Villa Tuscany Memory Care

‘Forget It,’ Says Commission

Villa Tuscany Memory Care

At their October 9 meeting, Commissioners once again denied Villa Tuscany’s application for conditional use for a 31,000 square foot memory care facility at 1298 Howell Branch Road with a decisive 5 – 0 vote.

Villa Tuscany Revises Application for Conditional Use

In March 2017, after the Commission denied their application for a somewhat larger memory care facility, Villa Tuscany sued the City in an attempt to reverse the decision. The developer and the City entered into a mediated settlement process, overseen by a Special Magistrate. City Manager Randy Knight led the negotiations for the City. The result was the revised application for conditional use and variances presented October 9.

Applicant Still Seeks Variances

City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs explained in his presentation to the Commission that the developer had made three basic changes. The building was reduced from three stories to two stories, although the overall height of the building was dropped by only four feet, from 35 feet to 31 feet. The planned facility would accommodate 49 beds instead of the original 51 beds.

Second, the parking lot was moved from a 25-foot setback from Lake Temple to the 50-foot setback specified by City Code.

Third, the building was shifted eastward on the property to protect the view of the neighbors across Lake Temple. The shift in location put the building to within 15 feet of the sinkhole on the property. Code requires a 50-foot setback from any wetlands, so approval would involve a setback variance of 35 feet.

No Commission Guidance for Staff During Negotiations

“This mediated settlement process is certainly interesting from the staff’s perspective,” observed Briggs. Staffers who engaged in the negotiations were advised by City Attorney Kurt Ardaman that they were not allowed to speak with Commissioners about the project while the negotiations were underway.

“We had to base our decisions based on comments we heard from some of you at that March public hearing,” said Briggs, “and we had to kind of guess, to be perfectly honest.”

Briggs said he thought the reduction in number of stories and increased setback from Lake Temple might be sufficient for a staff recommendation of approval, but deferred to the Commissioners.

Well-Organized Community Opposition

The applicant then presented their case, followed by a brief Commission discussion, which consisted chiefly of Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel’s motion to deny and Commissioner Carolyn Cooper’s second.

Residents of the neighborhood, led by spokespersons Barry Render and Nancy Freeman, opposed the project on grounds that the structure is incompatible with the surroundings and is simply too large.

They acknowledged that while there are commercial buildings to the north and east of the property, those buildings are around 3,000 square feet – one-tenth the size of the proposed memory care structure. In fact, Freeman pointed out, the proposed Villa Tuscany project is larger than City Hall.

Freeman and Render said the neighbors did not object to the purpose of the project. They cited the example of Alabama Oaks, another memory care facility in Winter Park that is owned by the same applicant. Alabama Oaks is a series of small cottages that house the residents and staff of the facility, one which the neighbors feel would be suitable in their neighborhood.

Drone Photos Show Flooding at the Site

The citizens’ presentation included drone photographs taken several weeks after Hurricane Irma hit this area September 10. Photographs show the proposed building site would still have been under water as of the October 9 meeting. One can assume the additional impervious surface of a large building and 25-space parking lot would cause the water level to rise further.

Dr. Render concluded the neighbors’ presentation with a request. “We would like a project that is proportionate in size and scale, is compatible with our neighborhood, one that would preserve the charm and beauty of north Winter Park and one that would require zero variances.”

Thumbs Down 5 – 0

At the end of the day, the Commissioners unanimously denied both the application for conditional use and the Mediated Settlement Agreement.

The applicant still has the opportunity to seek relief in the court system.

No Park Expansion

No Park Expansion

A 20,000-square-foot medical office building will occupy a lot once home to bowling lanes on Fairbanks Avenue near U.S. Highway 17/92.

City commissioners accepted an offer to buy the land from ComTech Properties for $3.5 million by a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper opposed. The site at 1111 W. Fairbanks Ave. has been coveted by some in Winter Park eager to expand Martin Luther King Park.

The city put the land out for bid in June, less than a year and a half after it bought the 1.63 acres from Rollins College for $2.9 million. The college had bought the bowling lanes site in 2013 for $2.85 million as part of a planned athletic field, but sold it to the city after it found another location.

The city used community redevelopment — or CRA — funds from its special downtown taxing district to pay for about a third of the purchase price to Rollins. The intent was to create turn lanes from Fairbanks Avenue onto Hwy. 17/92. There also was discussion at the CRA and city commission level about using the parcel to expand MLK Park.

Commissioner Cooper argued Monday the city should delay the sale “for now,” so it can study what effect the new city library will have on storm water drainage in the area. Hurricane Irma raised the need for more land to offset storm water, she said. Commissioner Greg Seidel voiced similar concerns, as did two residents who spoke to delay the sale. This area “was the TV stand-up spot” reporters used to show flooding from Irma, resident Charley Williams said.

Mayor Steve Leary said the agenda item was “never about park space and water,” but about needing space for traffic lanes. Arguments about stormwater were just another tactic to delay the sale, he said, and that could scare away prospective tenants in the office building and jeopardize the bid.

Power and Police Priorities

Power and Police Priorities

Winter Park’s electric utility and law enforcement emerged as partial winners in Winter Park’s budget debates. The city’s tax rate for 2018 will stay the same.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma and complaints about outages, city commissioners figured out ways to make more money available to the electric utility fund. The biggest chunk — $1 million – will be transferred to the utility this budget year from the city’s water reserves. Another $425,000 would be freed up in the utility’s 2018 contingency funding by moving street-lighting from the utility to the general fund, where it had been in the past.

Not yet known is whether that the additional $1.425 million will speed up the city’s underground wiring or how much work could be accomplished. Although several commissioners said the money was intended to move forward with undergrounding, Mayor Steve Leary said some of the $1 million could go toward other improvements necessitated by the hurricane. City Manager Randy Knight estimated the city’s total storm-related costs at $5.5 million with much of that ultimately covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

“The City has undergrounded just over six miles with the $3.5 million provided for the FY17 fiscal year,” said Clarissa Howard, the city’s communications director Tuesday. “It is extremely difficult to determine how much could be done with additional funds as each project is different and complexity can affect the cost.”

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper voted against the $1 million transfer, saying she preferred such fund-to-fund shifts be done as loans that are paid back. Both Mayor Leary and Commissioner Pete Weldon voted against putting street lighting back in the general fund.

NO BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE

Police Chief Michael Deal was successful in winning an $862,000 increase in his department’s budget. In earlier budget talks, Mayor Leary had asked the department to cut its request by $200,000, but on Monday commissioners decided to approve the full request. They said they wanted the department to be competitive with other Central Florida departments in hiring new officers.

Commissioners, however, declined to budget the $120,000 Deal had sought for police body cameras. In earlier budget talks, only Mayor Leary had supported that request. Commissioner Weldon didn’t want the cameras to be used to make public safety a “political football,” and Chief Deal said he had seen no complaints of excessive force or racial profiling in the year he has been chief.

On Monday, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel noted the police department’s healthy budget and said the chief could use the money for body cameras if he saw them as a priority. If the chief “can figure out a way to do it, fine,” she said.

NO TAX RATE INCREASE

Commissioner Weldon was unsuccessful in seeking a cut in the property tax rate to 3.9942 mills. That would have removed a half million dollars from the general fund. One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 in assessed property value.

Weldon argued that the city’s coffers are healthy enough to sustain a lower rate. In addition, he said, the same millage will bring in more revenue because the city’s assessed property values have increased. Commissioners voted 4-1 to keep the rate at 4.0923 mills.

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