhood  decides whether to tax itself to make improvements, such as to put in sidewalks.

No dates have been set for the public hearings and formal votes on the proposed changes.

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