Let’s Make a Place for Our Big Green Friends

Guest Columnist Todd Weaver

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

Let’s Make a Place for Our Big Green Friends

The one thing of note in an uncharacteristically brief June 11 Commission meeting was a presentation by Planning Director Dori Stone about Mixed Use Development. Her presentation focused on a single question, the answer to which will determine the way Winter Park grows into the 21st century.

The Question

Are current land use and zoning categories sufficient to promote the best development in Winter Park, or does the City want a specific mixed use development option for properties located along gateway corridors within the city limits?

WP Already Has 3 Mixed Use Developments

Currently, Winter Park has three mixed use developments – Park Avenue, Hannibal Square and Winter Park Village. The single word that describes all three is walkable. Each development has a mixture of shops, offices and residences. Each is a popular destination with wide sidewalks and plenty of shade – resulting in plenty of foot traffic. Buildings are pedestrian in scale, allowing life to flow easily in and out of doors. Each location has a well-defined sense of place.

They All Have Trees

While they have different architectural designs, street layouts and building heights, they all have one essential attribute — deciduous trees. Trees with wide branches. Trees with lots of leaves. Trees that provide cool shade and a sense of place.

Regardless of architectural design, without the shelter of these leafy branches all three areas would be hot, blinding, forbidding environments of reflective and refractive masonry, asphalt and glass. People would avoid them whenever possible, except possibly at night. Who among us doesn’t choose the shady parking spot over the one baking in the harsh Florida sun?

We All Need Trees

Our affinity for trees is in our DNA. Our ancestors relied on trees for security from predators, for foraging, for shelter from the elements, and for gathering places for social contact. Our love of trees is innate. No man-made structure ever has the same elemental and calming effect.

Builders who ignore the need for a stately tree canopy in their developments are doing a disservice to their clients, their tenants, the customers of those tenants and to their own legacies. Trees are good for our peace of mind, the environment – and they’re good for business.

What Kind of Canopy Will Be Left at the ‘Canopy’?

In this vein, many are concerned that at the new Winter Park Library – Event Center at “The Canopy,” the majestic trees that currently form the canopy on the Rachel Murrah Civic Center site will meet with the chain saw — despite the branding term. When that happens, the glare and reflected heat from all that glass, metal and masonry will change the character of the MLK Park dramatically. Although new, smaller trees can be brought in, it will take decades to achieve the current sense of place afforded by the existing site trees.

Don’t Cut Them Down; Dig Them Up!

This does not have to happen. A reasonable solution would be to dig up the specimen trees, roots and all, and store them in MLK Park in wooden crates until the construction is completed and they can be safely replanted.

Sound Impossible?

While this may seem incredible, it is actually standard technology. The land that the retired El Toro Marine Air Station occupied was deeded to the City of Irvine, CA in the early 2000s. Before redevelopment began, 543 large shade trees, which included 10 species, were saved in this manner. The average weight per tree was 40 tons. The city crated them and cared for them for about five years until, one by one, they were strategically replanted as redevelopment progressed. The sense of place was preserved by this brilliant and caring move, and the homes in those developments sold as quickly as they were built.

Trees Are Our Brand

Canopy trees are part of our unique Winter Park brand. They shelter nearly every street and enhance every neighborhood. The promulgation of mixed use standards presents a fleeting window of opportunity. We must act now to ensure that mixed-use will enhance our gateway corridors for generations. Let’s make a big green splash!

Trees Should Be Part of the Mix

Let’s make room for our big green friends in our Mixed Use code. Let’s promote reasonable street setbacks and adequate pervious areas for these natural wonders. After all, our big trees enhance and promote our businesses, our neighborhoods and our sense of place in Winter Park. And, for Winter Park, a sense of place is a sense of home.

Todd Weaver is a semi-retired aerospace engineer and UCF graduate. He holds a Florida general contractors license. He currently runs a Winter Park-based business, TruGrit Traction, Inc, which designs and manufactures specialty wheels for pipe inspection robots for the public works industries. Weaver has served on Lakes Management advisory boards for Orange County and Winter Park.

Happy Times at P&Z

Yes, You Read That Right

Happy Times at P&Z

The June Planning & Zoning Board meeting looked like it might be a contentious one. Several items on the agenda were repeats that had met with rigorous public opposition when they’d been to City Hall before. Among them were the old bowling alley property at 1111 W. Fairbanks and the Villa Tuscany Holdings property at 1298 Howell Branch Road. Also scheduled were requests by Z Properties to build an office building and parking lot, and by Sydgan for a zoning change — both in the Hannibal Square neighborhood. To round things out, there was a request for a lakefront lot split, something specifically forbidden in the Comprehensive Plan.

But, this time, the system worked for everyone. Staff and applicants were well-prepared with requests that fell squarely within the spirit of what the Comprehensive Plan spells out as good for the city – and everyone gave as good as they got.

Officers Chosen, Elevations Approved

The first order of business was the selection of Ross Johnston to Chair and Shelia DeCiccio to Vice Chair the P&Z Board for the coming year. This was followed by approval of final building elevations for the west end of the Winter Park Corners shopping center on Aloma and Lakemont and for the office building on the former bowling alley property at 1111 W. Fairbanks. Both sailed through with little or no discussion.

Villa Tuscany Forgets Memory Care

Villa Tuscany Holdings LLC was up next, but instead of another version of the memory care center at 1298 Howell Branch Rd., they presented a request to subdivide the property into four large residential lake-front lots. Former opponents of the memory care project, Barry Render and Nancy Freeman, spoke in support of the proposed residential subdivision, and P&Z voted to approve.

Z’s Dilemma . . .

The next issue was a complicated request by Z Properties for zoning and future land use changes at 301 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in the heart of the Hannibal Square neighborhood. The lot is 100 feet wide by 200 feet deep and has a split Future Land Use designation. The half fronting Pennsylvania Ave. is zoned commercial and the rear half is zoned residential. The applicant wanted to erect an office building on the commercial half, but to do that, he needed part of the residential half as a parking lot to satisfy the City parking requirements for the proposed office building. That would necessitate rezoning part of the land from R2, residential, to PL, parking lot.

Finds an Elegant Solution

The developer, Zane Williams, explained that he had approached this development “in a different way.” At the outset, he requested meetings with city planner Jeff Briggs and with Mary Daniels and several other neighbors from the west side community. In the course of these meetings, Williams learned that people living on the west side were deeply concerned about the rate at which the area is losing residential. So, Williams said, “What would happen if I give you a part of my land and build you a house there?”

Williams: “And I Learned Something in the Process”

Z Properties entered into a contract with the Hannibal Square Community Land Trust to build a new single-family home on 33 feet of the residential portion of the property and to deed over the home and the property to the Land Trust. The new home will be an affordable home in perpetuity. The new owner who eventually moves into the house will own only the building. Ownership of the land on which the home sits will remain with the Land Trust. Any profit the owner of the house might realize from a future sale is capped, ensuring the property will remain perpetual ‘affordable housing’ overseen by the Land Trust.

Lake Front Lot Split

Following Sydgan’s request for rezoning, which turned out to be an administrative ‘clean-up’ with no controversy attached, Amy Black came with her request to subdivide a large 3-acre parcel on Lake Killarney into three single-family one-acre lots. The amendment to the Comprehensive Plan allowing the lake-front split would apply only to Lake Killarney and would not affect any of the Chain of Lakes. The result of this lot split would be three so-called estate lots – one acre or larger – where now there is only one.

This lot split would also enable Ms. Black’s mother to remain in her home of many years with security in her retirement. “I know your job is to protect and do what’s best for the City and for the beautiful lake,” said Ms. Black, “while my main concern is for the health and well-being of my mother. We are confident that this action will honor and serve both interests.”

After being assured by the City attorney that the policy change applied only to Lake Killarney, and that nothing would change the ‘estate lot’ status of the property, P&Z voted to approve the request.

And everyone went home at a good hour, all the better for having participated in the process.

WP History Museum Launches Hotel Exhibit

WP History Museum Launches Hotel Exhibit

“Wish You Were Here: Hotels & Motels of Winter Park”

Mark your calendar – Thursday, June 7, 5:00 to 8:00 pm – The Winter Park History Museum will open its new exhibit, “Wish You Were Here: The Hotels and Motels of Winter Park.” This is a family friendly event that will feature food, friends and the music of Frank Sinatra.

Hotels and Rollins Built Winter Park

The vision Loring Chase and Oliver Chapman had for Winter Park consisted of two key elements. One was Rollins, established 1885, and the other was luxury hotels that would appeal to the wealthy ‘carriage trade’ from the northeast. To that end, they set aside three elevated five-acre lakefront lots for the large luxury hotels that became the Virginia Inn, the Seminole Hotel and the Alabama.

Every Hotel Lobby Had a Land Sales Office

The purpose of the hotels was to appeal to the type of guest who was wealthy enough to invest in the town and intellectually liberal enough to create a community that would be attractive to the academics who would create Rollins.

The lobby of every luxury hotel featured a land sales office offering land for homesteads, commercial development and citrus production. Tours of citrus groves were a central feature of the sales presentations.

Hotels at Center of Community Life

As time passed, Winter Park became more established and the large hotels became centers of local community activity. Residents could buy memberships to use the hotels’ recreational facilities. The hotels provided a place for larger business and social events. It is fitting that Rollins has come full circle with the Alfond Inn, which serves as a watering hole for locals and as the repository for the Alfond family’s extensive collection of contemporary art – in addition to accommodating visitors from around the world.

Motels and Boarding Houses

The show will include a study of smaller boarding houses and hotels that accommodated the working class tourists and staff who traveled with the wealthy luxury hotel patrons. There will also be a section devoted to the classic Florida motels that grew up around Lake Kilarney and 17-92, which became popular tourist destinations in the 1940s.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.wphistory.org

or call 407-647-2330.

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