Double-Density Cluster Housing

Coming to a Winter Park Neighborhood Near You

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

Double-Density Cluster Housing


Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

On Monday, April 23, developer Dan Bellows will ask the Commission to grant conditional use and associated variances for a rental apartment complex on the property at 301 W. Comstock – formerly City property known as the Blake Yard.

Each of the four rental units will have its own detached two-car garage with a 420- to 480-square foot “accessory living space” above it. To the casual observer, that would be a garage apartment. So, are there four apartments or eight?

Blake Yard sits between the Grant Chapel, the railroad tracks and the Lyman Avenue Villas. The property is easily accessible to Park Avenue via the new walking path on the tracks. The long promised silent train crossings, now under construction, further enhance the desirability of this lot.

About a year ago, the City saw a chance to cash in on Blake Yard. City reserves were at a low ebb at the time and needed bulking up, so it seemed an opportune time to issue a Notice of Disposal (NOD). According to the NOD, the property would be zoned R-2 and allow a maximum of four units. The property appraised at $450,000.

City-Owned Property Merits Special Consideration

The sale of city-owned property usually goes through a rigorous review process. After all, city staff and the Commission have a responsibility to ensure the City is not negatively impacted and receives full benefit from the sale.

Round One — Monkey Business at City Hall

The disposal of the Blake Yard property came before the April 10, 2017 Commission meeting. Two parties, Dan Bellows as Winter Park Redevelopment Agency Ltd., and Rowland and Co., with architect Phil Kean, submitted competitive bids for the property. Both bids were below the appraised value.

After lengthy discussion, the Commissioners decided not to accept either bid and asked Planning Director Dori Stone to negotiate with the two bidders to see if one or both would agree to meet the appraised value. Stone would then bring the issue back before the Commission at the next meeting on April 24, 2017.

Round Two – Back to the Drawing Board

At the April 24, 2017 meeting, following the second phase of the bidding, Dori Stone recommended that the property be sold to Bellows’ Winter Park Redevelopment Agency, Ltd. because he was the highest bidder by $1,000.

The commission was headed in that direction until Rosemary Hayes, the attorney for Rowland & Co., disclosed some information she had gotten from a public records search. She found that on Friday, April 14, 2017, before close of bidding, Rowland & Co. had bid $455,000. Bellows had submitted a bid that offered “$450,000 OR $1,000 higher than another bid.”

Ms Hayes’ public records request also revealed a communications thread between City staff and Mr. Bellows, which included information about the Rowland bid.

City Manager Randy Knight emphasized that all communications between Bellows and City staff occurred after the bidding was closed. Rowland & Co. and their attorney were not party to any of these communications, however.

On a motion to approve Bellows’. bid of $456,000, Mayor Leary and Commissioner Weldon voted yes. Commissioners Seidel, Sprinkel and Cooper voted no. The motion failed and the project was sent back out for bids.

Three’s a Charm

Finally, at the May 22, 2017 meeting, the Commission voted 3-2 to sell the property to Bellows’ Winter Park Redevelopment Agency Ltd. for $481,000. Cooper and Seidel voted no, but this time Sprinkel joined Weldon and Leary to approve the sale.

The sale received final approval on second reading at the July 24, 2017 Commission meeting.

A New High in High-Density Living

In April 2018, Bellows’ plans for the old Blake Yard sailed through Planning & Zoning on a unanimous vote to approve.

Bellows is seeking to introduce a new model for high density living in Winter Park. In the style of the James Gamble Rogers-designed Barbour House Apartments, Bellows plans to build four rental apartments, each with a detached two-car garage – and each of those two-car garages sports a second-floor “accessory living space.”

Pesky Conditional Use Requirement

According to code, the scale of buildings in R-2 should blend in with the neighborhood, in this case, single family homes and duplexes. Bellows’ proposed four-unit apartment building is hardly in keeping with either the adjacent Lyman Avenue Villas or the single family homes on Comstock.

Staff thinks the apartment building blends right in. Evidently Planning & Zoning did, too.

The Neighbors? Not So Much

Since this project requires a conditional use, neighbors’ concerns should have been addressed. Were they? No.

Despite the fact that the neighbors met with City staff to voice their concerns, hired an attorney and showed up in force at the P&Z meeting, their pleas fell on deaf ears. The neighbors should have kept their money and saved their effort.

Neighbors say the scale of the building is a problem. They worry about the variance Bellows received to place his looming building three feet closer to the new bike path than code allows.

Additionally, Bellows must take two valuable parking spaces from Grant Chapel — now Hudson’s Event Venue — to access the apartments from Lyman. The Chapel didn’t have enough parking in its old use. In its new incarnation, the event center is woefully under-parked.

And Those Garage Apartments?

Remember, 301 W. Comstock is zoned for four units. What code loophole allows four units to morph into eight? Here are staff’s arguments supporting the garage apartments:

  1. The space for the apartments is within the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limits.
  2. The garage apartments won’t have separate utility hook-ups.
  3. The garage apartments don’t have kitchens. According to code, garage apartments are not allowed to have kitchens or cooking facilities. These will not have a 240 volt hook-up, so technically, there is no kitchen. This one got a laugh from those of us who forsake the microwave for the oven only at Thanksgiving.
  4. City code prohibits short-term rentals and subletting of garage apartments.

No Subletting? No AirBnB? Then What’s the Point?

The neighbors weren’t buying it — and you shouldn’t either. Subletting is more than likely. The garage apartments will make the rental price on the main apartments much more palatable if the tenant sublets or runs an AirBnB. Any way you look at it, the density will double.

There is no Enforcer

The City admits it is unable to police the “no subletting” rule, and they are certainly unable to police the rule against short-term rentals – AirBnB, etc. In fact, Dan Bellows prominently advertises a property on AirBnB, complete with photos of “Host Dan.”

If the units were Condos, with a proper Home Owners Association, perhaps the owners would police each other to prevent illegal subletting, but as rental units, there are no controls.

The neighbors are justifiably concerned about the “double density” of this project. Parking is inadequate for eight units. Residents and their guests will be forced to use nearby streets — Lyman and Comstock.

There is Still Time to Show Your Support – Monday, April 23

This project comes before the Commission on Monday, April 23. Please help stop this green-lighting of ill-conceived projects by the City, the Staff and Planning & Zoning.

Beware the Slippery Slope

If this level of density is allowed in one neighborhood, every neighborhood in town is vulnerable. We are all in this together. Let your voice be heard.

Write to MayorandCommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org, to ask them to reconsider their decision, and show up at the meeting on Monday, April 23rd.

Heaven on Wheels

Grant Chapel Hijacked Again

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

Heaven on Wheels

Guest Columnist Jan Hommel

Dan Bellows has hijacked Grant Chapel once again.

Hannibal Square developer Dan Bellows has managed to obtain the City’s okay to operate a commercial enterprise in a building zoned O-2 (office). Since the matter has not been before either the Planning & Zoning Board or the City Commission, one can only conclude the approval came through City staff.

Grant Chapel Served West Side Community Since 1935

According to the Friends of Casa Feliz website, Grant Chapel was built on Winter Park’s West Side in 1935 and served as a house of worship for the predominantly African American population for almost 70 years. When the congregation outgrew its location, Bellows recognized the development potential of its prime Hannibal Square location and purchased the building.
https://friendsofcasafeliz.wordpress.com/tag/winter-park-history/

For a few years, Bellows rented the property to Suzanne and Steve Graffham, who operated it as the “Winter Park Wedding Chapel.” They ran a photo studio and used the chapel primarily for destination weddings.

Grant Chapel on the Move

In 2013, Bellows struck a deal with the City to move Grant Chapel from its original home on New England to its present site on Lyman Avenue close to the railroad tracks and across from the Farmer’s Market. At the time, Bellows assured the Commission that if they up-zoned the Lyman Ave. Chapel property from R-1 to O-2 (office), he would place the Chapel on the Historic Register as soon as the move was completed.

Grant Chapel Headed for Historic Preservation?

Delighted, the City Commission approved the Chapel’s R-1 zoning change to O-2. Its use as a wedding chapel and photo studio fit neatly into O-2 zoning. It looked like another historic Winter Park property was saved from the wrecking ball in the “move-it-or-lose-it” historic preservation strategy of those days.

Or Not

A funny thing happened on the way to the Historic Preservation Board, however. After its December 2013 move, the chapel was remodeled to include the addition of a basement with two staircases descending from the front façade. The landscaping on Lyman featured elaborate hardscaping, in stark contrast to the humble leafy lot where the chapel originally stood. By the time Bellows’ application reached the Historic Preservation Board (HBP), the board refused to add Grant Chapel to the Historic Registry.

Another ‘Golden Egg in an Unguarded Nest’

And once a listing in the historic registry was no longer a consideration, Bellows made even more changes to the building. Meanwhile, the historic landmark has been lost.

No More Grant Chapel

Now, Grant Chapel has been rebranded as Hudson’s Chapel & Cellar in Hannibal Square. This facility is prominently advertised in the newspaper and on its website as a “stunning venue for any event.” The website proclaims Hudson’s is suitable for parties of up to 60 guests, with catered food and beverages. While wedding ceremonies are welcome in the Chapel, Hudson’s promotes itself as perfect for all types of events — holiday parties, corporate events, birthday celebrations, etc.

But, wait. Hudson’s Chapel and Cellar, greater than its original size and with no additional parking, is still zoned O-2.

According to the City’s Land Development Code, (Sec. 58-73,) O-2 zoning means offices. There is a very short list of permitted uses. When the Commission approved the O-2 zoning, they were given to understand that the intended use of Grant Chapel was as a Wedding Chapel and photography business – two uses that fit neatly within 0-2 zoning.

Disturbing the Neighbors?

Types of business that are not permitted in buildings zoned O-2, because of the potential to disturb the neighbors, are “private and semi-private clubs, lodges, halls, and/or social centers and restaurants or lounges.”

Comp Plan Conflict – No Commercial on West Lyman

City approval of Mr. Bellows’ use of Grant Chapel as an event and party venue in O-2 zoning clearly requires up-zoning to C-1 (commercial). Hudson’s is now a Commercial Establishment . . . on West Lyman Avenue, which the Comp Plan says is to remain forever residential.

“But Everyone Knew. . .”

City Manager Randy Knight stated the Commission knew they were approving a party and event venue when they gave approval for the then-Winter Park Wedding Chapel to operate from the Lyman Avenue location as part of the O-2 zoning process.

Even Though There Was No Public Notice

Yet, the Winter Park Wedding Chapel did not operate as a party and event venue at either the New England or Lyman Avenue location. There is no evidence of a publicly noticed discussion of Bellows’ intent to turn Grant Chapel into a party and event venue. If the Commission intended for Bellows to operate a party and event center, why was the property not up-zoned to C-1?

Parking Rears Its Ugly Head . . . Again

Hudson’s Chapel already has minimal parking – parking that any city official, elected or otherwise, who has a critical eye might find inadequate for an event venue with a capacity of up to 60 guests. . .parking that will be further eroded by Bellows’ upcoming development of the Blake Yard property.

Bellows has hijacked Grant Chapel once. Shame on him. If we let him hijack it again, shame on us.

mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org
Contact your elected representatives to insist that the use of Grant Chapel remain consistent with its 0-2 zoning.

Jan Hommel is a resident of the West Side neighborhood of Winter Park.

Those Yellow Signs – They’re Back!

Neighbors Protest Aloma Townhome Development

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

Those Yellow Signs – They’re Back!

Guest Columnist Beth Hall

The city Commission is now all that stands between a group of Osceola/Lakeview Planning District residents and a development proposal which threatens to destroy the single family character of their neighborhood, as well as that of a block on the north side of Aloma between Phelps and Lakemont Avenues.

No Density Signs are Back

City Planning staff and the Planning and Zoning Board have given the high-density, 18 town home project a big thumbs up, despite the fact that it will strip four of the five lots of their single family R-1A status. Residents adjacent to and directly behind the project are up in arms.

Planning Staff Recommends PURD

City Planning staff has worked with the applicant, Ansaka LLC, on the project for close to 18 months and are now recommending approval. The project takes the maximum conceivable density under the Planned Unit Residential Development (PURD) and R-3 zoning classifications, then adds four additional housing units.

Comp Plan Provides for Preservation of Single Family Zoning

The Comprehensive Plan provides that single family homes in this district are to be “preserved.”  City planning staff maintains that this is true of 98 percent of the planning district, but not on this part of Aloma. The growing number of yellow “No Density” signs sprouting along Aloma suggests that prospective neighbors beg to differ.

Ironically, during the same 18-month period the Planning Staff was working with the applicant, the City’s Comprehensive Plan was undergoing its periodic revision process. Despite countless staff hours and numerous community meetings, including Commission meetings, the Comp Plan still calls for the single-family R-1A designation of these parcels west of the corner of Lakemont and Aloma to remain undisturbed.

P&Z Grants Approval December 2017

Planning and Zoning took up Ansaka’s application on December 5, 2017. They approved it over the objections of the residents who appeared and spoke in opposition.

P&Z recommended the applicant hold a community meeting to discuss an appropriate “buffer” between the project and the adjacent single family homes to the north and west of the micro-community before the project went to public hearing at the January 6, 2018, Commission meeting.

Ansaka Slows Down Application Process

Ansaka skipped the January 6 Commission meeting, and finally held a community meeting on March 1, 2018. It is unclear how attendees were notified of the meeting. The applicant chose to postpone the public hearing until March 26, 2018.

City Staff Hits Speed Bump

Then, a glitch in the City’s public notification process necessitated a delay for two more weeks, until Monday, April 9, because of the City’s inability to verify that it had provided adequate public notice in all its required forms, including publication.

Speed Bump Slows Ansaka

The Applicant made clear his intention to proceed on March 26, but was unsuccessful. The project was pulled from the March 26 agenda and rescheduled to April 9. The intervening two weeks have seen a surge in awareness of the project throughout the neighborhood and throughout the City.

Neighbors Ask Commission to Step into the Breach

At this moment, residents of the neighborhood near the project are holding out hope that the city Commission will give their already established property rights priority over those of a developer who bought land speculating that he could rezone it, change the future land use map, and amend our Comprehensive Plan.

Who will prevail?

We Depend on Your Support

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